When the peloton scales the Alps in today’s 19th stage of the Tour de France, Brian Wedge ’97 can sympathize with the riders’ fiery lungs and burning quads. Brian recently returned from a ten-day ride through the high Alps from Geneva, Switzerland, to Cannes, France, via the toughest climbs of the Tour, raising money for the cancer charity Leuka in honor of his sister Lea, a leukemia survivor. As a member of Team Fireflies, Brian rode more than 100 miles a day, and as many as 12,500 vertical feet a day-“For those who suffer, we ride” is the Fireflies motto-including several of the Tour’s notorious mountain sections and the “beyond category” climbs of today’s stage, up Galibier and the Alpe d’Huez. “It is a short stage,” proclaims the Tour’s website, “Nevertheless, all of the riders will be afraid of it.”
We caught up with Le Wedge and asked him for the scoop on this section of Le Tour:
“This is a special year in the high Alps. Exactly 100 years ago, the Tour de France first braved these high summits and dangerous descents. Today, Friday, marks a significant stage of The Tour, without any doubt, the most brutal day of the entire race, with riders climbing over Col du TÃ©lÃ©graphe, Col du Galibier, and L’Alpe d’Huez.”
“Climbing those great peaks was just incredible, even though the day that I completed this stage, the weather was fantastically bad. It rained, hailed and snowed. The beautiful alpine views were quickly lost in clouds above 4,000 feet and the wind picked up. Nevertheless, Galibier especially is a spectacular climb. Shrouded in fog, riding alone on this section-the road just keeps going up and up and up. After an hour or so of climbing, you enter the switchbacks, and see the names of the champions of the Tour painted on the roads: Merckx, Schleck, Armstrong, Contador to name a few. Then the hail came, then more fog. There’s a switchback on Galibier that is covered in graffiti for Norwegians (I’m Norwegian). The cliffs and road are painted NORGE, NORGE, NORGE, hundreds of times-very cool-definitely made me stand up and go harder.
It is a short stage. Nevertheless, all of the riders will be afraid of it.
“The secret to Galibier, and something that folks will want to watch for in today’s stage, is the fact that the last 4k of the climb are the hardest. It kicks to 11-12% grade, and really hurts after all the effort the riders have already put out. It will be a great battle to watch.
“After a treacherous descent through La Grave, the riders in the Tour will finish on the slopes of Le Alpe d’Huez, which is famous for its 21 switchbacks and solid 8-plus-percent grade. When I rode there, a few of the professional teams were training, which was fun to see. Alpe d’Huez is almost the opposite of Galibier in that the bottom of the climb is the steepest, and after riding Telegraph and Galibier, even these pro cyclists will be feeling some serious pain.”