A Right Royal Knees Up

It's the most famous mountain in the Tour de France, the summit is at 1,860 metres high, to ride it  you have to climb 13.8 km on an average gradient of 8.1%, which ramps up to a maximum gradient of 13%. L'Alpe d'Huez...no other stage has had such drama. With its 21 bends, its gradient and the number of spectators, it is a climb in the style of a Hollywood epic.

Of course if that is not tough enough, how about entering the annual Triathlon held there. This is the story of one of the competitors this year, Paul Harrison, in his own words:

"Never again." The words were still ringing in my ears three years after last completing the Alpe d'Huez Triathlon when the e-mails started circulating.

Before I knew it, I had coughed up for this year's ball-breaker courtesy of one of the toughest climbs in the Alpes.

In 2009 my pal Pete, aka @MerlotBoy, loaned me his Trek road bike to complete the Tri - but there's nothing like your own wheels, so this year, it was time to box up my own bike (fresh with a new cassette, incl a granny gear or two) and go head to head with 10% inclines!

Ok, hands up - the last time I took my back wheel off my bike was when I last got a puncture in my late teens. When it comes to bike know-how, I'm a bit of a pigmy. So the thought of taking one apart, chucking it on a plane and putting it back together again at the other end, filled me with fear!

But here's the rub: It was actually a lot easier than I thought it would be to box my wheels, and, as the near freezing 13 degrees of the EDF Energy lake 2000ft below our chalet beckoned, I partly wished the disassembling and assembling had been a mission impossible. But it hadn't been.

Carb-loaded to the nostrils, trussed up like a rubber turkey in my wet-suit, hands and face screaming with cold as I breast-stroked, shivering, towards the start line, those words "never again" began ringing in my ears once more...
I'll spare you the details, but aside from a moment on the 4th bend of Alpe d'Huez when the towel nearly, very nearly, found itself on the floor in the middle of the ring, and wiping the grimace from my face as I edged towards the official photographer near the summit, I made it.

It took longer to complete than it did three years ago, but hey, I'm three years older! It was just great to be able to do it on my own bike! Travel overseas again avec vélo? Definitely. Thanks, Box My Wheels.

But I have to say, Alpe d'Huez? "Never again!" Until next time, that is.

Paul Harrison
Sky News Royal Correspondent and part-time triathlon enthusiast!

number 943.

Well done mate!

Well done mate!