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The Back Side of Water (A fantastic climb up D219 opposite Alpe d’Huez)

“Ladies & gentlemen, I give you the back side of water!” Does that bring back any memories? It should. I can’t imagine that many people haven’t ridden the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, and been on the back side of the waterfall where you get that ridiculously-corny endlessly-repeated line. Having been to Disneyland too many times (mainly care of two too-spoiled kids who think it’s some sort of right to visit Disneyland on an almost-yearly basis), that line came immediately to mind riding up the D219 road opposite Alpe d’Huez a week ago last Friday (July 22, 2011).

Wow. It seems longer ago than that. But what a great day. It had its issues; getting a flat tire on the descent, and having the tube installed then go bad as well, but for me, getting to ride a road that I’d seen from across the valley (on top of Alpe d’Huez) for so many years, well, it was one of the highest things on my “bucket list.” That probably explains why it wasn’t quite the same for my son, for whom it was just another road, perhaps interesting, but somewhat a distraction from the day’s main event (climbing Alpe d’Huez itself).

Also making this interesting is Kevin’s epilepsy; at any point on a hard climb he could possibly have a seizure that might cause him to lose control and fall over. Because of that it was important for me to be riding to the outside, keeping Kevin riding up next to the mountain and as far away from the sheer cliff (protected only by those low bricks) as possible. If Kevin did have a seizure, he knew that I was going to end up literally pushing him down into the ground; this was not the place to risk him wobbling across the road. Fortunately, I didn’t have to put that plan into effect.

Alpe d’Huez, on its own, is a fine ride, but not really enough for a full day. Spend the extra 1.5-2hrs and climb up to Villard Notre Dame, have a coke (or two) and enjoy the view before heading back into the valley and up the main attraction on the other side (Alpe d’Huez). Park somewhere near the huge Supermarket (same place the ride starts on the Googlemap at the bottom of this page), where you can load up on inexpensive food & drink & various other supplies. This puts you just a kilometer out of the center of town, and, literally, right at the very base of Alpe d’Huez.

For a detailed description of what it’s like, see the photos below. Words really can’t describe D219. Just make sure you’ve got sturdy tires, spare tubes and a working pump, because the rocks that fall onto the road are incredibly sharp. Out of maybe 10 other cyclists we saw on D219, two got flats. Er, three. I got one myself.

Specifics: Elevation at base- 2400ft.
Elevation at Villard Notre Dame- 5050ft (Alpe d’Huez is just under 6000ft)
Climbing time- 1hr 9min (with a couple stops to enjoy the view)
Climbing distance- 5.0 miles
Grade- 6-10% with a few short steeper pitches but worth the effort
Road surface- Generally good but watch for small rocks as they’re very sharp
Food & water- Available in town at the start and at the top at the cafe

If you do both D219 and Alpe d’Huez on the same day, total mileage will be a very unimpressive 32, but climbing comes in at 6200ft. We’re talking quality miles here with incredible views.

  • Just found another ride report for D219 from some guys we saw on the climb that day! Even a reference to us as “yanks.” And a mention of my flat even.
  • Steephill.tv has an excellent ride & video report of D219
  • Another link to a ride up D219 here.
  • Info from the Bike Bourg d’Oisons site here.
  • More references to it as part of a ride here.
  • The last paragraph of this review on lights refers to one of the D219 tunnels as being “hors categorie.”
  • A search page of photos taken in the vicinity

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