"Tour de France fans, who refer to as the "Queen" climb"
Southeastern France's Alpe d'Huez is coveted by cycling's Tour de France fans, who refer to as the "Queen" climb, due to its monstrous vertical and 21 switchbacks.
"I can think of only one ... Whiteface Mountain, in Wilmington, New York."
Often when watching the Tour, I ask myself "What would my time be to those climbing Alpe d'Huez?" Short of actually flying to France and finding out for myself, there aren't many cycling climbs in the United States that can compare. I can think of only one ... Whiteface Mountain, in Wilmington, New York.
"while Whiteface's vertical commences at just over 1,000-feet"
Located in the Adirondack Park, Whiteface's Memorial Highway is similar to Alpe d'Huez in several ways. Both roads average eight percent gradient for its length and both are almost identical in mileage. From base to summit, Whiteface's Highway measures exactly eight miles, only a tenth of a mile more than Alpe d'Huez. Though Alpe d'Huez's climb is a little shorter, it does begin at a higher elevation above sea level, at 2,150-feet, while Whiteface's vertical commences at just over 1,000-feet. Arguably, Whiteface, New York State's fifth highest peak, is more bullish considering the fact there are fewer switchbacks to elevate the climb.
In late-September, I gathered six other riders, all from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and we experienced Whiteface Mountain's famed climb for ourselves.
I set the pace for a pathetic one hundred yards before knowing my place in this group; I was going to be last. As soon as I moved aside, my fellow riders flew right past me hardly exchanging a word, they were focused on the road and summit.
"Did I go too hard just then?" "Is this really just eight percent grade?"
The bottom portion of the Highway is the hardest. The opening three miles are the steepest and you will find yourself asking, "Did I go too hard just then?" "Is this really just eight percent grade?" And, "That surely must have been two miles already." While the other guys were here for the first time, I had the luxury of climbing this mountain at least once before, so I paced myself.
"What's there now is a brand-new ribbon of roadway"
Three years ago, the state re-paved the Highway, but before that, the eight-mile stretch was in rough shape. There were glaring potholes, drainage ditches that spanned the width of the road at regular interval and there were drainage ridges that vibrated the handlebars, both ascending and descending. What's there now is a brand-new ribbon of roadway extending from the starting point to the summit's castle.
After the three-mile point and past Santa's Workshop, a tollbooth marks the beginning of the "actual" climb to Whiteface's summit. That's where motorists and cyclists pay a toll to climb the remainder of the ascent. The toll for cyclists is $8 (easy to remember).
"This is where the sweet smell of balsam fill the air."
There's a noticeable change right after the tollbooth. The passageway is no longer sweeping and trees crowd the roadsides like spectators. On one side, there are mostly hardwoods and on the other an overwhelming number of pine trees. This is where the sweet smell of balsam fill the air.
The roadside features large stones to keep vehicles on the road, several viewing points and picnic areas along the way. Several times, I looked below as mountains and valleys where bright with their fall colors of reds, oranges and yellows.
"The trees become shorter the higher you climb."
The summit castle was a constant reminder of the distance ahead. Some of the guys in the group tried to do the math to figure out how much more climbing was needed to reach it. One clue I have learned is tree height. Aside from the constant glancing towards the summit castle, a great way to gauge progression is by taking stock of timber height. The trees become shorter the higher you climb.
The wind returned and the temperatures drop enough for me to consider zipping my jersey. Glenn, who I was chasing for the last few miles, is now riding next to me. He had stopped several times to take photographs.
Glenn and I arrive at the summit and castle together and the rest of my group is huddled round one another wall taking photos. I hope they had not gotten too cold waiting.
"We conquered the famed Whiteface Mountain Veteran's Memorial Highway"
After taking several photos at the elevation sign at the bottom of the staircase to the Summit Café, we climbed on our bikes again, this time for the swift descent. We conquered the famed Whiteface Mountain Veteran's Memorial Highway, it may not in the top time of the pros, but we were not too far off either. We'll be back.