Remember Matt Richardson? He’s the guy who’s ridden up Mont Ventoux and the Stelvio on his Raleigh Chopper, as well as setting an Hour record on the iconic bike. Now, he’s taken on another of cycling’s fabled climbs on his Chopper, the Alpe d’Huez.
Then he switched to his Colnago tackled it again, this time alongside his 10-year-old son. As with Matt’s previous Raleigh Chopper challenges, he was raising money for the charity Bloodwise and you can find his fundraising page on Just Giving here.
Here’s Matt’s story in his own words, complete with pictures and video – watch out for the moment when an adult cyclist does a priceless double-take as Felix passes him on the Col de la Croix de Fer.
On Friday 1 June I rode my all-original 1975 Mk2 Raleigh Chopper right up Alpe d'Huez in memory of my father and to raise money for Bloodwise and the fight against blood cancer. Alpe d'Huez is famous as a Tour de France mountain-top finish. It is 13km of constant climbing to an altitude of 1,860m with an average gradient of 8.1%. Its famous 21 hairpin bends are hard work on a racing bike and, somewhat obviously, much harder on a 20kg chunk of 1970s steel and rubber: in this case a Raleigh Chopper.
I’ve completed a few Chopper challenges to date: Mont Ventoux (2014); the Hour Record (2015); the Stelvio Pass (2016); and London to Paris (2017). I hadn’t planned any challenge this year but I was inspired to undertake Raleigh Chopper vs Alpe d'Huez having seen Mark Beaumont speak in May about his round the world cycling record. His account of events made a huge impression on me. On arrival in the Alps on Tuesday 29 May, however, I was equally inspired by the way Felix, my 10 year-old son, was able to ride up mountains. His incredible ride up Col de la Croix de Fer on Wednesday 30 May (the day before the Alpe d'Huez ride) astounded me.
The Croix de Fer climb is huge: a 32km ride up to an altitude of 2,067m with a total ascent of 1,347m. Felix managed it with only one stop, overtook a few grown-ups on the way and even went for a sprint finish at the top. With this fresh in my mind, I was ready to try something special on Alpe d'Huez.
Felix at the summit of the Col de la Croix de Fer
The next morning, as I was getting ready to ride the Chopper, Felix confirmed that he wanted to ride Alpe d'Huez too. I was amazed but agreed to ride up the mountain with him later that morning if I felt I could do so after completing the Chopper Challenge.
I know the Alpe d'Huez climb well. The first four of its 21 hairpin bends are horribly steep and can dishearten even a determined rider. I decided I would attack this steep, early section very hard in order to get it out of the way and then try to maintain as much speed as possible as the gradient became slightly less severe. The Chopper has three gears and even first gear is stiff. It’s a bike made for cycling round to the corner shop for a Beano comic and a quarter of pear drops, not for riding up mountains. I knew that if I didn’t keep a certain momentum I would struggle to maintain enough cadence (i.e. I’d pedal too slowly) and might therefore be more likely to cramp.
I started very aggressively and was already too short of breath to speak by bend two of 21. I needed sips of water almost straight away: far earlier than I anticipated; and eating any kind of snack was impossible because I was breathing too hard. Most of the two madeleine cakes I tried to swallow during the first half of the climb ended up on the road. I didn’t bother trying after that.
I had started early (6.48am) but, although the majority of the first half of the climb was in cool shadow, I overheated almost immediately because of the intensity of effort. After about half way up the climbing sun and the loss of tree cover meant I was almost always in direct sunlight. I became very hot. Despite pushing harder than I thought would be sustainable, I somehow managed to keep my momentum and, with five bends to go, I knew I had a very good chance of going faster than the 1 hour 30 minutes I had predicted. My mouth was dry and sticking together but with the town in sight above me I held nothing back and hoped I would be able to maintain my rhythm to the finish.
The final bend up into the town was excruciating but I managed to hold my speed over the red finish line. My exhaustion was at least as severe as it had been at the end of previous Chopper challenges but I think something about my condition was better than in past years. My time was 1 hour, 16 minutes. Perhaps I'm getting used to the 20kg chunk of Nottingham steel and rubber...
Having eaten breakfast back at our accommodation I rode up the Alpe again, as agreed, with Felix: this time I was on a very light carbon racing bike. Despite Felix's alloy racing bike being slightly heavier than mine, I had to work hard to keep up with him. I don't think I'll be able to next year! Felix finished the climb in 1 hour 30 minutes. I was amazed as we climbed the mountain, counting down the hairpin bends. As per the Croix De Fer climb I kept asking him “How are you doing, Felix?” On every occasion his answer was the same “I’m fine thanks.” And he was. As we rode around the final hairpin bend he stood up on his pedals, changed into a stiffer gear and sped away from me, going for what seems to be his trade mark sprint finish over the line.
Felix on the Alpe d'Huez
I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me and contributed so generously to Bloodwise. Mark Beaumont was extremely kind, both sponsoring me and Tweeting my fundraising link to his 44,000 followers. It always amazes me how kind people are when asked for donations and I’m every bit as grateful as I have ever been.
I must also thank Alex Whittenbury and Kamran Richardson without whom I wouldn't have been able to complete the ride. They gave me water, madeleine cake (it wasn’t their fault I couldn’t eat it) and encouragement all the way up the mountain and you can't ask for more than that!
Matt and Felix at the top of the Col de la Croix de Fer
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.