It’s the biggest charity fund raising event in the Netherlands, only it doesn’t take place in the Netherlands… Every year 20,000 Dutchies travel to the south of France to either participate or support.
The point of this “race” is not to be the fastest, but to climb the Alpe d’Huez (by bike or on foot) as many times as you can during the 15.5 hour time limit. The event is called Alpe d’HuZes, because zes is the Dutch word for six and the challenge is to climb the Alpe six times (well for the people on bikes, on foot this isn’t really doable, you should aim for 3 or 4 times). 21 hairpin bends, 16 km with an average of 8% incline and 1200 meter elevation gain. Around 5,000 people participate and 15,000 people support along the route. You can either participate as an individual or as a team.
All of it is organized by volunteers, which means that all of the money raised will go to the Dutch cancer research fund. Every year it’s a huge operation to transport all sorts of items to France: candles (tell you why in a minute), merchandise, food, tents ect. But it’s totally worth it, because every year this event raises around 13 million euros for cancer research.
You start at 4:30 in the morning, when it is still dark. Slowly a long line of lights makes it way up the Alpe. Candles are lit in every bend to commemorate those we’ve lost to cancer (you can buy these candles and write something on them, money also goes to charity). Normally you can enjoy the view and see the sun rise, but this year it was very foggy, so no view whatsoever unfortunately.
It took me three hours and 24 minutes to get to the finish the first time. Cyclists will go down on their bikes and start over, but when you’re on foot it’s too dangerous to descend when the cyclists race down with 45 km/h. So, you need to take the the ski lift down the other side of the Alpe and take a bus or car back to the starting point. This takes about an hour.
So after doing this I could start my second ascend. Luckily the fog had lifted somewhat which made it less cold and gave you some views. The second time took me 3 hours and 20 minutes. The support along the route and at the finish line is absolutely amazing, indescribable. Everyone here has their own story, you might not know what someones story is, but you know they’ll have one. For an entire week everyone feels connected, everyone is nice to one another and there is no yelling or complaining. It is truly humanity at its best. Everyone is here with the same goal. The only yelling that will be done is by supporters yelling encouragements at you, hoping it will help you to the top.
After descending again it starts raining. When I start my third climb I’m hoping the rain will stop soon, but no such luck. It keeps raining the entire way up and slowly I see more and more participants and supporters leaving the Alpe and going back to their accommodation. Not only am I tired from the previous two climbs, but the great support along the route is also partially gone. Slowly I struggle my way up the Alpe again. After 3 hours and 40 minutes I reach the finish for the third time. It’s taken me a total of 10 hours and 24 minutes, but I’ve done it. I’ve climbed the Alpe d’Huez three times on foot. By the end of the day I’ve done 70,000 steps (around 53 km and 3,600 m gain, which is 12 times the Eiffel tower). But it was worth every second, it’s an amazing event (you have to see for yourself, in order to experience this amazing atmosphere, there are no words to accurately describe it), and again we have raised millions.