On July 17, 2001, my wife and I saw Stage 10 of the Tour de France from a vantage point on the lower slope of Alpe d'Huez. We drove to Bourg d'Oisans, the nearest town to Alpe d'Huez, from our hotel in Voreppe which is just north of Grenoble. We got up quite early to drive 50 kilometers up the mountain road from Grenoble. When we got to Bourg d'Oisans, we were able to park along the road known as Avenue de la gare, also known as National Route 91, facing back toward Grenoble for a quick get away after the stage was over.
Since 2003, it has been particularly difficult to travel up to Bourg d'Oisans and walk up to Alpe d"Huez in one day. I never know whether to believe crowd estimates I hear on television, but some people thought that over 1 million people occupied a place on the roadside on the 14 kilometers of mountain road. This may be due to the fact that "The Look", one of the most famous strategic moments in recent Tour history, took place that day, and since then, many more people have wanted to experience a stage ending at Alpe d'Huez in person.
In 2001, we got to Bourg d'Oisans before 8:00 in the morning, so we were able to walk around the town, eat breakfast at one of the hotels, buy a couple of hats at Cycles et Sports, and scout out a prime viewing spot.
My wife and I decided that we wanted to watch the riders from fairly low on Alpe d'Huez because we were afraid that we wouldn't get back to Grenoble before midnight if we walked further up the road. This turned out to be both good and bad. We staked out a spot just past the left hand turn where Alpe d'Huez really begins, below the first switchback, and within site of the Sommet a 14km sign.
This spot gave us plenty of room to stand or sit, but it meant that we didn't see Lance Armstrong in the lead. We were about half a kilometer before the point where "The Look" took place. We left our vantage point on Alpe d'Huez not knowing that Armstrong had made a decisive move and was on the way to victory.
But by being low on the mountain, we were able to start walking back to Bourg d'Oisans about 25 minutes before the stage ended. We noticed people screaming and jumping up and down as we passed the first cafe in downtown Bourg d'Oisans. Walking over to within site of a TV that had been placed outdoors, we saw Lance Armstrong cross the finish line in the lead.
People call this the Mecca of Cycling and I definitely think so, after being there. I hope to go back some day, rent a bike, and ride from Bourg d'Oisans to the top of Alpe d"Huez as the riders will today in the mountain time trial.