I did this race a couple of weeks ago and thought I'd share because it was so hard. Most of it is cut and pasted from my Facebook, so contains basic explanations on a few things for my non triathlon friends.
My training buddy convinced me to enter this as a bucket list race, so I tied it in with a 12 day Bikestyle tour of the Pyranees and French Alps. This turned out to be a very good move, as twelve days of climbing including Ventoux, Tourmalet and Alp D'Huez got my body conditioned for what to expect. This was the most most physically draining event I have ever completed in, with the possible exception of Wanaka Challenge. With a 2.2k swim, a 120k ride over three brutal climbs and a 21k run over an undulating cross country course, I've done longer events but none match this due to the heat and draining climbs. It was my first triathlon since the Coles Bay half 18 months ago, I'll make sure I don't leave such a big gap before my next race.
The swim was in Lake Vermey, a hydro lake normally forbidden to swim in as the turbines would mince people up. At 15.9 degrees it was on the chilly side, but an extra swim cap and the fact that Tassie water isn't exactly tropical meant I got through it ok.
I'd looked at the bike course profile and read the course notes translation. The side elevation of the first two climbs didn't look too daunting as neither of them was as high as the final climb up the Alp D'Huez. This was a serious miscalculation by me, as the first 25k was pretty much all downhill, meaning I hadn't factored in the extra climbing. The first climb, up the aptly named Col du Morte was 13k at an average of 6-7% gradient. It was a tough slog but I got up ok and reached the first major aid station. Unlike most triathlons where volunteers run next to the bikes and hand out drinks, bananas and energy bars, this was a very relaxed affair with most competitors parking their bikes and helping themselves to a smorgasbord. As well as the normal items, this one strangely included ham, cheese and sausage. As a rule, you'd normally avoid stuff like this the day before a race let alone during, but I guess this is France. The second big climb was also 13k, and although not quite as steep the heat and lack of shade made it brutal. I started to worry as to whether I'd be able to finish. When I reached Bourg D'Ousins, the town at the base of the final climb I accidentally took a wrong turn and rode 1.5k before realising my error and turning back to rejoin the course. I didn't realise until later the implications this would have on my race.
I had been warned the the final climb up Alp D'Huez to the start of the run course resembled a battlefield, and it didn't disappoint. Broken riders were slumped over their handlebars, leaning against the barrier wall staring vacantly into space and a couple were even attempting to walk the 13k in their bike cleats. I used the Robbie McEwen climbing method of not looking up and concentrating just on breathing and pedalling. I was lucky to have my amazing cheer squad to encourage me when I reached the last six turns. My expected finishing time for the whole race was seven hours. As it took me almost that long to reach them, they'd got well and truly drunk to pass the time.
When I reached the run transition, I was surprised to see two race technical officials blocking my way in. One of them said, 'Finish, no run.' Apparently I'd missed the bike finish cutoff by 15 minutes. In case I didn't get the picture, he removed my race number from my race belt and tore it in half before letting me in to rack my bike. I was absolutely gutted. After racking my bike however, I spoke to a couple of fellow Aussies, one had finished and one had withdrawn with cramp. They pointed out that I still had my race timing chip attached to my leg and numbers on my arm and leg in texta. I'm a much better runner than cyclist and decided to risk starting the run and hoping I didn't get caught. I totally understand why cutoffs exist, race volunteers have a tough job and can't be out on the course all night. As I could see quite a few competitors walking however, I backed myself to push the first couple of laps hard and make up the deficit to put as many people behind me as possible. There was a run cutoff time as well, so beating that was going to be hard. It worked. I started unlapping myself straight away and was given a coloured wrist scrunchy at the of my first lap. (They hand these out to ensure runners have completed their laps before entering the finish chute.) I was worried that an official would wake up to my missing race number and pull me off the course but figured that as long as I was running strongly the chances would reduce the further I got. By the second lap I had made up the time deficit and started overtaking quite a few runners.
Inside the last few kilometres, I was worried that the officials might have a list of who should and shouldn't be on the course. I had visions of Jane Saville getting pulled off the walk in Sydney 2000 in sight of the finish line, and decided my best chance of slipping through would be to finish in a group. Unfortunately, in the last two ks, every time I caught someone they'd stop to walk. I tried to encourage one guy to run with me but he stopped, waved me on and told me he was broken. The plan worked. I found a guy to stick with in the finish chute. He looked a bit confused as to why I was cheering him on to beat me, but I as soon as I crossed the line I grabbed my medal and finisher tee shirts and bailed in case Mr technical official was nearby and recognised. I knew there was a good chance I wouldn't be included in the official results, but I didn't care. (I ended up being classified which was a nice surprise.) I finished and had plenty of people behind me. A 2.04 half marathon on a tough hilly course after a brutal ride is something I'll always be happy with.
My one regret is that my training buddy Jenna who encouraged me to enter the race wasn't able to compete due to a long term injury with a torn ACL and blood clot in her thigh which requires long term rehab. It must have been gut wrenching to come all this way and not participate but she came anyway and gave me huge support. I had a decent meltdown at the finish due to the tough nature of the race and the fact that I spent the last two hours convinced I'd be disqualified. Overall, I'd recommend this race to anyone who enjoys tough races, especially if you're heading over to follow Le Tour. If you like fast flat races, stay away.
Edit: If you stay on the mountain there is plenty of accommodation. There is a great outdoor pool at the top as well. Be aware that they have incredibly strict entry rules. If you walk in with boardies, you have to show them your speedos before they let you into the changerooms. After my swim I popped the boardies back on, the lifeguard stopped me and made me remove them before he let me back in the changerooms which were ten metres away.... Also, the race start is at Lake Vermey which is at the bottom of Alp D'Huez. The organisers encourage you to ride the 20k to the start line. Obviously most of it is downhill, but if you want to save energy then drive down. Just make sure you leave early as the side road down is very narrow.