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Pearl Izumi

Pearl Izumi: Pas de la Confession

Words/Images: James Startt

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After starting our Alpe d’Huez adventure with a climb around its epic 21 turns, we begin a search for other roads up and around this historic climb. L’Alpe d’Huez is nothing if not a climber’s playground and there are numerous other roads that skirt over and around the rocky ledges of the mountain.

There is, of course, the remote Col de Sarenne that the Tour de France descended in 2014. But with the ski season still in tow, that route, we soon discover, is trapped under 6 feet of snow. Instead, we decide to attack the Pas de la Confession—another variant that climbs up behind the Alpe before meeting the main road shortly after the infamous Dutch corner.

Starting in the village of Allemont, we soon climb a wide road to the dam that forges the Lac du Verney, a familiar sight for those making their way toward classic climbs like the Col de la Croix de Fer. But instead of skirting around the lake we turn immediately right toward the Pas de la Confession. A roadside sign confirms that this climb up to L’Alpe d’Huez is open. The road immediately points uphill and quickly narrows as the pitch increases.

“The first kilometers are really tough,” Theo, a regional triathlete and our guest on this weekend adventure, says. “It steepens quickly as we climb above the lake. It is only after about a dozen hairpin turns or so that the road evens out a bit. But the views are well worth the effort!”

Theo, who trains more than 20 hours a week, climbs with apparent ease as he cruises up the Pas de la Confession in his Pearl Izumi kit. Arriving at the mountain village of Villard-Reculas, the roads open as we suddenly find ourselves in front of a vast expanse of views over the Alps. But while the views open up, the road continues to narrow as Theo picks up speed cruising over the sinuous road that hovers over the edges of a cliff.

“You know how this road got its name?” Théo asks. “According to local legend, it was because the road this road was so dangerous, so susceptible to avalanches, and so dizzyingly steep, that you had to go to confession before setting out on it!”

Debutants that we were, we’ve forgone such tradition and simply hope for the best; but Théo rides with ease around the narrow roads as he crests the summit. And while the road is significantly less well maintained and more technical than the main road to L’Alpe d’Huez, it is also significantly less well traveled. In fact, we have much of the climb to ourselves. If you want to experience the Alpe d’Huez in a more rustic manner, climb the Pas de la Confession and, conditions permitting, enjoy the spectacular views all our own.

Cresting the summit, Théo stops momentarily to take in the view, but also to put on his Pro Barrier Lite jacket for the descent, which was quickly falling into the shade of the late-afternoon sunlight.

Moments later Théo is off again, attacking the descent as best he can, while avoiding the many potholes present here and keeping an eye out for any cars lurking behind the frequent turns. “Wow, what a descent,” he says on arriving at the village of Huez. “What a ride! Such diverse scenery in the shadows of this legendary climb. It’s really unbelievable! You know, for most of us when we think about the Alpe d’Huez, we just think about the 21 turns. But, boy, there is really a lot more, and the Pas de la Confession is just great. That said, I may well go to confession first next time! That’s a pretty crazy road. But really special!”