SITTING IN: interview with Adrian Hill

Adrian Hill Travel France 27 May 2018

We are delighted to have Adrian Hill join us for this ‘Sitting In’, who, along with his wife Shelley, set up Alpcycles. Ade has been a fantastic support as we’ve looked to get Unfound off the ground. His passion for the cycling, travel and people have made him one of the best know characters in the Alps. We recently got the chance to ask him a few questions:

UNFOUND: Ade, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Before we get on to Alpcycles, which you set up in 2007, tell us a little bit about you and your cycling background.

ADE: I am 41 years young now, which I still can’t quite believe – I’m from the Southwest of England originally. I have been around bikes for well over 20 years and just like many UK riders grew up TT-ing on busy dual carriage ways, then moved over to road racing and spent most of my initial racing years learning my race craft for the British Army Team. To be honest, I have never really been off the bike since then, with only injury or illness side lining me now and again. So, other than family, it’s been my life for many years.

UNFOUND: What inspired you to make the lifestyle change?

ADE: Shelley and I initially headed to the French Alps to work a ski season (2005), have some fun and some time out of the rat race, but of course wherever I go, my bike goes. I had some strange looks when everyone else had ski bags and I had a bike bag. Then after the winter we just knew that we wanted to stay in the mountains, so with no real plans we started a cycling chalet where Shelley cooked and I guided clients. In 2007 Alpcycles was born and we have been in France ever since.

UNFOUND: Now that you are 11 years in you are one of the most established Alpine cycling tour operators and we are sure you’ve tackled most Cols in the region so we have some quick fire Col questions for you:

UNFOUND: What is your favorite climb?

ADE: Probably my favourite climbs are near to my house in the Vanoise National Park, but if I had to pick an iconic climb it would be the north side of the Col du Galibier from Valliore. This climb is epic, tough, stunning and always makes me realise how small the human race really is in comparison with such a monster.

UNFOUND: Which one do you hate the most?

ADE: There are no climbs I really hate but when you ride them regularly you have bad days on some climbs and they become your nemesis. For me this would be the southside of the Col de la Madelaine from La Chambre. It’s steep, long and can get crazy hot. Generally we hit it after having come over the Col Du Glandon. It’s the climb that gets us home so you just have to get up there no matter what. I have also ridden Alpe d’Huez so many times it is insane. As a climb on its own I quite like it, but it is often the last climb on one of our itineraries which includes Telegraph and Galibier first. This means you hit it at around 3 o’clock and in the summer months the heat on the early, steep ramps is unbearable. You are just squirming in your saddle, looking for any bit of shade and begging to get up the climb and get a little wind on your chest.

UNFOUND: Which one is the most beautiful climb?

ADE: Again the Galibier takes some beating on a clear day. I also love that when you’re at the top you are actually on a mountain peak. Locally we have the Cormet de Roselend (see Ade’s description of the Cormet de Roselend in our Ride section here) which towards the top you climb above an amazing glacial lake and barrage which is an epic view. Finally, there is something very surreal about Mont Ventoux as it is so unique looking.

UNFOUND: What is the best descent?

ADE: For me I love slightly twisting descents where you can just tuck and go with as little braking as possible. One close to my house is probably one of my favourites, but again if had to go iconic it would be the Col de Croix de Fer descent back towards Allemont; especially the bottom half where the road just twists and turns but no full hair pins so you can always keep the speed on.

UNFOUND: Favourite place to stop for lunch and what would you order?

ADE: Lunch??! Not for me. Only ever a quick coffee and a pastry! I’m always on the clock so got to keep moving. Luckily for our clients we provide all the food they need in the support vehicles.

UNFOUND: You are also the Lantern Rouge for the Haute Route. How did that come about and tell us a little bit about that?

ADE: A great pal of mine and riding buddy called Fergus Grant was the original Lantern Rouge when the Haute Route first started. Due to a job change he could no longer commit to it so offered me the position. He knew I was always there (at the event) with clients anyway so it made sense because I knew how it needed to be done. Our task is to get riders towards the rear of the Haute Route event to the finish within the time limit, and also generally be around to chat, help make people laugh and keep them moving on the climbs when things get tough. And now and again if things get desperate push people up the climbs!!!

UNFOUND: For a long day in the Alps, do you have any personal tips on comfort and nutrition?

ADE: One thing that I think is heavily overlooked by newer riders is correctly fitting bib shorts! One of the biggest reason for people not finishing Haute Route in my experience can be due to saddle sores. Make sure you buy decent well fitted bib shorts and wear them and get used to them before anything where you are riding for multiple days. Also use a good chamois cream and apply lots to your chamois and your behind!!

When riding in the mountains lots of people spend far too long sat down. Get out of the saddle and give your back and legs a rest and change of position, especially on longer climbs.

Nutrition wise again find and get used to a product that works for you and know will not give you stomach problems. You don’t have to follow how much the manufacture suggests as a gel every 20 minutes will cost you a fortunate and you will spend a lot of time on the toilet! Stick to real food where you can and I think three to four gels in a day is okay. Any more and again it can result in stomach problems. I also only use electrolyte in one bottle and one of water and if a really hot day my saving grace when riding is a coke. Peanuts are also a winner for a savoury snack.

UNFOUND: The season is about to start, we know you have been super busy, however, if someone is reading this, inspired but late in getting their summer cycling plans in place, what dates and availability do you have?

ADE: At this time of year most of our trips are 90% full, especially those that are based around events. We have a few Accommodation/Logistics Three Night packages available for La Marmotte for riders who already have their own entries. As an Official Tour Operator, we can still get entries too.

Also if you want to be on the legendary Alpe d’ Huez for the Tour de France we have a few beds left in our luxury chalet in the heart of the old town where the riders will pass by the front door. We think this is a great package because it’s not just about watching The Tour. We run some guided/supported days in the lead up to the pro riders coming to town, so it is a real rider’s week.

Something well worth checking out and the last trip of our season in October is the Haute Route Ventoux Three Day event. If you fancy a few days riding in Provence around the mythical Mont Ventoux, take a look at our Haute Route Ventoux Four Night package. The event will cover all three sides of the giant of Provence over three stages and some of the other amazing roads of the Vaucluse region. It is a stunning location and a great way to finish the season off.

UNFOUND: And finally, what is the funniest thing you have seen or experienced on the bike?

ADE: Over the last 11 seasons with Alpcycles I have seen it all….inside out cycling shorts, pants still on under shorts, helmets back to front, reflectors and bells still on. I have picked people out of ditches, trees, hedges and on a more serious note, car windscreens. I have listened to client’s life stories and deepest darkest secrets whilst they are grovelling up climbs!! But probably my funniest and best times on the bike are when we are rolling together as a peloton with clients and all my different guide teams over the last 11 years. We are like one big family with people of all different ages and walks of life together. Some have become lifelong friends. The banter is non-stop, especially when we are on the road for a long time, it is 24/7 trash talking. What I love is that the common denominator and what bonds us all together is something as simple as a push bike.

UNFOUND: Ade, thank you for your time, it’s been great to chat. Some great tips for those riding in the Alps this summer and a great insight all round. We look forward to speaking again soon. Join the Alpcycles group page for regular updates from Ade and the team.