Look 785 Huez RS
Price £8,700, lookcycle.com
Groupset Sram Red eTap
Brakes Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc
At this time of year the Alpe d’Huez is usually a frosty -20C and blanketed in snow. With its views across the Alps it is a magnet for skiers, boarders and – if you’re anything like my wife – people who prefer to sit on a sun deck wrapped in a blanket and sip chocolat chaud. Like many of the jagged peaks in France, the Alpe has a Jekyll and Hyde character. Come summer, its steep ravines and tortuous switchbacks become a masochistic arena where the world’s most gifted cyclists marmalise themselves for the delectation of crowds of whooping race fans.
The word “iconic” is as exhausted as those riders when it comes to describing the sinuous road climbing up the Alpe d’Huez, from Bourg d’Oisans in the valley to the ski resort at the summit. It slithers up the 13.8km, taking in the 21 hairpins, like a giant bull whip. The peak first appeared in the Tour de France in 1952 when the magisterial Fausto Coppi rode away to an emphatic victory. If you are a fit club rider, you will be aiming to finish the climb in less than 75 minutes. The record, however, was set in 1997 by Marco Pantani, the most explosive climber ever. He knocked it off in just 37 minutes. Il Pirata, as he was known, smashed the record on a Wilier frame. But students of the sport will know he also used clipless Look pedals.
The French brand is responsible for two of modern cycling’s great innovations: it produced the first carbon bike to win the Tour de France, when Greg LeMond took the yellow jersey in 1989, and it pioneered clipless pedals. Ireland’s Stephen Roche was the last rider to win the Tour using old-fashioned toe clips in 1987 – since then every grand tour race has been won with a rider using a version of Look’s pedals.
This week I’ve been riding Look’s latest model – a wonderfully light climbing machine called the 785 Huez RS. It was unveiled a few months ago in France. The backdrop for the launch was, of course, the Alpe d’Huez.
Like jockeys and Hollywood diet doctors, no one is more obsessed with weight than pro cyclists. A few grams here or there, over 3,500km and up and down 20,000m of climbing during a grand tour, can be the difference between winning and abandoning. This Look bike is almost 1kg under the limit allowed in pro races: Marco really would have flown up the that hill if he’d been riding this dream machine. It’s such a bantam that teams using it in the Tour will have to ballast the frame with lead to bring it up to the mandatory 6.8kg. I, however, need all the help I can get and so rode the bike as its designers intended – and it really defied belief. The slightest nudge of the pedals and you zoom forward. It’s so eager to please and so aggressive on the ascent that you suspect it must have a tiny motor hidden in its graceful framework.
Carbon has moved on a bit since LeMond’s 1989 victory. This bike is made of multiple layers each less than 100th of a mm thick. Often a bike as light and firm as this is unforgiving, but the 785 Huez RS performs as well on a long day in the saddle as it does in an all-out hill sprint.
Returning to base, however, after a tough day in the hills, I realised I’d never want to ride this bike up the Alpe d’Huez. It would make it far too easy…
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Brooks has been making saddles since 1866. This update of the C17 is made of 100% biodegradable materials. Brooks C17 Cambium Organic saddle, £120, brooksengland.com
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