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  • Writer's pictureThomas Sweeney

2015: Alpe d'Huez

Updated: Aug 9, 2021

In 2009, I lost 35 pounds in five months. My life changed forever, both for better and worse. The repercussions and consequences of the choices we make is an ongoing theme in my upcoming memoir. The excerpt below is from France, 2015.

I passed through the city of Grenoble around noon before veering thirty miles east, uphill, to reach Alpe d’Huez, where so many outcomes of the Tour de France had been decided. I found a campground at the base of the famous ascent and set up my tent.

I left seventy pounds of gear at the campsite and, despite riding two thousand miles in the previous three weeks, attacked the climb. Rocketing upward, I counted down each numbered switchback, glancing occasionally at the wide valley below me, a mix of green and granite gracing every mountainside.

I hadn’t always loved climbing hills on my bike. In fact, I’d hated them my entire life. But then, in 2009, I lost all that weight. I’d been riding uphill with the equivalent of a thirty-five-pound dumbbell strapped to my back. In three months, it was gone.

Suddenly I could fly up hills and my view of climbing changed as drastically as my self-image. With that newfound love of scaling mountains, I made a new goal for myself: win the Mount Evans Hill Climb. Set on the third Saturday in July every summer, the race starts in Idaho Springs, Colorado, at 7,500 feet above sea level and finishes at 14,130 feet, on top of Mount Evans, at the end of the highest paved road in North America.

I thought it would be ironic if the kid who constantly got made fun of for being fat could win the amateur Category 3 division. When I first looked at the winning times for my category, coming in at two hours, I couldn’t believe it.

My exact words were, That’s not humanly possible.

Discouraged, I did the race anyway. My time was 2:06.53, less than seven minutes shy of something I said wasn’t humanly possible. The following year I got second place with a time of 2:01.10.

For the next two summers, I trained and trained, alone, often with my bicycle panniers filled with cement as I scaled Fort Collins’s most infamous climbs. I never went out to eat or drink with friends, fearing I’d gain weight at restaurants which have no compunction about loading up their menus with notorious amounts of unnecessary calories.

In the summer of 2013, at 128 pounds, I finally attained the glorious amateur Category 3, Men’s 35+, Colorado State Hill Climb Champion title.

In the years that followed, I wondered what the point of all my training was, spending one summer after the next starving myself, placing a priority on staying thin over maintaining friendships. I became so fixated on a singular objective that I didn’t realize how lonely I’d become.

I achieved my goal and lost a lot more in return.

Today, however, I shook those opportunity costs from my mind. I loved to climb, and here I was scaling one of the most famous roads in Europe. Today, cycling up Alpe d’Huez, I wasn’t going to let myself ponder such existential issues.

Today was all about the exhilaration of every single switchback and savoring every single moment of an activity I used to bemoan. I grinned through every painful turn of the pedals.

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