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Afbeelding voor Emons Group again proud sponsor of Alpe d’HuZes

For years already, the Emons Group has been a proud sponsor of the Alpe d’HuZes; a fundraising event that takes place at the Alpe d’Huez in France. Raising money to support the research on cancer; a very important cause! Today, we take the opportunity to take a look at the Alpe d’HuZes’ history and organisation from the inside. Our colleague William Emons shares his insights. He has taken part in the last 8 edititions of the event, together with Frits Janssen.

William, let’s dive immediately into the topic. Can you tell us a bit about the Alpe d’HuZes?

I believe the first edition was in 2006. All funds go into cancer research and organisations striving to improve cancer patients and their families’ lives. Each year they raise around 15/16 million euro. The entire event goes on for one week but the main happening is the run up the Alpe d’Huez mountain on the first Thursday of June.

Can you explain how the event is organized?

The event takes place in France, but the organisation is entirely Dutch. This means that everything necessary needs to be transported there: chairs and tables, electronic equipment, food, radio stations, and all the rest of the structures. This is done with trucks that leave together in convoy to reach the Alpe d’Huez. Once there, it takes a few days to build and organise everything. When the event is over, it takes another day to pack everything back in the trucks and leave the location spotless clean.

What about the sporting day? How does that work?

Well, that’s quite straightforward. You can bike, run, or walk up the mountain and back down. The goal should be to reach the top 6 times, but of course any climb is allowed; going up once is already an achievement too! The climb is almost 14 kilometers long, with an average steepness of no less than 8%. In total the participants climb more than 1100 meters from the valley at 723 meters to the top, which is somewhat above 1800 meters. Not a trifling distance to be covered uphill 6 times!

The number 6 is a constant in the Alpe d’HuZes. It is in the name of the event (‘zes’ is the Dutch for ‘six’) and the run goes for 6 times.

Yes, and it is always in June, the sixth month of the year. This year, in particular, the day of the run is the sixth of June. I think the number six is there because the first idea of organising such an event was of the first 6 organisers.

There is also something else connected with the Alpe d’HuZes. Alpe d’HuZus (‘zus’ is the Dutch word for ‘sister’), something about a sister?

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but one year someone’s sister decided to walk up the mountain the day before the official event. The organisation decided it was a good idea. They made it part of the event for the volunteers who were too busy to participate in the official run. Now many people take this one walk or bike ride up on Wednesday.

Can you share your own experience with the Alpe d’HuZes?

It all started eight years ago. Randy van Venrooy, a colleague at Emons at the time, was part of the event organisation as a volunteer. He asked if Emons wanted to contribute to the logistics with one of our trailers. That first time I went with my father Kees Emons who drove the truck and ‘we got the bug’. Once started we couldn’t stop!

Apparently, the entire Emons Group has ‘got the bug’!

Yes, we have been there with a trailer since 2016. In the beginning, we transported the kitchen, tables, chairs etc with a 2WIN trailer. After that we volunteered our training trailer to be used as a radio station at the finish line. This year we will transport the sports gear they sell during the event. The organisation cares about the environment and wants to make the event as sustainable as possible. They specifically asked for a 2WIN double-deck trailer to cut down CO2 emissions.

And what can you tell us about the sport?

It is demanding! I need to train for 5 or 6 months before the event. Two times a week for the first 3 months and then three times per week. One session of training is about 70 km. Going up the mountain is hard, but the most difficult part is managing to balance your energy between the ups and downs. If you go too slow you’ll lose your balance and if you go too fast you’ll run out of energy. I usually go about 10 km per hour. Many runners easily overtake me cycling my way up!

Likewise, the way down is not as easy as you might think. You go fast; there are many hairpin turns and lots of people on the road. You constantly have to break and end up feeling quite some pain in your hands. Going down is a bit less physically demanding but more dangerous.

How many of your colleagues are in the team this year?

Unfortunately, I will not be cycling, for I recently underwent surgery on my foot; I step in as volunteer. This year, our entire board will be cycling; Daan Emons (CEO), Perry Houtepen (CFO), Marcel Wouterse (CCO). Next to them, also Frits Janssen goes up the mountain again. Our colleague Tonnie Stoffelen was the driver last year and has been an Emons driver since 1977. He will drive the 2WIN-trailer for this year’s Alpe d’HuZes and makes it his final trip with Emons before enjoying his well-deserved pension. His wife Petty will be there too.

It is not a competition, right?

No, is not about winning. It is not even something you do for yourself, you do it for others. The atmosphere is not that of a competition at all. There is music, food, and people cheering on the sides of the road. Sometimes, if there are participants in difficulties, people will help with a push in their back. ‘Hermannetje’ they call it.

‘Hermannetje’, like the name Herman? What does it mean?

It’s a push in the back with a little story behind it. A man called Herman, diagnosed with cancer, founded a team called BIG Challenge to participate in the Alpe d’HuZes. He wanted to raise 100 thousand euros. In 2009, the team raised even more than that, but Herman was so sick that occasionally needed a push while cycling up. So, a push in the back to help a cyclist up the mountain has been called an ‘Hermannetje’ ever since.

What is the atmosphere on the day of the official run?

This is not an easy question to answer. Let’s say that it is time for a laugh and a tear. The event is joyful and amusing, there are thousands of people together, fun and laughter, and the general feeling of doing something good and right. But deep down, I think there is some sort of sadness, or better, melancholy. Most people are there because of personal history. Also, we all know that there are many, too many people fighting cancer and still many more who have lost their battles.

On the morning of the run, people light candles and put them on the sides of the road; there are thousands of candles. Many have names written on them. They are the names of people to be remembered, either deceased or fighting against cancer. I always buy one too for the cause. When you go to the starting point early in the morning it’s still night. Seeing all those candles and especially knowing what they are there for, gives you goosebumps. 

Then there is the climbing. The idea is that when you are at the top of the mountain you are the closest you can get to the beloved ones lost to cancer. And at the end of the day, when you cross the finish line, you don’t know if you feel more like laughing or crying. Most people look up at the sky, either to dedicate their efforts to a loved one up there or just to remember. Most people do cry.

What motivates you to participate in the Alpe d’HuZes?

For me, it is the cause behind the event, supporting cancer research and improving lives, mixed with my passion for sport. But mostly is about ensuring a better future, especially for my kids in the hope that they will never have to face such a monster. When you go uphill with such a goal in your mind is easy to stick with Alpe d’HuZes’ motto: “Giving up is not an option!”

In the first week of june the Alpe d’HuZes will take place; we will keep you informed on it!