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The Alpe d’HuZes event is approaching. Today, we are sitting with William Emons, a colleague of ours who has taken part in the last 8 editions of the event.This is a great occasion to take a look at the Alpe d’HuZes’ history and organisation from the inside.

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

It’s a fundraising event. 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 few people can. The road is about 16 km. 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 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 cycle 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 me if I 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! My father participated as a driver for 6 years.

A couple of years later, Randy asked me to officially join the logistics team, but I wanted to bike. So I went there with two colleagues and we biked for the first time. We went twice up the mountains, or maybe just once, I don’t remember exactly. I never made it 6 times. You really need to train a lot to do that.

William Emons and Frits Janssen. Alpe d’HuZes 2023
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. Then, 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 with you this year?

Unfortunately, I will not be cycling this year. I recently underwent surgery on my foot and I couldn’t train. Nevertheless, I will be there and help with the organisation as much as I can.

This year, our group consists of eight people in total. Daan Emons and a friend of his, Perry Houtepen, Frits Janssen, and Marcel Wouterse will be cycling. I will be there, of course, and our driver Tonnie Stoffelen with his wife Petty.

Tonnie was the driver also last year. He has been an Emons driver since 1977. He asked to drive for this year’s Alpe d’HuZes and make it his last trip with Emons before enjoying his well-deserved pension.

It feels good that the company stands behind such an event. Offering a truck, trailer, driver, and people participating in the sport. I’m proud of being part of it and of all my colleagues now training hard for this year’s edition.

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.

Alpe d’HuZes 2022
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!”

And what are your hopes for the future of the Alpe d’HuZes?

My ultimate hope is that the funds raised through this event will contribute significantly to cancer research, eventually leading to better treatments and, hopefully, a cure.

It is a collective effort and I would like to invite everyone to contribute with a donation. You can do it on the Alpe d’HuZes website, either with the name of a participant or with a general donation to the foundation. If you want to sponsor one of the Emons participants, you can do it on the names of Daan Emons, Perry Houtepen, Fritz Janssen, or Marcel Wouterse.

Let’s conclude with a memory. Is there a moment of the Alpe d’HuZes you would like to share?

I’m not sure, there are many. I remember the first year I cycled and my dad was at the finish line. The year after my mom was also there waiting for me.

I know is not a particularly funny memory, but it is a cherished one for me.

Thank you, William. Being so committed to such an event as the Alpe d’HuZes is really something to be proud of and we are glad you shared this experience with us.We would like to conclude by adding our voice to William’s and inviting everyone to contribute with a donation to this most important cause.

Click on the button below to go to the Alpe d’HuZes website