Saturday, July 26, 2014

Col du Galibier

On July 11th I rode from Briançon to St.-Julien-Mont-Denis, passing over the Col du Galibier on the way.

View Col du Galibier in a larger map

After missing a proper dinner the night before, I was pleased to find a bountiful breakfast at my hotel in Briançon. I took good advantage of that. I felt like I was going to need a lot of energy today.

It's a long climb
I got my usual early start and promptly headed up toward... Italy, actually. But I turned around and headed back up D1091 toward Col du Lautaret, reversing my course from the day before.

The climb is very gentle, at times hardly even registering as a climb. The road runs through some little villages, then becomes a little more isolated as it approaches the pass. I passed a couple of flocks of sheep, each with a shepherd watching them from the road. Not many fellow cyclists on this day.

Looking up toward the Col du Lautaret
Two years ago I passed through here. On that occasion I had a lovely omelette, sitting outside in the sun with a view of the Lautaret Glacier.

That omelette loomed strangely large in my planning. I had planned to get to the pass around lunchtime, which worked out. As it turned out it was far too cold to sit outside, and I ended up eating at the other restaurant at the pass. Anyway, I got my omelette.

Looking from the Col du Lautaret
toward the Col du Galibier
Looking at my GPS track, I'm surprised to find that I spent about an hour having my leisurely lunch and generally loitering around the area. But eventually it was time to continue, and I headed up toward the Col du Galibier. I'm surprised to see, as I'm writing this, that this road is also labeled D902, just like the road up to the Col de l'Izoard.

Maybe it was the long rest, maybe it was the magical power of the omelette, but I felt really great on this climb. It runs through stark terrain, with exposed rock, grass or moss, and not a tree to be seen. You can see the road for miles ahead.

I think the last time the Tour de France climbed this side of the road was 2011, and the road was still covered with exhortations for Andy and Frank Schleck, and the Leopard team. That day was near the peak of poor Andy's powers; as I was passing over his name he had just pulled out of the 2014 Tour a couple of days earlier.

D902 climbs up toward a fog-shrouded Col du Galibier
There was a fog hanging over the pass as I climbed toward it. Once I arrived I found the top almost deserted; it was just me and two other cyclists. Just enough to have someone take my picture, as it turns out.

At 2642m this was now the highest point of my ride, and indeed would be the highest point I would see until the plane ride home. It was also cold -- about 10C (on that plane ride home I kept an eye on the flight statistics, and as we passed through 2600m I couldn't help but note that the plane also registered 10C).

A fog-bound Col du Galibier
Given the fog there wasn't much sightseeing to be done, so I bundled up and headed downhill. In 2012 there had been little patches of snow up here, but on this day there were large areas of snow by the road, and melting across it. There wasn't much traffic, and the descent into Valloire was relatively quick.

As I rode into town, I heard a crack and thought I might have dropped something. After passing all the way around the town once, reminding myself of the place I spent two days in 2012, I headed up toward the Col du Télégraphe.

It was at that point that I realized that the crack I heard earlier was, in fact, a rear spoke snapping. Nuts! I turned back around to find a bike shop. The first one didn't have spokes for road bikes; the second one had no shop, but they offered to sell me a jersey and sent me toward another shop that didn't happen to exist.

Saint-Julien. Nice town, but
no bike shop.
So it was that I just opened my brakes and continued on. Oh well. I felt really uncomfortable with this, particularly as I started down the descent toward St.-Michel-de-Maurienne. The open rear brake didn't work well, unsurprisingly, and had a jerky, juddering, unpredictable effect. None of this lent any confidence to the guy descending on a damp road.

Nonetheless, I slowly and carefully made it to St. Michel, the little town at the bottom of the hill, and again looked around for a bike shop. None to be found. Incidentally, Google did no better. Harrumph.

The Maurienne, the valley of the L'Arc, from my hotel balcony.
I headed down D1006, a busy road despite the convenient highway running parallel to it, down to St.-Julien-Mont-Denis and my hotel. The hotel was isolated, and not only did they serve dinner but they actually had a large neon knife and fork blinking on top of the restaurant. Dinner was a lovely goat cheese salad, local favorite tartiflette, a chocolate tart and a 35 cl bottle of local red wine. Fixing the bike was going to have to wait for the next day.

Elevation profile
Today's ride was just short of 52 miles, and just short of 5200 feet of climbing. The most difficult kilometer was the last bit near the Col du Galibier at 9.4%, but at the time the excitement of reaching the pass made it feel easy.

No comments:

Post a Comment