“Epic” “Ugly” “The hardest day on the bike – ever” were how this ride was variously described by a weary group slumped over dinner in Le Monetier les Bains after 150k of riding with two HC cols.
I had been kept awake by the torrential rain on the Hotel roof at La Reculaz just below Val d’Isere. In reality this is a fair way up the hill towards the Col de l’Iseran .
I had a flat in my back tyre caused by a flint I hadn’t noticed when I put my bike in the garage the evening before. This was quickly changed in the garage – sheltering from the drizzle- before rolling out through a couple of tunnels into down town Val d’Isere. Once through the town the climbs kicks in. It’s not particularly steep, generally, but it just goes on and on.
This is the way it is climbing Alpine Cols. They just go on and on, with very little respite. Val d’Isere slowly disappeared into the mist.
Despite the effort of climbing it was getting colder and colder.
I could see the flags on the top as it started sleeting and I decided to keep going without stopping to put my jacket on.
It was extremely cold on top but the support bus was there and I piled on everything I had. Oh, the joy of finding my fleecy winter buff in there! Unfortunately I was already too cold to get overshoes on and I got underway with numb hands and feet with cries if “stay away from the edge” following me.
Steep, wet hairpins for 10km. I had to stop a couple of times to free up my hands but eventually the road flattened out to a grade where I could start pedalling.
Through the next 30km of flat out pedalling, mostly flat or gently downhill, I gradually warmed up. The gentle ascent to Col de la Madelaine at 1746m completed the rewarm but I kept all my gear on.
It had stopped raining and I began to enjoy the ride and appreciate the wonderful scenery again. Even though it was predominantly downhill I still found it necessary to stop and eat.
We stopped for lunch in St Michel du Maurienne before the afternoon’s pleasures.
The Col du Telegraphe and the Col du Galibier is the most famous of all routes.
The Telegraphe winds up through the forest with gradually emerging views of the valley below. It’s a popular climb with plenty of riders, even a few brave tourers with laden panniers.
After a short descent to Valloire which is very busy with people enjoying themselves, the long climb up Col du Galibier begins. The mountain scenery is spectacular as the long, long ascent gradually winds it’s way upwards. With about 5km to go, the cars parked near the top glitter elusively. Best not to look!
With about 1500m to go the motor traffic cuts through the top of the col in a tunnel. It’s one way, controlled by lights and very tempting but prohibited for bikes, which face a steepening climb to the col.
More spectacular views over the col and down another brake gripping descent to Col du Lautaret and the final downhill stretch to the Hotel in Monetier les Bains.
I got to my room, laid on the bed and fell asleep in my soggy, smelly gear, shoes and all. Exhausted.