Day 2 The Col du Galibier: a frightening experience
After my triumph on Alpe d'Huez I had planned to drive up and visit friends who live on the mountain, however this is where things began to go wrong. Police had now decided (due to the traffic shambles no doubt) to close the road - so no social visit and no collecting my certificate.
Col Du Galibier sign
Thoughts then turn to the next job in hand which is finding lodgings for the evening in the vicinity of the next stage the Col du Galibier.
Fortunately accommodation was found close to La Grave which is the start of the next stage of my challenge. Although it had began to rain again I decide with time on my hands that it would be a good idea to drive up the mountain and suss it out. After driving up the 11k Col du Laurete I turn left and follow the sign for the Col du Galibier. Great news it clearly states on the big sign - no cars 9 am to 12 noon - bicycles only. This is a real bonus and has cheered me up no end as I set off to check out the climb. Tentatively I round the first left hand bend which is totally blind and get very nervous - this is not good. The road which seems about 9 feet wide has a drop to oblivion with no rails, trees or anything else. Even in a new car this is a nightmare and after the second bend I decide to abort the reconnaissance and return to base. Thankfully there was an area just large enough to very slowly and carefully turn round and I breath a sigh of relief.
Although the first evenings sleep in Grenoble was not great, this night was almost sleepless as the bedroom window was on the main road and every time a car sped by I awoke thinking I had slipped over the edge of the mountain on the bike. Yesterdays confidence had turned to apprehension as time arrived to set off and to say I was nervous was an understatement. Because of the rain the previous evening and the fact that I would be climbing to an incredible 8,678 feet above sea level, I decided to play safe and wear a jacket (big mistake).
Breakfast had been taken as opposed to gel on the bike and the two part climb began from the village of La Grave up the Col Du Laurete. Physically I felt OK and setting off through the two tunnels I complete what seemed a relatively easy first part of the 11k climb in 53 minutes.
What happened next could probably only happen in France - a shambles as unannounced they chose to re route traffic through the Col Du Galibier because the tour was at Alpe d'Huez. People were late, angry and in a hurry - just what I needed being on a bicycle on the edge of a mountain up in the clouds.
Nervous tension took hold as tentatively I set off on the second part of the climb to the top. In complete contrast to the previous day the temperature was rapidly rising and I'm stuck with wearing a jacket. Any hopes of another good time were immediately jettisoned as staying alive became the main priority.
Although steeper than the Col Du Laurete it was not too difficult to climb in the early to mid stages and my body felt comfortable pedalling in a steady rhythm. Many good cyclists came by me and I cannot remember passing anyone although today this was an irrelevance.
In complete contrast to the glamour of the previous day there are no fans, no razzamatazz, just a few cyclists and cars on a pretty baron mountain road - welcome to the real world of serious mountain climbing.
Time has ticked away and its approaching 2 hours as I see the tunnel which is approximately a kilometre from the top. Friends had warned me about the severity of the final kilometre and unfortunately they had not exaggerated. Knowing the finish was only a few minutes away I find a new serge of energy up the brutal twisting finale and make it to the summit. My time of 2 hours 12 minutes was OK as I still felt fine physically despite taking a while to get my breath back and recover composure.
At the top the view is amazing as you would expect with the altitude being a staggering 2645 metres above sea level. There are a few other cyclists recovering from their exertions and a few tourists who have driven up and are making snowballs as here at the top there is always snow I assume. This seems a bizarre scenario with the temperature getting up to 100 degrees at the bottom in the middle of summer.
Now its time to get back on the bike and descend the 19k to the bottom and not surprisingly the nervous tension returns once more. Thankfully after the first kilometre though it was not as bad as I had expected. When I reach the Col du Laurete I'm happy and push on down to La Grave at the bottom with confidence in completing day 2 and only one more to go.
Unfortunately the day is spoiled by police not allowing me to get anywhere near Bourg Oisans to see the time trial up Alpe d'Huez. In fact even worse unless I remain in La Grave for anther 7 hours its back up the Col du Galibier in the car. As my schedule meant being in the South of France by the evening this was the only option. Gingerly I crawled back up the mountain in the car - much to the annoyance of the maniacs behind who attempt suicidal stunts beyond comprehension. Through the vehicle tunnel near the top and out the other side and think thank goodness that driving up is over and begin to descend.
As I round the first band on the descent a car is halfway over the wrong side of the tiny road and I am forced to do an emergency stop or face instant death. Amazingly this much to the annoyance of the imbecile behind who nearly hits me up the rear. When I pull over at the first opportunity to let this fool by - the French nutter is is honking his horn, waving and shouting abuse. When finally the bottom of this monster mountain is reached it becomes apparent with the help of locals that due to the many road closures a 100k detour is necessary in order to get on to the main road south to Carpentras.
With the temperature in 3 figures and no air conditioning on the hire car this is becoming a nightmare -
The final day at the mother of all evils - Mont Ventoux - and it gets worse !
DAY 1 - Alpe d'Heuz: a true time 'Trial'
DAY 2 - The Col du Galibier: a frightening experience
DAY 3 - Mont Ventoux: crazy Englishman cycling in 90° heat
Copyright Wayne Kennedy 2004.