Facing the Mighty Galibier

in cyclefeed •  3 months ago

We were running out of time. Even though we had ridden the Ornon, Oulles, Les Deux Alps, Notre Dame and Alpe D’Huez to this point there was one climb that I wanted Iain to experience before he went home. Le Galibier. This is the highest ridable peak in the area at 2642 meters and is an 8 km climb up from the Col du Lautaret which is at 2058 meters. I knew the ride itself was a different challenge to the others but also that the views were breathtaking, surpassing the amazing terrain that we had already witnessed.

Day 2 of the Tour De France festivities were under way so we had to consider the timings so that we would not miss out. The previous day saw the climb to Alpe D’Huez which saw an exciting climax and was eventually won by Geraint Thomas to the chagrin of the Dutch support in our campsite. This day was the roll out from Bourg d’Oisans scheduled for around 3pm. The others had planned to get into town early and meet the riders while they prepared for the race and take a few photos. This meant we had to get out of Bourg early before they closed the road and drive through the mountain pass to get to our destination. Then we had to complete our ride and get back in time to enjoy the festivities and watch the roll out. Could it be done?

The plan was to leave at 8am and drive to La Grave and ride from there. It was just short trip of 10 kms to the base of the Galibier from that starting point and then an 8km slog straight up to the top. One of the other challenges of this climb is the lack of oxygen at altitude can start to affect you. Without realising what is happening your legs start to hurt and your lungs just don’t feel like they are working. No matter how hard you try you can’t seem to take in enough oxygen.

We took the wheels off of the bikes and carefully put everything into the car, separating the frames with a couple of blankets. Track pump, shoes, food and water, phone and all the other important gear, check! It was time to go. We made good time driving through the mountains with very little traffic to slow us. 30k in we reached La Grave and drove straight through the tunnel at the back of the ski station and stopped in a lay by. There we unpacked the bikes and set everything up ready for the ride.

We set of at a nice easy pace, slowly getting the heart rate up and finding a rhythm. I was feeling extra cautious for this ride so I swallowed a gel just to give me a little boost, psychological more than anything at that stage. The gradient up to the Col du Lautaret is not particularly challenging in the grand scheme of things. It averages around 4% so 10k of this slope should have us warmed up and ready for the big one. We pass a tiny little village called Villar d’Arene about a third of the way in and both of us are going well.

As you climb this ascent it slowly opens out on the left and you can see part of the south side of the Galibier. What a beautiful sight it is. This area is smack bang in the heart of the French alps and everywhere you look is snowy peaks, ski stations and spralling mountain meadows. We are steadily approaching the Col du Lautaret and I’m starting to get nervous. There is a brief incline gain and then a sharp drop and climb back up and then we arrive.

This is the base of the Galibier and the very top of the Lautaret. At 2000 meters this is fairly high on it’s own. My nerves are getting the better of me a little so I decide to go for a fail safe. I purchase a can of coke from the shop and swig it down. This is obviously not very good for you long term but will guarantee me strong legs to make this climb in solid time. I would also like to be able to keep up with Iain for once and share in the glory of climbing Galibier. I finished the coke and found a bin to dump the can. Ready to go! Burp! Ooops, excuse me! That’ll be the coke.

The start of the climb heads north and then peels away west for a bit. There is a large rock face hiding the second part of the climb that you have to navigate around. At about 2k into the climb you complete the first section and with the rock face on your left you swing around into the second section. This is like a giant bowl that you ride around in a clockwise direction but generally heading north. The average gradient is around 7% and it’s tough but as long as you stay out of the red then it’s manageable. Iain seems relaxed and in a rhythm and I have settled down and am riding well too.

The thing with the Galibier is the closer you get to the summit the steeper the incline. Even if it starts off at a modest 7% average the finish is at just over 12% and it will destroy you if you haven’t left enough in the tank. On one occasion that I climbed this great mountain my mother and father were driving up with Jayne and Jaime. When driving up the last section and with the car in first gear and struggling my mum asked Jayne if i was actually going to climb to the top. When Jayne said yes my mum burst into tears and asked ‘how?’

We were both starting to get heavy legs at the 5k point and I was running out of water too. We were coming up to the tunnel section and a little cafe called The Chateu de Galibier Refuge, so we stopped. You can see a 360 degree view when you click on the link. There is nothing else on this climb. The landscape is almost lunar and vast. It is a sight to behold for anyone whether cyclist, hiker or a tourist by car. We purchased the water from the cafe and topped up our bottles. Iain had a quick look at some of the mountain clothing on sale outside the shop and then we carried on.

There were a few cars queued up, waiting to go through the tunnel and out the other side, so we had to navigate around them and split off to the right. The increase in gradient is apparent straight away even though it has yet to reach its full incline. The tarmac had been freshly laid and was lovely and smooth. This helped our rhythm and tempo. At this point you can see the top and that also gives you a little motivation and encouragement.

The only people we were meeting were in cars or riders that had started their descent. You always give them a glance and sometimes a little wave. If they are confident enough to take a hand off the bars then you may get a wave back. All the while you are looking at them thinking how lucky they are to have completed their task and were now enjoying the fruits of their labour by descending the mountain. It’s funny in a way that you know they were looking at you remembering the suffering that they endured to get to where they are now.

Both of us were heads down, not talking to each other, conserving our remaining strength for the final push. Both taking it in turns to be on the front. There was less than a kilometer remaining and a few sharp switchbacks to contend with. I’m turning each pedal stroke with the buildup of lactic acid stinging my calf and thigh muscles. How long will my energy hold out?

200 meters to go and I am out of the saddle just to add the extra torque to keep moving. If I stopped pedaling I would just fall to one side and not get up for a while. I can see the tiny little platou at the peak. The thin air is burning my lungs. As much as I care about how Iain is getting on, right now all I can focus on is left foot, right foot and fighting the urge to stop and get off. We’re close and I can hear other cyclists encouraging us to push to the finish, which is typical of the attitude in the area. Everybody is in this together.

One last effort and I drag myself up to the top and just slump over the bars.You slowly realise that you have made it and the exhaustion, lack of oxygen and emotion kick in.Iain pulls up beside me and it’s as much as I can manage to lift my arm and fist bump him. As you start to recover you notice how much colder it is at 2600 meters. The top of the climb is pretty small. The road literally bends around a rock and then drops down the other side. There is a small car park that has space for about 10 cars and that is it. But what you have got is a view of the alps that is truly spectacular. You can see for miles around looking over the peaks of the other mountains nearby. You really feel like you are on top of the world.

Some pictures of my previous visits

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On reflection we were both really proud of our ride and the achievement of reaching this huge summit. This was Iain’s first time on this type of ascent and I know he was really happy and pleased that we took the time out to attempt it. It is a unique climb and even though he is super fit he has limited experience on a ‘rodie’ and found it a big challenge. We took some photos and then prepared ourselves for the descent.

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The Galibier descent is quite tough for a number of reasons, one being that there are several blind corners after longish straights that you have to be careful on. I have always finished it with very achy fingers and wrists from all of the hard braking entering each corner. The tarmac is very smooth for the most part but you have to watch out in other places that are of poorer quality, so you have to remain switched on. Unlike many of the other descents in the area, this one doesn’t have too many sheer drops to worry about so for the nervous descender it’s a chance to let go a little more.

Iain was descending very confidently for a rider that has never faced this kind of drop before. We stuck together down the really steep stuff keeping a reasonable pace but I was champing at the bit to go for it. I gave Iain the nod and I accelerated off. The terrain becomes a bit of a blur. I was passing other descending riders and the ascending climbers look at you with envy of a job completed and the reward underway. I managed to check on Iain a couple of times but after a few minutes I was in a section of the mountain all on my own. There were a few cars and other vehicles to contend with but nothing too crazy.

With about 2/3rds of the descent completed I stopped to wait for Iain to catch up. A couple of the other descenders went past me and then Iain appeared with his head down doing a decent speed. As he whizzed past he said something that made my day. He said ‘I can’t get this smile off of my face!’ Music to my ears. Iain has the buzz and feels the same way as I do about the whole experience. It is something that has become so important in my life that it means an awful lot when others appreciate it.

Here are some of my Strava records for the ride.

We finished the last third together and blasted straight down the Lautaret to the car. Still buzzing we dismantled the bikes, packed up and drove off back to the campsite. Time was of the essence as the roll out for the Tour De France was not far away and we didn’t want to miss the festivities. The race was on.

More details of the rest of the day can be found in this post.

Here

Here are a couple of snaps from the Roll out.

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Previous posts in the series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Thanks for reading.

Gaz


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Looks like wonderful time with the weather as well.

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We were very fortunate with the weather @psyceratopsb

It can change very rapidly in the alps but the whole two weeks were nigh on perfect.

hah woow...so you got the snap with Peter?!! I'm soo envious, I'm from Slovakia and when UCI championship was taking place here in Innsbruck, I hoped to manage to get a pic with him...but it didn't happen :/

Btw that curly road totally reminded me of Transfagarasan Road in Romania...you know which one right? The famous curly road...haha dunno how to describe it, hope u know which one I mean :D

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Hey @matkodurko

It's an awesome pic, isn't it! That's my daughter taking the selfie with him and Sagan was her mission for the day. She is a big fan.

I haven't been to the Transfagarasan yet but it's less than 2 hours from Bucharest and is on my list. I think it shuts in October so I will have to wait until next year to ride it. Have you been or are you a TopGear fan? 😁

What a majestic view that is. The valley and the summit that reaches the clouds is breath taking. Joining Tour De France must take a lot of endurance and training. What an achievement indeed Congratulations.

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Thanks @watersnake101

The whole area is so beautiful. I know my pictures do not do it justice. Did you check out the 360 view? it's worth it. Although I am tackling some major climbs I not doing anywhere near the distances that the pro's do. Well, maybe the odd day but not every day.

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Oh I think I missed that. I would definitely have a look. Cycling is very physical and something that would be hard for me due to my lifestyle. I think I need to live healthier and get in shape lol. Just being in that event to me bro you are a pro. Cheers!

love your style. wonderful presentaion with awesome photographs.

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Thanks @ykdesign

It's difficult to ride and experience everything and then try to take pic's as well. Some of these shot's are from a previous attempt when my father was taking the pic's.

Hi cheese4ead,

This post has been upvoted by the Curie community curation project and associated vote trail as exceptional content (human curated and reviewed). Have a great day :)

Visit curiesteem.com or join the Curie Discord community to learn more.

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Thank you very much indeed, @curie

You have a great day too. 😁

Wao roads are amazing <3 and the scenery is so serene....

i would not be able to cycle for 1 Km even lol

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I've always said 'it's a wonderful place to suffer!' 😁

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I wanna experience it toooooo

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Thanks @cyclefeed

Most appreciated. 😁

Fantastic effort lads! Well done on pushing through but those views were well worth the struggle! Nice easy journey back down though and one you can enjoy :P

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Hey thanks @nickyhavey

It is worth it. The area is stunning and makes you feel pretty cool.

I love descending and get up to some crazy speeds but I'm addicted to it. This particular descent was slow at 69 kph max.

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Haha, still fast by the non-cyclist measurements :D

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Holy crap! You must be in some decent shape! This would have killed me.... but some impressive sights!

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Absolutely beautiful sights @bengy

I sometimes take my daughter with me too. They hire ebikes for a reasonable amount. I would thoroughly recommend a trip if you get the chance.

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Ebikes, you mean with the electric motor assist? I've been looking at them for myself, but they are pretty expensive to buy! And Netherlands has no hills!

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I haven't looked at the cost of buying them but I know that the hire in Bourg D'Oisans in the alps was around 35 euros a day (similar to a normal hire). My daughter used one. A Giant MTB. It was very efficient 85% power left after a good days riding. Jaime had it in eco mode and it was great.

Set your goals, accomplish your dreams. Very inspiring, scenic road an endurance test at many levels, well done @cheese4ead

#steemitbloggers

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Hey thanks @joanstewart

It is a battle of mind and body in a beautiful setting. Out of all the climbs that I attempt this is the one that give me the biggest feeling of achievement.

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Hey @joanstewart

Thank you so much for the SB Members Suggestion. That was awesome and most appreciated.

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Long endurance run, plenty of photo's and great story telling, always a pleasure!

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What are beautiful mountains!

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Yes they are @amalinavia

I can't get enough of them. Everybody should visit the alps at least once. So amazing.

Looks like a lovely sunny day out Gaz :-)

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It was perfect, @raj808. No excuses there.

Although, it can turn in seconds so you have to carry warm options just in case. That adds a little weight to the climb.

Dear @cheese4ead,

Thank you for the submission for our project – 1001 Places to Remember. Hooray, your story is now listed in our project publication, you can check through our progressive report either from our @fundition project page or @archisteem account. We will be sorting out the seasonal shortlist authors and make an announcement soon for the seasonal reward.

Stay tuned and Steem on!

Sincerely from,

@archisteem and team

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Thanks a lot @archisteem

I heard about you through the @steemitbloggers and this is my first contribution to your initiative. Hopefully the first of many more! 😁

Gaz

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You are most welcome @cheese4ead! It is our pleasure to have you with us and wow, another @steemitbloggers in the house! Looking forward to more of your stories.

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I will endeavour to please! 😁

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Steem on!

The mountains are so beautiful! Beautiful pictures and what a wonderful time riding through the mountains. Must have been tough, cycling up the mountain and overcoming the lack of oxygen? Looking forward to more of your adventures!

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Hey thanks @khimgoh

It has to be seen with your own eyes to be fully appreciated. I absolutely recommend a trip. The oxygenesituation is probably not that bad if you drive up. I doubt you would even notice. The difference is when you are pushing yourself to your limit suddenly it's hard to get in enough to ease the muscles. All good fun! 😁

Amazing

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Thanks @wales

Aberystwyth mountains are pretty cool too! 😉

How exciting @cheese4ead
This is one of my favorite lines.

One last effort and I drag myself up to the top and just slump over the bars.

That is what sports, life, and living are all about. Never give up. Slump if you have to, but give it you all you've got.

WELL Done! #steemitbloggers

great pick @jaynie

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Thanks for your lovely words @rebeccabe

That last little run is really steep and takes everything you have left, hence the 'slump'. 😁 I guess no matter your level, you can ride up it with different times and push your limits. That's part of the beauty of it.

I always get a little emotional at the top of this particular climb. I guess it's a combination of the height, thinning oxygen level, exhaustion, felling of achievement but mostly the view. You really do feel like you are on top of the world.

Thanks for taking the time to read my post.

Thanks for the glimpse inside the mind of a bicyclist. The pics were gorgeous, but I think I'll stick to slightly flatter terrain for now. :-D

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You don't know what you are missing @mattifer

You should try it. You don't have to race up, you can go at your own pace in an easy gear and enjoy the astonishing views. You can even hire E-Bikes now to enjoy the experience without the suffering.

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Oooooh, an E-Bike would be the way to go for me. Just reading about the incline was enough to make my legs sore. :-)

I do like physical activity - but there's something about riding a bike uphill that makes me cringe. I dig the downhill part!

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That's settled then! E-Bike up the hill, enjoy the views and then switch off and roll back down. 😁

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It's a plan. Now what country is this in? I'll get planning post-haste!

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Lol. French Alps. The town I stay in is Bourg d'Oisans. There are lots of different climbs at different levels to choose from in the area.

Add to that, the food is amazing, the wine is the best and the views are ridiculous! What are you waiting for? 😁

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Oh man, I'll start packing! :-D

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Good job you guys. That looks like it was a BIG climb! I bet the ride down was awesome!!

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The descent was so good @derekrichardson

I didn't get up to my usual speed but I had a lot of fun. It was great to descend with Iain and see the pure joy on his face, too. I am totally addicted to the speed of the descent's. I've always said that it is the reward for the suffering on the climb.

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Heck ya. I have an addiction to speed to, but mine is on a snowboard. I've been skiing/boarding since I was a little kid. Never really got to into doing jumps and tricks like a lot of people. I like steep technical runs, and I really LOVE going fast!!

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Nice! I'm a skier too. Although, I'm probably a little more cautious of the speed in comparison to cycling but I still crave it. I'm starting to get there.

Decent skiing in Romania btw. Very cheap and only an hour and a half away by train from Bucharest where I live. We've been known to train up and back in a day to get some snow time in.

Wow that's simply amazing! And the view!! well worth the attack on the physical self :)

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Thanks @lynncoyle1

It is my second home and about as spiritual as I get. I never tire of seeing it's beauty and it makes me a bit emotional at the top.

I absolutely recommend this area for a visit.

Thanks for checking out my post.

That looks like one hell of a ride, I would much rather ride it in a car for sure so I could enjoy the view but congrats on making it to the top.

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Thanks a lot @sultnpapper

Either way you should definitely experience them. They are truly breathtaking.

Does your daughter have a picture with Peter Sagan?! Lucky girl!! Now I'm jealous. I like biking mainly because of him :D (I'm Slovak as well). When we went to Paris a couple of years ago there was the Tour de France. There were so many people and we were waiting for them, but by the time that they came we had to leave to catch our plane. Then I saw them as well during the Tour de Suisse. But again, I had to leave to bring my friend to the airport so I never met him in person..

Oh boy, when I was reading your post I was feeling your pain. It must have been really tough. This is a huge and long ascent. How long did it take you to recover? I like the part when you were saying that you were meeting other people going down already. It's very motivational to make it to the top :) Congratulations that you and your friend made it!

It's also nice to see that you stopped from time to time to 'refuel' and showed us some nice photos. The scenery is amazing. It must have been a pleasure to bike there :)

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Jaime is a big fan of Peter's and it was her mission that day to get his pic. As you can imagine, Peter is a very cool laid back guy and is very open to meeting fans.

The best time to catch them is on the roll-out at the beginning of each stage. In Bourg the team coaches are parked all around the edge of the town and only cordoned off by a metal rail. When they leave their team bus they are normally prepared to take pic's and give autograph's. You have to get there early to get a good position and then wait a while but, as my daughter will testify, it's worth it.

With the climb of the Galibier there is a certain amount of suffering involved but it really is worth it. Of course, you do not have to charge up as quick as you can. You can always cruise up and take it easier. The views are astonishing and so worth it.

Some of those photos I have to credit to my father. It isn't easy to climb and to get good photos but he drove up and had a decent camera with him too.

Thanks for reading my post @delishtreats

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Yes, this is why I like him too. He is very cool and down to earth. Thank you for the tip! Next time I'll try to talk to him during the Tour de Suisse.

I wondered about the photos and I thought that you were actually taking them during your breaks. Your dad is good at taking photos then :)

Have a lovely evening!

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I'll pass that on to him. He'll be chuffed. 😁

Wow! Some stunning photos! Makes me want to go (although I'd prefer walking over cycling!).

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Hey @felt.buzz

Either way, it's worth a visit. Cycling or walking. Don't forget that E-Bikes are an option too.

Wow! I am in awe and those views are absolutely breathtaking!

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They are amazing @byn

Well worth a visit if you ever get a chance.