Day 11: The Giant of the Marmotte - Col du Galibier TdF HC 2,645m
Degrees of indecision about what to do today. Originally we had thought it would be a travel / rest day before tackling the Col du Galibier on Monday, but as we had our car in Bourg d’Oisans we could decide on how active or inactive to make today.
The weather had changed quite dramatically from very hot and sunny to cool and rainy. We studied three weather forecasts and although not totally agreeing their general points were that for today and tomorrow at the Col du Galibier there was a 40% chance of rain, with snow at 2,800m and above (which is less than 200m higher than Galibier). The temperature would be about 1℃, but feeling about -5℃ with wind chill.
So, we had a leisurely breakfast and then mooched through the town centre to watch the start of a running race. Their circuit took in 3 villages in the area and included climbing 1,000m on the way. There were competitors from all parts of France. Most were just wearing typical marathon running kit, but several also carried walking poles, so we were not quite sure how steep or rough all the climbing was going to be for them.
It is a long run in from Bourg d’Oisans to Galibier on a fairly main road for much of the way with a collection of tunnels of varying lengths. So after a bit of dithering we decided to drive out beyond the tunnels to see what the weather was like and then decide whether to put the trike together and tackle Galibier. This would make the climb shorter, but still “epic” compared with anything on offer in Britain! We packed all our winter mountain clothing and set off. After negotiating the tunnels on the main road we were both quite convinced that they would not be much fun at all on a bicycle. At the car park it was a bit windy, but not rainy and the cloud base was above us (a bit) so we resolved to go.
The Col du Galibier is an HC climb reaching 2,645m, which makes it a true giant and is often the highest mountain col used by the Tour de France. Galibier Is, BIG. Looks BIG and Feels BIG. Lots more snow close to us beside the road and above and below us than on previous days. It just all felt a lot more “mountain”.
Like on some other days tons of motor cycles out – respectable looking tourists and also Rockers not looking like the person you would want your sister to go out with. But all were very friendly with their waves and encouragement.
Sheila was going OK, but John struggled and made hard work of the first km (perhaps having underestimated how much Alpe d’Huez had taken out me yesterday?) Sheila asked if I was out of breath and when I finally had enough breath to reply and say ‘no’, she said OK, we go on.
After a snack and roadside loo stop, we both got going well and the gradient was “steady” rather than “grippy”. We heard a marmite (oops, marmot) but did not see any. Lots of white mountain narcissus though and Sheila spotted a couple of white pasque flowers.
There is a tunnel about 1km before the col. This was closed for 30 years but was re-opened recently for motor vehicles. Cyclists are not allowed through the tunnel and still have to go up and over and this final push to the Col was decidedly grippy, kicking up to 12%. We really were lucky at the top though because the rain held off (apart from small drizzly bits) and the cloud base had lifted above the Col as we were coming.
Photos taken, we put on lots of clothes and dropped carefully back down around the tight hairpins to the tunnel and nearby café. A welcome hot chocolate stop and John got carried away and bought a T shirt. Sheila resisted (thank goodness) buying a very fetching (she said) yodelling, furry marmite in a felt Tyrolean hat with feather.
Outside the café is the monument to Henri Desgrange – the man who first organised the Tour de France in 1903 and also the man who inaugurated Audax cycling events. An essential photo stop for cyclists.
All clothes on for the descent. Sheila sporting an additional two fleeces, buff, skiing mitts, pertex wind proof and mountain waterproof AND the stripy leg warmers. John in not much less. The windchill dropping down the mountain on a bike at 40 to 50kph is something to respect. We stopped to warm up and have a late lunch back at the Col du Lauteret.
Back in Bourg d'Oisans we did a bit of essential shopping before showers included buying a replacement bottle cage for a broken one, some more magic powder (electrolytes) for drinks. And most importantly the back half of the sole of one of John’s cycling shoes had come away and required urgent attention. A friendly bike shop glued it back together – we just hoped it would stay stuck.
The next day we motored over Galibier in much better weather and took a few more photos.
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