Col du Galibier ↑ all posts

Col du Galibier

I was quickly boiled out of my tent as the sun appeared over the hills. Today was a real test: the long climb from St Michel to the Col du Telegraphe and then onwards over the Col du Galibier at 2645m in height.

10 km of busy main road from St Jean to St Michel, and then I the climb began. High on the cliff tops above the town you can see the radio masts of the Col du Telegraphe. They stay in sight for most of the ascent, reminding you just how far, and how high, you have to climb. There was some shade in the pine forests low down which provided some relief from the 30 degree heat, but this didn’t help my speed and I found myself being passed by numerous cyclists. An hour and a half later I reached the Col and had some food (I was well prepared with supplies this time…).

After the Col du Telegraphe there is a heartbreaking 5 km descent into the town of Valloire. Usually an enjoyable experience, you know that every metre of height lost on this stretch will have to be climbed again on the other side of the town. Plenty of water fountains in the central square to rehydrate, and I sat in the shade for a while to prepare for Galibier. From Valloire the first section is a steady climb along a road high above a valley with views across to large hills covered with scree on the lower halves. The valley floor rises to meet the road, and you cross the river on a little bridge before the real climbing begins. A series of hairpins takes you upwards quickly, and pretty soon you can look back down and see three or four levels of road below you.

The hairpins end and you enter a much more desolate landscape of shattered boulders, and now you can see the top of the climb off in the distance at the top of a snow covered slope. Scattered thunderstorms were building around me so I hurried onwards, cycling through snow canyons cleared by the tractors. There’s a tunnel near the top which is closed to bikes, so you have to continue upwards and over the Col. Over the top the view opened up over the Ecrins national park, but the thunderstorms were closing in so I took some pictures quickly, put my jacket on, and headed down the other side in freezing rain.