Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Alps Trip Day 7 - Valloire to le Monetier-les-Bains

I woke up late; I had decided to permit a certain lie in since the Tour wasn't arriving at the top of the Galibier until later in the afternoon. There wasn't much point arriving at the top at 9am.

The whole climb was in nice weather with the crowds increasing as I went up. Everywhere people's heads turned either in disbelief or (I think) admiration. One passing cyclist asked if I was crazy. At another point a bystander remarked when I passed that I was a 'real cyclist', which just about encapsulated why I was putting myself through this monster climb. I was carrying 2/3 my weight, in addition to myself, up the mountain, not just a 5kg bike. Camping cars and tents lined both sides of the road. People were everywhere and seemed to have been so since yesterday. I wasn't the crazy one.

The top was an absolute melee of cyclists, I couldn't believe how many there were. It was only 11am. The Sun was out but not for long then we all discovered how cold 2600m is even in mid-summer. About then the wait started. I found a great spot about 200m from the col overlooking the last 10km of the climb. As a bonus there was a camping car with a TV, which if one craned one's neck the progress of the stage could be followed. By the time the Caravan came through I was wearing every item of warm clothing that I had.

Unfortunately we didn't see the winning break happen; Vinokourov decided on the Madeleine that he wanted the stage. When he arrived at the col de Galibier he had a 40 second lead over Botero, the chasing peloton, including Armstrong was a couple of minutes back. Various other groups came through up to 30 minutes later. The later they came through the sadder they looked. I felt especially sorry for Voigt, who had worn the yellow jersey for a day earlier; Mayo and Heras, both of whom failed where they should have been strong, of course there are the dozens of riders who remain mostly anonymous and have to struggle to finish days like this.

It was amazing to see such a huge number of people go to so much trouble to watch a bunch of small chaps struggle up a mountain, even travel long distances and endure unpleasantness to do so. There's something about cycling that unites the pros with the guys who do it for love. I saw that when the peloton came through, guys were holding newspaper that they'd carried up the mountain. A rider would stop and they'd give this newspaper to him. He would stuff it in his shirt to help fend off the cold of the decent. They would then give him a push off and some words of encouragement. Strangely I find something in this that makes me love cycling and cycle racing.

When they all came through I was torn between watching the riders and taking photos. As usual I did a poor job at both, I got no photos of any of the riders I was hoping to get. Fortunately I had another chance later. In any case the real experience was to see & ride the road, to see the audience and participate in the spectacle.

After the riders had passed the spectacle continued. Thousands of people, most it seemed on bikes, had to get off the mountain. A traffic jam at 2600m was the result, which was something to see. I'll certainly need to come back to properly experience Galibier in peace, this time I was too concentrated on keeping my lane and watching for others than admiring the wonderful scenery.

As I descended into the valley that contains Briançon I realised that I'd probably have problems finding accommodation since the Tour de France had a voracious appetite for this. However I totally lucked-in, quite by chance I happened upon a gite d'étape which just happened to have one vacant place! Furthermore a copious dinner was served soon after I arrived. And it was friendly!

Distance - 42km
Time - 3:31
Max Altitude - 2642m
Tot. Ascent - 1247m

Col du Galibier – 2642m
Col du Lautaret – 2058m

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