After surviving my first night in the Alps as a boil in the bag meal I was abruptly awoken by a pair of deer that had decided to have a small showdown outside my tent; don’t they realise I need my beauty sleep?
The next two days were packed with climbs often frequented by the Tour de France so I needed to stock up on supplies. Having carefully packed up my gear and making sure I left no trace of my overnight stay, I wound my way back down from Montvernier in search of food. As would soon become the theme of the trip, I found a Lidl, knocked back four pain au chocolat and set off for the first day in the high mountains.
First up was the Col Du Glandon; a casual 19km bump in the landscape that climbs at an average of 7% that summits at 1924m above sea level. I say casual but what I actually mean is painful 19km. Admittedly the first half of the climb is pretty chilled and winds it’s way out of the valley at quite a steady gradient but it’s not the climbing that does the damage in the first part of the climb, it’s the heat. The temperature was already over 20c at 10am and with the sun directly overhead things were pretty tough despite the sporadic shelter of the trees.
Thankfully there is a cafe half way up and you can grab a coke and some more more water before continuing up the climb; on a proper summers day you’re going to need this because the second half of the climb gets much harder. You leave behind the tree line and enter the open expanse of the upper mountain, no longer shaded by any trees but open to the elements. I wouldn’t want to be there on a bad day.
The real pain comes in the final 3km of the Glandon though as the climb rears up over 10% and really makes you regret carrying that luggage. I may also have been regretting my four pain au chocolat at this point too as I wished I weighed about half what I did. Thankfully the climbing is worthwhile and at the top you’re greeting by a stunning mountain landscape. This is the first opportunity to tick off one of those selfies with a sign post to prove I definitely got to the top.
I can’t really claim to have ridden the next col in all honestly but regardless of that, I hereby proclaim that I climbed the Croix De Fer, or 3km of it anyway. You can add on a tiny amount of climbing from Glandon to reach this second summit and grab that all important photo with a sign. Mission accomplished. Just as when a ride isn’t on Strava it never happened, if you don’t get your summit photo then you never truly did get to the top.
After a lovely long descent to Saint Jean De Maurienne, it was time to refuel at Lidl again; these supermarkets are like a cycling tourers dream and it surprises me no end that no one has managed a sponsorship deal with them yet for races like Transcontinental!
The third climb of the day was the Telegraphè; this is a climb typically coupled up with the brutal Galibier but I was feeling soft and would be doing them on separate days.
If you believe the videos on a YouTube then Telegraphè is this brutal leg snapping climb that never ends; in reality it’s a silky smooth bit of road in the shadow of the trees where you can be a bit ballsy and despite having your house on the bike, start racing people to the summit and successfully drop them so you feel like a Demi-god. Note to self, my legs are not as godlike as I thought at that point. Seriously though, it’s a simple climb and one to savour before the pain of Galibier.
As I mentioned though, I would do Galibier separately. I was three days deep into being showerless and smelt like a gone off Brie. I needed to have a wash before the next supermarket tried to sell me as a speciality cheese. Valloire had a campsite with a shower facility and washing machines so I stopped overnight to rectify the situation.
The next day was the Tour climb I was most apprehensive of in this block of riding. If the Youtube videos of the Telegraphè were exaggerating, then the ones of the Galibier were full of intergalactic hyperbole, which probably meant by simple logic, this one might be a bit harder.
Sure enough, it was harder. The gradient is nothing special for the first half of the climb but unlike the previous day, this col has no tree cover at all so you’re exposed to the sun from the very start. I was in no rush so soaked up the spectacular views along the way and stopped off for a few photos which I’ll put down as the reason why I didn’t take the KOM this time.
The French seem to love building roads that get harder as you go higher, as once again the final few kilometres were the hardest and steepest as you climb above 8,000ft and into the territory of long lasting snowfall. It’s up here that the air thins out and you first start to feel the effects of altitude. It’s a weird feeling whereby you feel like your lungs aren’t quite full,] but you’re definitely breathing deeper.
I probably didn’t help myself on the oxygen front by wasting a lot of it muttering to myself about the quite punchy rider that had driven most of the way up the climb then got out of his car to ride for the last couple of kilometres and his summit photo. Given he was fresher and didn’t know I was angry with him, I chose him to get my summit selfies from 10 different angles to secretly make him suffer.
The rest of that second day was mainly downhill and a total dream. I’m by no means a confident descender but managed to keep a good 25mph average down the other side of the Galibier to Briacon. The road is wide and sweeping with no serious corners so you can really get stuck in to the descent.
I ended this two day block in Susa, Italy. It turns out Susa doesn’t have campsites so I would once again spend some time in a field, having baby wipe showers and trying not to slow boil in the constantly building humidity.