July 23rd-25th 2017 ~ Serre Chevalier to Valloire ~ Never as terrified going up or down a climb as on the Galibier

Today’s photo shows me at the famous Col du Galibier sign after climbing to the summit with Travoy.  The climb of the Galibier was the toughest of the whole Tour not only because of the gradient but also due to a strong gusting wind and heavy traffic. In places, it was like cycling along the edge of a cliff with a sheer drop only a foot or so to your right. At the same time, the wind was blowing mostly to my left and on a few occasions, almost blew me over the edge. It was the most scared i have ever been on a climb and at one stage, contemplated getting off the bike and pushing it up the hill as it would have been safer. But fortunately, the wind eased as I got closer to the summit and I managed to cycle the whole way up.

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Total distance cycled Sunday July 23rd from Serre Chevalier to Valloire – 45 km (includes 1,200m of climbing). Total distance cycled so far on 2017 Tour de Travoy – 4,460 km.

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Sign saying 12 km to the summit of the Col du Lautaret.

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Lots of motorbikes on both the Lautaret and Galibier climbs.

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Sign for the 45th line of latitude. Here, about 8 km from the summit of the Col du Lautaret, is the exact halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator. Where I live in Ireland is close to the 55th line of latitude so there is exactly 10 degrees of latitude between here and my hometown in Donegal.

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Summit of the Col du Lautaret. Any other col, I would have taken a photo of Travoy at this sign and maybe even a selfie. But with 8 km and about 600 m still to climb to the summit of the Galibier, I didn’t bother.

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The Col du Galibier was open. The Col normally opens in the middle of June and remains open until the end of September. For the other 8 months of the year, it is snowbound.

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One of my favorite photos from this year’s Tour de Travoy. The photo shows graffiti on the road for Franck and Andy Schleck as a classic Citroen car passes by, The graffiti is probably from 2011, which was the last time the Tour de France went up this side of the Galibier. The stage that day was won by Andy Schleck after he broke away from the peloton on the climb of the Col d’Izoard.

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Andy Schleck wins Stage 18 of the 2011 Tour de France on the Col du Galibier.  To mark the centenary of the first climb of the Galibier in the 1911 Tour de France, ASO, who own the Tour de France, decided to have a stage finish at the top of the Galibier in what was the highest ever finish in the history of the Tour de France. It is very rare to see a solo breakaway in the Tour by one of the favorites but on Stage 18 that year, that is exactly what Andy Schleck did. Attacking halfway up the Col d’Izoard with 60 km still to go to the finish, he descended to Briancon with a team-mate and then soloed up the Galibier winning the stage by over 2 minutes. It was one of the all time greatest ever stages in the Tour de France and fitting way to mark the race’s highest ever finish.

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The road up to the Col du Lautaret taken from halfway up the climb to the Galibier. I tweeted this photo saying it was like looking down on a Scalectrix set. The landscape looks serene but what the photo doesn’t show is how windy it was on both the Lautaret and the Galibier climbs. At times, the wind was almost gale force and on a few occasions nearly blew me over.

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Sheer drop on edge of the road up to the Galibier. At times, it was like cycling along the edge of a cliff. I am not normally scared of heights but on the road up to the Galibier, I was terrified. Not from the gradient or the traffic, both of which were bad but from the wind and from the sheer drop if I happened to lose my balance. At times, the wind was gusting from the left at other times from the right and when you are only going 5 km/h up a massive climb, it doesn’t take much to throw you off balance.

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Lots of cyclists on the Galibier. Most were going past me with their jaws wide open at the sight of a madman dragging a trailer up one of the toughest climbs in the Alps.

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View of the Serre Chevalier valley from about 3km from the summit of the Col du Galibier. The highest mountain in this shot is Monte Viso, which is right at the back of the photo just underneath the clouds. Near this mountain is the Col de la Traversette, which is one of the passes that some experts claim that Hannibal used to cross the Alps.

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Feed station about 1 km from the summit. There obviously was some sort of sportive taking place on the climb as here was a feed station for the cyclists to get some food. I thought about calling over to get some energy bars but then realized that with Travoy,  on the back of my bike, the staff would notice right away that I wasn’t taking part in the sportive.

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Chalet du Galibier souvenir shop and cafe beside the tunnel. For some reason, cyclists are banned from using the tunnel probably because it is so narrow and dark.

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Section of the last km of the road up to the Galibier. The last km averages 9% but in places, the gradient is over 12%. I ended up stopping about a half a dozen times the road was that steep.

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View of the Chalet du Galibier from near the summit. 

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The summit of the Col du Galibier was incredibly crowded. I wanted to cross the finish-line with my arms aloft like Andy Schleck but when I got to the summit, it was so crowded I had to swerve into the car-park.

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Motorbiker atop the sign at the summit. There were dozens of motorbikers, some hikers and about 50 cyclists at the summit. I ended up waiting for about 20 minutes to get a chance to get a photo at the famous sign.

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First attempt at a photo. I was lucky a Frenchman offered to take a photo but our first attempt was not very good. as Travoy got stuck on a kerb and I ended up photo-bombing a young cyclist, who was probably with his father.

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2nd attempt was much better. I managed to free Travoy and get a shot without being photo-bombed.

Classic cars at the summit of the Galibier. There must have been Classic Car rally up the Galibier as all day, I had spotted hundreds of classic cars.

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The descent of the Galibier was just as scary as the ascent.

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A recumbent cyclist making his way up the Galibier.

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Marco Pantani memorial 4 km from the summit. It was from this spot on the Galibier that Marco Pantani attacked Jan Ullrich during the 1998 Tour de France. By the time the stage finished at Les Deux Alpes, 50 km away, Pantani had gained 8 minutes on Ullrich and effectively won the Tour. The Tour that year had started in Dublin and I remember watching Marco warm up before the prologue. There were very few other people watching him warm up eventhough he was just after winning the Giro d’Italia. At the same time, there were dozens of people watching Chris Boardman and Jan Ullrich warm up. Chris would go on to win the prologue while Marco would finish third last. Marco was not a time trial specialist but he was a mountain specialist and it was here on the Galibier that he effectively won the Tour that year.

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Straw sculpture festival in Les Verneys.

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Some incredible sculptures were on display.

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Notre Dame de l’Assomption church in Valloire. The Camping Sainte Thecle is located about 500m from this church in the centre of Valloire.

 

 

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