Bourg-d’Oisans - Le Col du Galibier
Last night we ate in the restaurant attached to the Gite. We were the only customers. Bruce ordered a pizza and I ordered a hamburger and chips. The amusing thing is that, outside the restaurant there was a food truck making pizzas and a second food truck making hamburgers. What we never found out was; did the kitchen actually make our meals or did they outsource to the food vans and then add their profit margin? Despite that, the prices were only half what we paid in Switzerland.
This morning, Thursday, dawned with light high cloud and no mist in the valleys. After breakfast we decided to ‘do’ the Col du Galibier. We debated starting from Bourg-d’Oisans but this would have made a journey of over 100km much of it on a busy main road. Starting at Col de Lautaret would have made for a return trip of about 16km which somehow felt a bit short. We compromised by choosing to start at the village of La Grave at 1500m which meant a round trip of about 40km. We parked the car and reassembled our bikes hoping that there was no time limit for parking. There was no obvious sign restricting parking.
We left La Grave at 9:45 and settled into a nice rhythm for the next 11km. The gradients were quite pleasant between 5% and 7% while the ever expanding views were quite enjoyable. At the Col de Lautaret (2057m) we took the usual photo and then I took Bruce to the hotel where, in 2011, I had stopped to enjoy a crepe, or two. The hotel was still serving crepes so we just had to stop and have one with lemon and sugar washed down with a coffee. The sign outside the hotel stated that the Col du Galibier was 9km uphill at an average gradient of 5.5% but we knew that there would be quite a few steeper ramps.
Just as we started the climb we noticed a family of four; Mum, Dad Andy two girls, about to head up as well. Bruce noticed that Dad was attaching a rope from his bike to that of the younger and smaller daughter’s bike. It appeared that he was going to tow her up when required - what determination! The road upwards was reasonably straight with few hairpins on the lower section so we had great views back towards Col de Lautaret and also the road which continued onto Briançon. I had travelled that road back in 2011. After 50 minutes of steady climbing we reached the monument to Henri des Granges, the ‘father’ of the Tour de France. From there it was a steep climb to the summit of the Col (2646m) which we reached 10 minutes later. The place was crowded with cyclists, motorcyclists, car drivers and walkers. In fact the whole area is so popular with walkers it could be debatable whether cyclists outnumbered walkers or vice versa. The temperature was down to 15C with a cool breeze and my nose was running like a tap with a worn washer. I had grabbed some paper napkins from the hotel but by now they were of little use.
We started our descent, stopping briefly at the souvenir shop to see if they had socks with Galibier branding. No luck, just as in 2011! Continuing the descent we came across our family of four part way up. They were certainly doing a good job of the climb with young daughter still attached to Dad’s bike. Seemingly in no time we were back at the Col du Lautaret where we visited another souvenir shop. Still no socks, but we both spent a bit of cash to help the local economy. With 11km to La Grave and possible rain threatening we pointed our bikes downhill once again and in seemingly no time we were back at the car park. Half an hour brought us back to Bourg-d’Oisans where a quick supermarket satisfied our lunch and dinner arrangements for today. Back at the cabin we lunched, showered and then joined 14 other people in the recreation room to watch Stage 6 of the Tour.
Today’s ride was relatively short with 38.6km, 1159m and 2h 26m of riding.
Bourg-d’Oisans - Col de la Croix de Fer
We woke to a glorious morning. Clear blue skies, sunlit hills, birds singing - what a life! After breakfast we decided to attempt the climb to the Col de la Croix de Fer (2067m). Rather than driving to the town of Allemont, the start of the climb, we decided to ride from our accommodation. This will add about 19 km to the return trip but most of it is pretty flat and will give our legs a warm up before the climb.
Near the start there was a profile suggesting that the average gradient for the 31.5 km climb is only 4.4% with a maximum gradient of 11.5%. What a laugh! Sure there were some flattish sections but there were far more sections above 10% and my Garmin clearly showed 12% and 14% gradients at times. It turns out that there was some kind of Gran Fondo style race on the major part of this climb today and we saw many riders with numbers on zipping down while we ground our way up often at speeds below 5kph. The organisation was really first class with a lead vehicle (red of course), lots of motorbikes, a radio relay vehicle and many workers (volunteers?) on the side of the road. There were two divisions of the ride we found out. The ‘original’, at 123km which went over the Col and a further 15km or so down the other side, and the ‘compact’, which at 92km did a u-turn at the top of the Col. Some of the riders were clearly in it for the competition but others were out for the day as evidenced by their tentative descending.
On the way up we were passed a few times by a family in a car that were clearly supporting the father who had started at the bottom and was riding at roughly our speed. Mum and two kids would drive ahead, wait for dad to ride past and then leapfrog to another point. Eventually they reached a point near a large dam about 9km from the Col and unloaded two road bikes, an e-bike and a fluffy white puppy from the car. Mum took the e-bike with the dog in a basket on the back while the kids hopped on their road bikes and rode along with Dad. This section of the climb had some easier gradients, less than 5%, and later some steeper bits nearer 7% but it felt so much nicer than the many kilometres of 11% that we had been riding up to the dam. The day was warming up and we were glad that we had left relatively early, on our descent we saw many riders still coming up in the heat of the afternoon.
We finally reached the Col at about 12:15 after about 3 hours of climbing. I must admit that I was just about worn out and, had I not been riding with Bruce, I might just have turned around ages earlier. After taking our photos we had a Coke before setting out for the return journey. There were a few uphills to negotiate on the return but the route was generally down with some very fast straight sections. There was an option to visit the Col du Glandon, which would have added a few more climbing metres but, as we are not Col ‘hunting’ and we had enough of going up we gave it a miss. Sorry Christine, we saw your email after we got down to Allemont where we stopped for lunch. Unfortunately the recommended Boulangerie was closed so we had to settle for a local cafe where a group of Mountain bikers who were also in some competition kept rolling in, we were the only roadies.
We finally got to the Gite at about 3pm feeling quite chuffed with ourselves for managing this climb which turned out to be much harder than we had expected. Certainly it was tougher than both Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Galibier.
Today’s ride was 76.5km, 1760m of climb and 4h 18m on the bike.
We have one day left here and, at this stage, it will be a rest day so this may well be the final instalment of our blog. Thanks for reading, we hope that you have enjoyed our adventures.