Return to the clouds, Part 2 of 5
Great Britain is beautiful, but France is on another level. It is undeniably worth exploring. We drive over 943.6km in around 10hrs and, it feels like it. More so for Glen, ‘Chronos’, as he takes the entire journey in one hit. Now is the time to stretch our legs, jump on the bikes and have some fun.
I have never been to France on my own; everything from school trips, family holidays and for a long time, cycling. Particularly with cycling, riding with friends is incredibly empowering.
Perhaps it is in the knowing of what’s going to happen next: the strong sun, the vastness of the region, the friendships. It gives me a lot of perspective.
Base camp is made in La Grave. Popular amongst skiers and hikers, it is ideal for the expansive forests, quality tarmac and situated between Alp d’Huez to our left and Galibier to our right. Magic.
After the usual mischief involved in setting up camp coupled with witty conversations, we wake up at a civilised hour to explore the town. With crisp alpine air filling our lungs, we are on a mission to have breakfast.
The hike up into town hits me with wonder. The view is exceptional and the sharp kick in the gradient reminds us where we have touched down; we’re what we consider to be our ‘second home’: the mountains.
A local boulangerie and a grocery store provide all we need. No automatic checkout machines. It’s all exchanged through good ol’ fashioned human interaction with a smile. We walk past a restaurant that catches our eye. A glance at the menu and it looks so good that we take a cheeky look inside; locals dining? Great, we’ll be back for a treat tonight. And if it’s that good, we may take the rest of the gang when they arrive the following day.
Click to enlarge images:
Gravel towards Mountains
Similar to the walk into town, the ride out of camp passes a rushing river and hits a gravel wall. Marvellous.
From La Grave to Galibier, we are en route to recce Col du Galibier. The mountain will play host to Le Tour as it winds it’s way here for Stage 18 on Thursday 25 July 2019.
We check the forecast hourly; it’s going to be hot every day with the slight chance of rain up in the mountains. This is to be expected.
The setting is spectacular: we bask in the sunshine, disappearing into eerily dark tunnels, appearing again on the other side with smiles. We go through quite villages, with a handful of homes and, the giants constantly surround us. Snow sits on each side as a reminder of the mountains magnificence.
There are stretches of road that go on for what seems like forever. Just when we able to grasp this astonishing landscape, we’re thrown yet another surprising set of hairpins into the mix. We’ve been returning to this region each subsequent year for the past decade and, it continues to be absolutely breathtaking.
The approach to Col du Galibier is much like the other greats in this country. Mount Ventoux and even the Tourmalet start off with lush vegetation at the base of the col. However, as we steadily ascend the 2,642m the flowers give way to rugged rock faces with a splash of green and glowing white snow.
With warm weather conditions and little wind to speak of, it is blissful. Any other day and it would be dangerous to climb let alone descend.
The roads are clear until reaching the top of Galibier. Cyclists, hikers, motorbikers and families are all engage in snapping a photo next to the iconic signposts. We help fellow visitors take a decent wide angle shot, before shuffling in for a quick selfie.
We descend, but I’m not as experienced, or as confident as my fellow Baroudeurs. The cold at altitude encourages me to lift my skills and I eventually join Rob, ‘Crazy Legs’ and Glen, ‘Chronos’, at a nondescript side of the road. This looks familiar, and I am assured by my friends we have been here before.
As we make our return we are hit by soaring temperatures. It tops 40 degrees and we do the smart thing: we stop for water; taking a moment to find some shade and breathe.
Unlike before, we do not pause for a photo at the top. Instead, we take the momentum of the cool breeze to let us drop to the bottom at a good pace. The descent back is a constant thrill: the top is slightly obscured with narrow lanes that quickly open up for panoramic views and smooth tarmac. We regroup at the town below.
The return to La Grave is pleasurable: the outbound climb to Galibier rewards us with a constant winding plunge back. The recent experience of climbing Galibier, we are now even more confident descenders. We may not get any KOMs, but this isn’t what it’s about. We’re here and that’s all that matters.
Tomorrow we’ll be back. Catch Stage 18 of Le Tour. Look out Galibier, we’re bringing friends.
Related article: France 2019 – Part 3