The book ‘Ascent’ by Richard Yates, recounts that the Galibier was once only a mule-track, and even now is only open from May to October. It was first used in the 1911 Tour, and Emile Georget was the first rider to summit the monster – and reportedly without putting a foot to the ground – which was pretty astounding for the time.
It all begins in the picture-postcard-perfect alpine town of Valloire, a ski hub in the winter, a cycling and climbing mecca in the summer.
But don’t let the placid surroundings fool ya, behind the calm is a killer climb. Try this on for size – gain 1,170 meters, in 17km. It gains nearly 70 meters per kilometer, starting here in Valloire (that’s French, for valor). You’re gonna need a big-boy size helping of valor to conquer this beast.
There are Germans everywhere on this part of the Tour route. These guys were fueling-up on pizza and beer before attacking the Galibier. They were obviously enjoying the male bonding and absence of wives nagging ‘em to clean their mouths.
…while up on the mountain, damn near every camper van you see has either a German flag or a T-Mobile pink sign plastered on the front.
These Deutsche dudes seemed to take an immediate liking to Dr. Kristin…hmmm… what’s the German word for ‘handstand’?
The average grade is 8% – not too bad. Yeah, OK. There are some nasty pitches right out of town, up in to double-digits, as high as 12%, in the first 2km. Ugh. No warm-up… it’s right into the fight.
In case you’re wondering, we had an addition to the PEZ-crew today. Dr. Kristin’s friend Janet, from lovely Marin County, CA, joined us on the climb up the Galibier. Nice PEZ kit, Janet.
Here’s a strange one. I’m not big on superstition and all that mumbo-jumbo stuff. But something happened to me on the hill today. A couple of Germans wanted me to pose for a pic with this dead-animal skull that they found…m yeah, OK, I’ll ham it up…take the picture and let me get out of here.
But when I got back on the bike, I was dead… crushed… felt worse than I’ve ever felt on a bike. And I blame it all on the baaaad juju that I got from that skull. I’m not kidding. I think there was some kind of evil spirit that entered my lungs and my legs when opened my big mouth and looked into the hollow eye sockets of the skull.
(Note to self..never do that again)
So, what was it like? For the first 6km, it was great. Tough right out of town yes, but hey, you’re climbin’ the Galibier… be in the moment! But after the bad juju hit, from 6km to 12km, it hurt… bad. 12km to 14km… wanted to quit. But the next kilometer wasn’t bad. Then, from that point, all the way to the top… major, big-time hurtin’.
But I shouldn’t complain too much. Look at all the crap this dude had haul up the hill. He looks like a refugee from the ’60’s… either that, or it’s Bruce Dern. Hmmm…
There are stone markers at every kilometer along the route to the top, to remind you how much more you have to suffer… and that snake in the background? That’s the road, my friends, snakin’ along in the valley waaaay below.
There’s paint at nearly every corner of the road, all the way to the top. This family from Tolga, Norway was doin’ it right…
The Germans were the most vocal campers, but these Norwegians were the best painters, and we saw a lot of paint. A+ for the Thor Hushovd crowd.
And the Tour wouldn’t be complete without another day with the Devil. Hmmm…didn’t we see this jabloney in London? Didi was busy with brush, staking his claim to a spot about 4km from the top.
Ya know what’s better than paint on the road? A giant yellow heart stretched across a hill next to the course. You can bet that they’ll show this one on TV when the race goes live.
See those dots down below? They ain’t sheep…those are all camper vans, parked on the course in their spot for the race. Some of these peeps have been here for two or three days. It may take ‘em that long to get back down off the mountain after the peleton passes.
OK, I don’t wanna make this story all about me, but a little perspective is in order here. I have never hurt like this… ever… on a bike. I have a new-found respect for the guys who can actually race up a monster like the Galibier. Once I got to the top…
…I damn near fell off the bike, and did all I could just to keep my lunch down. – really impressed those tourists. But it’s all good.
…if you can end the day with Dr. Kristin doin’ a perfect handstand atop the Galibier. After her own rest day, Dr. Kristin is back on the Tour… back to full speed… and inspiring the PEZ crew at every turn.
I hope we’ve given all the PEZ fans a good idea of what it’s like for mere mortals to attempt this climb… and I hope everyone give props to all the guys who do this for real in the race. We’ll be up here on race day to show you what it was like for everyone in the peloton, and all the fans, atop the toughest climb in the Tour.
Vive la Tour!