The big one.
The Col du Galibier is a real cycling mountain, and when riding from St Jean de Maurienne and passing over the Col du Telegraph it gives insight into what phenomenal athletes Tour riders really are. Hearts like hummingbirds and legs like sticks with no lungs.
All riders were briefed on hypothermia, clothing requirements and (of course) supplemental food before leaving. Climbing off was ok, living to fight another day was ok, there are more days to come.
Lunch was going to be a long way away with coffee at the top of the Telegraph but no more. The weather was ominous with potential sleet and freezing temperatures. There was no time to lose.
Finishing in the dark was out of the question due to the hotel being at the top of a 3rd mountain AFTER the Galibier. Our accomodation organiser Ben delighted in placing all hotels at the top of hills and mountains. Cheeky bugger.
The initial climb to the Telegraph is pure Alps; switchbacks, alpine forest and double lanes for logging trucks and snow ploughs. The group was divided into experienced and fatigued groups, allowing for road captains to set differing paces with the different levels of riders.
Coffee at the Telegraph, grab more jackets, go.
The landscape turned from alpine to lunar as we crossed the valley and began climbing again. Headwinds and sleet hit us in the face, riders climbed off, the gradient was unrelenting, the bit between the teeth, staring at the road in front of the wheel.
…And finally… into the tunnel and stopping at the gift shop for hot chocolate, coffee, whatever it was that would warm our hands and legs again before we descended. We were nervous about the cold and early signs of hypothermia were appearing; shaking, glassy-eyes, lethargy.
Receiving word that the support team had found shelter close by we got back on the bikes and rode down the mountain in sleet and punishing wind.
I really don’t know how they did it but each day our support team would find a lunch spot of such divine inspiration I’m sure David had a line straight to the Big Man himself.
The crew had persuaded a closed-for-winter roadside Gite to open up and allow the crew to use the kitchen to rustle up an endless supply of bacon sandwiches and shelter a dozen hypothermique cyclists and staff.
This whole thing is balls-out crazy!
And we kept going. Down through the rain, through the avalanche tunnels, winding down to the valley before climbing up to the ski resort of Sestriere. We were single-purpose machines, we just kept on going. Another corner, another climb, another hairpin, hidden switchbacks, heavy asphalt. But we just kept going. Until we stopped.