Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Col du Lautaret


I checked out of the hotel with the intent of beating the rain and the cold to the summit of the Col du Galibier. Depending on which direction one crosses the Galibier, one has to first summit the Col du Telegraph or the Col du Lautaret. From La Grave it would be the Lautaret.

The forecast for La Grave, which is at a much lower elevation was for only a high of 50 degrees (10 C) and rain. It called for "heavy rain," up to in inch in the afternoon.

View of a glacier from La Grave
I hoped that I could beat the weather. I would be wrong.

Light rain started almost immediately as I left La Grave. At 4 km I thought about doing the prudent thing and turning back. But I didn't. I also knew that I was climbing the entire time so my return time would be four to five times as quick once I made the decision.  

I kept climbing and the weather kept getting worse. The winds and rain both picked up and it was cold. On the Tour de France broadcast later that day announcers on EuroSport were saying it was the worst weather they have ever seen for the Tour. And they weren't on the climb to the Galibier.

I sensed I was getting near the summit and I saw many campers pulled over in anticipation of Thursday and Friday's stages which will go through here. I saw a camper with a Colorado flag. I had seen it on the slopes of the Tourmalet and then met the owner (renter) of it in St. Gaudens. With rain coming down hard and cold too, no one was stepping outside to say hello.

I continued 1,000 meters to the top then stopped and took a picture. Although I had a full jacket, arm warmers, Under Armour, full length gloves, shoe covers, and leg warmers, I was freezing. I turned around and could not wait for the descent to end.

Another summit sign for my collection

I was freezing, literally, as I was cold and soaked. Shaking at times, I descended as fast as I could to get back to La Grave. Of course the faster one goes the colder it gets from the wind chill but the sooner one gets back to the start.

In La Grave I went back to the hotel, and although I had already checked out, I grabbed a clean towel from their cleaning cart, and ducked into a shower stall. (They had some rooms with a private bath and also a public bath area - private stalls.) I quickly got out of my soaking wet clothes, and changed to dry clothes. I did not stop shaking for 40 minutes.

I got in the car and decided to drive up to the Galibier. If figured that may be the only way I would ever see the summit. I knew the rain was very cold as it was hitting me but didn't realize how cold until it hit the windshield. The rain drops were forming a splat pattern. Snow.

I normally don't make wise decisions when riding, especially when I'm tired. But today was one of my wisest.

On my drive to my next hotel, which was at the summit of the Col du Lautaret, I had been so cold I didn't even notice that I had just biked to it. I decided I would drive up the Galibier. The snow was falling heavily and the road was soon covered. Driving an unfamiliar car with a stick shift, I was getting scared being on this road. I looked for a spot to turn around but any open space was already occupied by campers. So I drove carefully to the summit.

I saw one guy on a bike trying to make it up but on my way down I didn't see him. He must have wisely turned around or went over the edge. While it would have been hard pedaling up in the wind and 2" of snow on the road, it would have been far worse descending.

I never want to be defeated by a climb but was sure happy I didn't attempt this. Foolish and perhaps deadly.

I made it to the summit of the Col du Galibier, but not the way I would have chosen.

I came to France to ride the Col du Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux, and maybe more than anything else, Alpe d'Huez. Anything else, including Col du Galibier, is just icing on the cake. I don't need more icing.

Only later did I learn that on Sunday, 200 cyclists had to be rescued from here.

Just the 7-mile climb, does not include the descent, which was recorded as a separate trip.

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