Marmotte 2010 - Race Day - Part II
The section from Saint- Etienne-de-Cuines is a long, slowly descending section to the foot of the Col de Telegraphe. The section was…”industrial”. The “A” road ran between a wide angry river to the right and a wide angry motorway to the left.
Riding between the two noisy, grey, industrial highways was a stark contrast to the fresh, green, clean mountains. This was a section to be endured, not enjoyed. A means to and end. Groups of equal pace had congealed along the road, clumps of riders heads down, legs spinning, moving along the ancient artery like clots heading for a heart.
Another chaotic water station marked the start of the ominous climb; the Col de Telegraphe, with its deceptive and demoralising false top (actually a short 5k descent) and the long ascent into the mountains for the Galibier. Cycling the Telegraphe was surprisingly dull. The climb was through pine forests, with rare glimpses of the valley dropping below, just a tunnel vision of the road ahead. The monotony was relieved by the peloton. It was changing in character. By now people had been riding for many hours, the sun was getting higher, the day was getting hotter. Those less prepared were flagging, groups were starting to mingle. Fitter riders who had started later were mixing with slower riders that had started earlier. The feel of the ride had changed. I fell into a small pack of riders at the base of the Telegraphe ( I knew the group had an ex-pro rider, it was an organised group led by sportactive) and trusted them and their pace to get me to the top. I fell behind their wheels and went into auto-pilot while I people watched my way up the Telegraphe. One rider was enormous! His bike looked like a thong. He spilled over the frame like a bun in a cake tin, my normal reaction was replaced with admiration. What a huge commitment this man had made, I hope he finished and he did well. Another bloke had one arm and one leg! Just the thought of what that rider had gone through kept my mind occupied for ages. By now, riders had started to hug the shoulders of the road, searching out shade, and it wasn’t even noon. Some fat bloke was straining up the climb, another with half a body overcoming the traumas of his past, and everyday, able bodied, skinny accountants from surbitan were desperately seeking shadows and power gels, they should have been ashamed of themselves.
My climb continued, encouraged by clapping and cheering fans at the side of the road enjoying the passing, day long spectacle. The fact I was passing more than passed me, that a bloke with one leg would pass me if I stopped, all helped me reach the water station at the top of the Telegraphe and the short descent to Valloire that marks the start of the climb up the Galibier. Again I ignored the chaos of the food stop, betting that a less crowded, probably safer water supply wouldn’t be far away, it wasn’t.
The first section of the Galibier from the Telegraphe is soul destroying. The valley lacks the character of the other climbs and although the ascent is “up”, it didn’t seem “up” enough to induce any real enthusiasm for the climb. It’s just sapping. It seems to drone on for ages like a dirge for the accountants slowly grinding their way up in the granny ring, a grey bureaucratic, “administrational” climb, neither demanding or relaxing, just a chore. No turns of switchbacks, just a long, energy sapping drag. That is, until you reach the last 8k. From a sharp switchback, at "Plan-Lachet" the entire demeanour changes to “alpine”. The 180 deg. switchback is the first of the climb from Valloire and has a small bar offering cokes and snacks and a water station to fill the bottles. Plenty had stopped here for refuelling. The Galibier redeems itself from here on in. As you approach the switchback, high and to your right you see riders along a sharp ridge line that is the road. No longer a tedious drag, the Galibier gone all “alpine” on your ass! From here to the top it’s in and out of the saddle, red zone BPM’s and lactic pain in the quads and calfs. This is alpine climbing and what a change! Thunder clouds roared to the east and grey clouds loomed, temperatures dropped, we passed snow banks and roads awash with melt water and rocky debris. Grass gave way to scree and rock, and the turns grew steeper and more frequent. Bodies at the side of road heaved for air as we passed 2000 metres, gel packs and bar wrappers accumulated like discarded oxygen tanks, and as the air got frigid, so did the knees. The Galibier was not a ride for shadow-hugging suburban civil servants after all, this needed the steely determination of a marine yomp under extreme duress.
The last few kilometres never seems to end, turn after turn, pedal stroke after pedal stroke, you can see the summit right in front of you, yet the road takes you left, then right, then left again, each turn breaking the severity of the direct route, this section is steep! Melt water starts to flood the road, the air is cold as you suck buckets of it into your hacking lungs, quads burn as you force them to push against a climb that needs rope not rubber. The Galibier is not going to give in easy. As you pass the tunnel that shunts cars through the peak rather than over it, you begin to think you’ve beaten the climb, you haven’t. The last few switches taunt you as you can see the crowds at the summit and hear the cheers of the cycling tifosi. These last few turns are rewarding, hard and steep and just about bearable, you look over your shoulder and see the streams of cyclists behind you and the massive ascent you’ve just climbed, and the towering alpine peaks all around you. The Galibier deserves its place as an alpine classic.