Col du Galibier
Three metre deep snow had been cut clean away from the road near the summit on the north facing side of the Galibier today. This was the way that the mountain was ‘dressed’ for today’s climb. It offered a little more drama and threatened a cold summit. In fact the sun held on at the top and as riders waited for riders there was not too much tense shivering. A summit ‘atmosphere’ is a strange theatre stage.
The action has all unfolded by this point. It has happened in the drama of individual breathing and effort and the near madness of determination that says ‘I will not stop’. This pleasure is often repeated and visible in the eyes of every rider as they accelerate across the final few metres of the climb. Then the denouement, the revelation of the effort, is reflected upon as riders and helpers drift around the summit area with cameras and handshakes. The only stage set on the Galibier is a new stone sign declaring the 2600 metres of altitude that has now been gained. Perhaps the workers that we saw building it last year were also responsible for cutting three metres of snow away from the road.
Col du Telegraphe
Alpine flowers, sunshine and an open cafe made the eclipse of the Telegraphe somewhat different to the stark austerity that is the Galibier. There is far less exposure on the Telegraphie as you move from tree shade to cliff shadow. It is a climb that reveals itself slowly. It holds back in a way that other summits do not by refusing to reveal its steep gradient at certain points along the road. You just keep climbing in the section that you are in, imagining and assuming that it will ceaselessly unfold, and quietly hoping the worst is already over.
It is a sociable summit, relaxed and friendly, as other tourists enjoy its seats and its views and the cyclists inhabit a more sociable space cheering each of their colleagues to the end. The stage set here is more genteel English drama. Each rider will have their own reflections on the intensity of the drama that unfolded on the way to the summit.
Alpe d’Huez is a showy summit. It is urban not rural. The fresh tarmac leads you into the resort in a clear return to 21century market places. This is not a bad thing and there is a small finish line moment as everyone pushes their bike out in front under the ‘Arrivee’ banner. Today a ‘double Pantani’ summed up every riders inclination to post a time and compare it to the world’s best. In many ways Alpe d’Huez is a racetrack.
It literally started to rain as we arrived and quickly turned from a welcome shower into uncomfortable thoughts of a cold descent. Cafe au lait and Orangina (always) and a moment’s peak at Lance’s bike from 2005 in the shop display remind you that you are at the top of one of the world’s iconic climbs. An hour or so of effort and imagination as you work through the 21 bends and reflect on the efficiency of your peddle strokes and breathing and the power transfer qualities of your frame. This is the drama that sits behind the coffee shop pride and discussion.