Thursday, 7 July 2011

My Marmotte!

After spending the afternoon and night up at Col de Lauteret, with magnificent mountain top views, we drove over Col de Galibier and off down the valley into Valloire.  I was trying to commit the gradients to memory, as we’d be cycling the exact same route back up Galibier tomorrow.

Last night at Lauteret was a bit fraught, with hundreds of flies besieging the van.  There are flocks of sheep (and angry shepherdesses, sick of campervanners distracting her pyrennean mountain dogs (pastou) from doing their jobs), and the whole area is very fertile and pastoral, and fly-ridden.  We had a great walk over to gaze up at the “Meige” mountain, and promised ourselves to come back and do a longer walk next time, down into a lovely valley. There were thousands of different wild flowers, and a large yellow one, called Gentiane, from which a local sweet liqueur is made.

Just before the hard bit!
We based the van at a camp-site in Valloire and set off up Galibier at about 9.30am.  It was already steaming hot and set to be the hottest day of the summer so far, at about 36deg.  The climb up to Galibier was a hard 10miles to 2600m, but wasn’t as bad as I’d expected.  Unfortunately they were tarmacking the road at the summit so we had to do a detour up to the top and then back down to go through the tunnel.  There were far too many tunnels to go through back down to Bourg d’Oisan, and some were very poorly lit.  Ian had a little flashing torch clipped to the back of his rucksack, so that we could be better seen by cars and occasional lorries in the tunnels.  Very nervous and glad to be out the other end of them!  There was just one extra climb up the Ferrand valley, with views down the steep gorge sides, before we free-wheeled and then cycled into the wind on our way down to B d’ Oisan.  A total of 42miles, we were glad to relax at the end.  We hadn’t needed to carry much extra clothing with us, because it was so very hot.  At least the afternoon breezes had helped to stop it being unbearable, but we dived for the shower, once we’d signed ourselves in at the Hotel Milan.  Not a great place, to say the least.  Health and Safety would have had a field day- an air of decay and dilapidation and not even clean!  The bed-linen was clean, the room was cool and the shower worked, and that was about it!  None of the loos worked in the hotel, so there were some very embarrassed faces at check-out!

We knew it was going to be another hot, long day, so we set off by 8am. Up to the ski village of Allemont, a nice gentle 10mile start, and then the climb up past the Vaugany turn-off,  with the Belledonne mountain range off to our left.  Steeply up to the village of le Rivier d’Allemont, with its memorial to those who fought in the Resistance, and then all that height lost as we plunged steeply downhill across the river, and then very steeply uphill to the Barrage and reservoir of the Grand’Maison.  I was absolutely spent but just about had enough energy for the final ascent up to Col de la Croix de Fer.  A couple of fizzy drinks at a bar, just before the last climb.  The views all the way up had been fantastic, but the last section is particularly stunning scenery- big, sweeping green mountain sides, two huge eagles gliding over the scene.  Wonderful, but very, very hard.  Col de Galibier had been less exhausting than I’d expected, but we were both shocked at how hard we’d found this climb.  Unfortunately Ian had had to wait for me for quite a while!
Climbing to Col de la Croix de Fer
The descent down into St jean de Maurienne was awesome, vertiginous drops into steep gorges, but the road surface was aweful, with deep ruts and chunks missing!  Apparently the Marmotte doesn’t go this way off any more, because it’s so bad, and they’ve replaced Croix de Fer, with Col de Glandon, and a different, safer route off.  Then there was a rather miserable, uphill, busy road section between St Jean and St Michel de Maurienne, of about another 10miles.  At least it was cooler now, as we tackled our last climb of the day up Col de Telegraphe.  After a coffee in a bar, we set off up the final climb - the col de Telegraph. Made in just over 1.5 hrs - well pleased. Overall did over 64 miles and 9000 ft of ascent today - the most climbing I have ever done.

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