Day 7: Sun 20th June 2010
Ride: Madeleine, Telegraphe & Galibier - 187 miles
Cat, Kyle and Phil – Chamonix to Grenoble
Although we had a pleasant evening the day before, the one thing that hadn’t improved was the weather. A regular check of the Internet forecasts told us that the bad weather was locked in around the Alps and this would not change in the short term.
After breakfast it was agreed that staying at the chalet was effectively a waste of time. We wouldn’t be able to ride the passes we had planned on riding so we needed to think of alternatives.
After some debate two plans emerged. Cat, Kyle and Phil decided to head for Mont Ventoux – some 200 miles to the South West – and the scene of some famous Tour de France stages, where the forecast said the weather was good. Bob, Gaz and Pete opted for a run up towards Dijon to the North West.
We tidied up the chalet and set off. Cat, Kyle and Phil’s route was the same as the previous day as far as Albertville where they envisaged continuing on the autoroute past Grenoble, Valence and Orange to Mont Ventoux.
However, as they arrived at Albertville it was clear that the weather to the South East was better than forecast. This offered the opportunity to salvage something from the wreckage of the Tour plan by riding the Madeleine, the Telegraphe and finally the Galibier from the North (we had ridden it from the South in 2008).
Turning off the N90 at Feissons sur Isere we were amused to see signs for the village of “Pussy” which appropriately enough was close to the larger town of “La Lechere”. We would like everyone reading this to know that our choice of route is not a reflection of what we get up to on tour.
We were thus on the pass – the Col de Madeleine - which the Tour de France would cover in Stage 9 on 13 July.
The Madeleine is an “Hors Category” climb i.e. among the toughest. The categorisation dates back to when the organisers would drive over the passes. If you could climb the pass in 3rd gear, it was classified as a category 3 climb, if only in 1st gear it was classified as a category 1 climb. If a car could not climb the pass it became an “Hors Category” or “beyond categorisation” climb. Such is the Madeleine.
Phil's S1000RR above Bonneval, but below Celliers Dessus
The road was reasonably open to start with but soon became very tight with many blind bends after Bonneval. Still the scenery was great. Going up on motorbikes we couldn’t see what all the fuss was about for the cyclists – yes it was steep but not that steep! When Phil watched the stage live on TV on 13 July and saw the level of suffering the tour cyclists went through he reconsidered that opinion.
Beyond the village of Cellier Dessus the road opened up and the surface improved. The reason for this was that the road needs to be big enough for the buses carrying the skiers up from the other side of the Col. So from that point on it was a fast run up the valley to the summit where there was about 2 inches of fresh snow by the refuge, where we stopped for a coffee.
Kyle's GSX-R1000 (L) and Phil's S1000RR (R) at the top of Col de la Madelaine
Top of the Col de la Madelaine
The run down to La Chambre was uneventful and we then ran down the D1006 to St Michel de Maurienne where we refuelled and then turned right onto the D902 to climb the Col du Telegraphe. There was nothing much to the Telegraphe and we ran down to Valloire where the climb to the Galibier started.
Phil and Kyle's GSX-R1000 at the top of the Col du Telegraphe
When we climbed the Galibier in 2008 it had been in bright sunshine and the views from the summit were breathtaking. In 2010 you could tell that this was a good ride but at about 6,000 feet the mist descended and the temperature dropped and there was fresh snow, albeit not sticking on the road, just as on the Madeleine. You could see about 10 to 20 yards and as we approached the summit the level of the snow increased just as the temperature decreased.
Kyle, Cat and Phil's S1000RR at the tunnel entrance near the top of the Galibier
The Galibier summit road (L) and the tunnel entrance, both near the top of the Galibier (R)
There is a tunnel about 150 metres below the summit – it’s just about visible in one of the 2008 photos. When we got there the route over the top was blocked with a “Route Barre” sign so it was through the tunnel. This was a misfortune for Cat because after his failure to reach the summit in 2008 due to a mechanical he was due to fail again due to the weather!
The tunnel is light controlled and Kyle shot through on Red following some German bikers leaving Cat and Phil to wait for the green light. Then it was through the tunnel and carefully down the first stages of the descent due to snow on the road, but quicker towards the bottom as the snow finished.
At the bottom – which is the summit of the Col du Lauteret – we were stopped having a fag break when another biker joined us. Removing his helmet he began thanking us profusely for helping him when he dropped his bike just outside the tunnel. Kyle had witnessed this but it had been the German bikers who had helped this chap to his feet. Luckily he had soft panniers fitted and these and the snow had taken the brunt of what was a very low speed drop so his Honda was virtually unmarked. Anyway he was a happy chappy but we decided to get on our way to Grenoble to find somewhere to stay for the night.
Top of the Lauteret – the southern end of the Galibier
We hadn’t ridden down the Lauteret before but it was a nice road although the antics of some car drivers, who seemed to think that 5 feet was an adequate distance to stay behind us, didn’t help. Soon we were able to get a few cars between these idiots and us and pull away. The rain decided to reappear as we got towards Le Bourg D’Oisans and from there it was just a tedious plod into Grenoble where we found a Best Western with secure bike parking near the station, got changed and headed out for some dinner. Kyle found an area by the river full of various versions of Italian restaurant and Cat chose one which professed to be a grill as well. We ended up with a very good meal and a complimentary litre of red wine. This was a nice gesture but since we had already had a few beers and a litre of red wine each, it’s fair to say that we were afloat on red wine on the way back to the hotel.
Ride: Chamonix to Dijon - 190 miles
Bob, Gaz and Pete – Chamonix to Dijon