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Part 2: The Middle
There’s a feed zone in Valloire but having ridden this route we suggest you only need to stop once. If you carry four or five bars and/or gels with you you’ll only need one feed station. You really don’t need to stop at Valloire (it’s only 31km in) or Plan Lachat on the Galibier (unless you’re low on water).
We recommend you feed at La Grave on the descent down. Ride in a group and you’ll maintain much of the refuelling from here, if you wait until Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of the Alpe it’ll be too late and elimination may loom.
At Valloire you go right at the roundabout adorned with a wooden goat statue. Over a stone bridge with a rumbling stream, past chalets and a grand stone chapel on the left. Over another roundabout and you roll by a shrine set into the rock face. The sign says 17 to Col du Galibier.
Soon you get your first real glimpse of the Galibier as you pass another roundabout with a wooden stag silently rutting (an ominous sign). The road kicks up here but not for long, the first section of the climb is very mellow. Breath in deeply.
The road heads straight up past more ski chalets and you follow the river beside you down to the left. After Les Vernys the road flattens out and the mountain sits resplendent, dead ahead. Another bridge is crossed next to corrugated farmhouses, 14km to go.
The road then starts to wind up in the valley as you pass the 13km marker. You see a massive scree slope to your right and you may also notice Marmots scurrying about whistling to each other and possibly you, a cute contrast to the mammoth task in hand. Stay loose and relaxed and so will your mind, you’ll be more efficient and you can concentrate on the spectacular scenery.
At 8km to go there are two chalet/shacks, this is Plan Lachat where there will be a water station. It’s then a hairpin over the river and this is where the climb really begins to dig in. It’s steeper now but the view back down is breathtaking. You see switchbacks snaking off ahead and hiking trails to the left in the distance. This in when it gets tough, the altitude is now at dizzy heights. You’ll marvel at the jagged peaks with fragmented slate and rock below. Majestic.
Over a stream as the air gets even thinner, past crumpled mountain shacks of stone and cast iron then another stunning view. For the last 3km you must dig in but it'll be worth the feeling of reaching the Roof of the Tour. We think you will be sent through the tunnel rather than right over the top. Careful here as it's disorientating riding through the dark tunnel after bright sunshine, plus it may get bottlenecked.
This final mountain stage will be a crucial day of the Tour this year, made even more poignant by the centenary celebration of the Galibier. Look on this moment as not only a challenge but a tribute, an “act of adoration”, to some of the greatest riders, teams and stories of cycle racing. Enjoy it, You’re riding through history.
You then begin the 50km descent to Bourg d’Oisans. You’ll pass the monument to Henri Desgrange, it’s a fast, winding and potentially windy descent so concentrate and look where you want to go. Then it's right at the top of the Lauterat on D1091 towards Grenoble and the Alpe.
A word on clothing: Dress for the occasion
We’ve mentioned the start and taking warm clothing but the height of the Galibier and the following descent will require some key pieces.
Depending on your preference: I’d likely wear base layer and a Lightweight Jersey/Pro Team for the heat of climbing. I’d store arm warmers and a gilet or wind jacket for the descent or even a Rain Jacket if it threatens rain.The Merino Hat is good for the start and if you feel the cold at 2556m. I also used the full fingered Pro Team Gloves for the descent of the Galibier – you want to be as comfortable as possible descending. Chamois cream is also, of course, advisable.