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Photo: Ben Ingham
WORDS: Andy Hampsten
Our final day's ride would tackle the Galibier 100 years after the Tour first scaled it. All of our guests were excited and a bit nervous to finally get on the famous slopes. Earlier in the week we rode 100 miles from Aix le Bains to La Grave over the mitochondria-abusing Col de Glandon; before limping most of the way up the Col du Lautaret to our new base hotel in La Grave for the high Alpine portion of our adventure. This was a rude introduction to the Alps, but everyone made it before dark, and we now knew what a true Tour stage was like.
And it also gave us a good chance to pick off famous and more scenic mountains like Alpe d'Huez, Col de Sarenne, and the outstanding La Berarde climb in the following days.
Photo: Ben Ingham
As luck had it the Galibier was closed to car traffic on the first Saturday of September, and thousands of Belgians came down for a charity ride from the opposite side. I was delighted. One of my favorite cols dripping in cycling lore, and nothing but a few cows and overly-sugared Belgians on the road …
I first saw the Galibier from Paul Kochli’s car during a long drive through the Alps in '86 when I raced for La Vie Claire. He was right about the Galibier being a race changer: In the '86 Tour it was where Hinault attacked Lemond, who was up for the chase. In '92 I was able to relax over the Giant and wait for the following Croix de Fer climb to find a good break to stay away over Alpe d'Huez [Hampsten was the first American to win on the famous Alpe, nine years before Lance Armstrong became the second].
And most memorably for me, scaling it from the Telegraphe side in 1993: I was hanging tough with Indurain, Rominger, Jaskula and Meija until a few kilometers from the top. For unfathomable reasons I was driving myself nuts fretting over a sticky bit of tarmac that had hitchhiked its way on to my right calf. The pace was torrential with Rominger forcing it hard, and I finally had to brush off the fly sized speck away. I remember my own hand felt like a branding iron burning its way into the inflamed muscles. Shortly afterwards my pace was no longer enough to stay with fast company. The Galibier has never left any rider unimpressed.
But almost two decades later, sitting on the terrace of the Eidelwiess hotel in La Grave with an uncommonly pleasant group of fellow cyclists, any discomfort from my racing past has vanished. All of the guides had chosen a Galibier Jersey and reserved them until this day. Once again the Rapha signature mojo of adapting a powerful location to a jersey comes off stunningly. Glacial blue, old snow white and slate in a warm soft rugged wool: The perfect jersey to celebrate riding the Col du Galibier.
Photo: ©Arnaud Bachelard
Andy Hampsten and his most over-qualified guide Scot Nicol (Ibis Cycles founder) in La Grave ready to enjoy both sides of the Galibier. September 3, 2011.
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