Profile of today's TdF stage:
Today's journal entry:
We woke up to a beautiful day! Valloire is right at the base of the Galibier, so we were going to start climbing as soon as we left the hotel.
After packing up and eating breakfast, we left the hotel and continued over to the hill. The Galibier is an imposing mountain which starts about .5 km from our hotel. So we started climbing immediately and warmed up on the climb.
The initial grade was steady, and we climbed at a good pace. Because today is Saturday, there were lots of French and Italian riders of all ages out on the road, decked out in their club jerseys. As in Italy, we didn't see too many women out on their bikes.
The road went through a few small towns before starting to snake its way up the mountain. There was no shade on the mountain anywhere on the climb. The hill is shorter than the Col de la Madeleine, at only 17 km, but was relentless in its path up the hill.
The Galibier is also deceiving. As we reached a set of switchbacks, we could see above us a ways. It was easy to think the top of what we saw was the top of the climb. But it wasn't! As we reached the top of a set of switchbacks, a new set would be revealed. We could only rely on our odometers to tell us how much more we had to endure!
As we neared the summit, the road got steeper. At this point, it was a lot like parts of Page Mill Road or Montebello. We were above the snow line and although it was sunny, it was getting very chilly. Finally we reached the summit, where there were lots of cyclists, hikers, motorcyclists, and drivers from all countries enjoying the incredible views and taking pictures in front of the Galibier sign.
We stopped to take a few pictures, put on some warm clothes, and started our descent of the mountain. The descent was treacherous and vertiginous with many switchbacks. I took it slowly, even though the pavement was dry. We stopped at a souvenir shop about a 1km below the top for a cafe and hot chocolate, a snack (for me) and a few souvenirs. Fortunately, Leslie and some others were also there, so we were able to put the souvenirs in the van before continuing down to Briancon, our final destination.
We left the shop and continued our descent down. Phil went ahead and I took my time descending. I was so cold at points that I was shaking, which meant that my bike was shaking as well. This made the descent a bit trickier!
I caught up with Phil at the one place in today's ride that we had to make a turn, and we headed off down to Briancon together. The road continued to descend, but in a less treacherous way.
Half way down the descent, the traffic stopped. There was a traffic jam going down the hill as far as the eye could see. So, as we did on the Madeleine the day of the tour, we descended on the left side of the road, going in between cars as necessary if we met a car going up the hill.
Finally, we came to the reason for the backup. There had been a mudslide wiping out part of the road, and the traffic was being diverted through a one-way tunnel. Only about 10 cars could go through before the traffic would be stopped and the other side would be allowed to go up through the tunnel.
A French man standing at the side of the road told us (or so I thought) that we should walk our bikes through the mud rather than going through the tunnel. We tried, but it was just too muddy. So, we positioned ourselves in front of the first car, and when the light changed, we zoomed into the tunnel. The car lit our way with its headlights (thank goodness), and we made it out of the tunnel alive.
The road to Briancon from here was nothing remarkable, mostly downhill and fairly heavily trafficked. We traded pace and got to Briancon as fast as we could so we'd have time to watch today's stage of the tour, which promised to be exciting.
We found our hotel which was just adjacent to the old walled town. It's an unremarkable 2-star hotel which is only notable for its proximity to the old town.
Briancon is an old city...<fill this in>
We cleaned up and turned on the tour coverage on the television. Phil was starving, but the tour was in the heat of battle, and we couldn't leave. Kim, Ed, and others joined us in our room, as it was the first room on the first floor and thus, an attractive nuisance.
We excitedly watched as Jaja stayed ahead, Lance and Ullrich dropped almost everyone, Ullrich biffed, Lance waited, and then Lance took off and left Ullrich and everyone else in the dust. In the end, Lance had taken the yellow jersey in addition to winning the stage! It was extremely exciting!
After the stage finished, Phil and Kim and I took a stroll into the old town. It's a picturesque city sitting on a hill with narrow cobbled streets and quaint buildings. A big gutter runs through the main pedestrian road, carrying runoff water from the mountains (presumably). One must be careful not to accidentally step on it.
After we bought ice creams, we walked through the town and explored as much as we could before returning to the hotel for a dinner of cheese fondue.