Cogal Report: The Alpine Ride
@936adl loves a Cogal and he didn’t mess around with this one. Later today the San Francisco Cogal report and next week the much awaited 200 on 100 report.
It was getting dark as Martyn and I rolled back through the gates of the Campsite in Saint Jean De Maurienne after the most Epic day of cycling I’ve ever experienced. Never, for me at least, has malted recovery beverage consumption been more earned…
Nearly 12 hours earlier, Scott, Martyn, and I had rolled away from the campsite, sun shining, and mountains waiting. The plan was a simple one, administer a quite ludicrous measure of Rule VV, and see what happened. As we rolled along the valley which links the small towns that sit at the bottom of some of the most iconic of Alpine climbs, I began to contemplate the task in hand. To make things more manageable it struck me as a good idea to break it up, and being in France, a country noted as much for its food as its cycling, I used a food analogy.
The Starter – Col du Telegraph 1,566m – 11.8 km @ 7.3%
A relatively small mountain in Alpine terms, this modest Col still stands over 200m above the highest point in the British Isles. With fresh legs, the kilometres soon passed by as the climbing began. The reward was spectacular views into the valley we’d recently escaped from. I was feeling pretty good and was beginning to think that perhaps Martyn’s crazy plan was a possibility. Before long the summit of the Telegraphe was in sight, and after a quick picture stop, it was time to roll down to Valloire, for our first regrouping point of the day.
Scott made his decision at this point. Although looking forward to the main course, he wasn’t having any desert! Fair play though, and we’d see him back at base camp.
The Main Course – Col du Galibier 264Vm – 18.1 km @ 6.9%
The Galibier, a true giant amongst the very highest cols. Twelve months previously our attempt to conquer this brute had been scuppered by the sheer volume of fans wanting to watch the Tour, but this year nothing was going to stand in our way.
The climbing starts immediately as you leave the picturesque town of Valloire, steady at first, but soon easing off. It’s back to big ring territory as the gradient eases. But this is bad, and ultimately means it’s just going to get (much) steeper later. Never have I resented a flat(ish) road quite so much.
The resentment soon passed as the road kicked upwards. Visibility was good, which on the one hand meant that you were treated to quite stunning alpine views, but on the other meant you could see fully the magnitude of the task in hand.
As I approached Plan Lachat the landscape changed markedly. Passing the 8km to go marker, the road kicked up, and it was perhaps the finest Rule VV moment I’d experienced (to date). It was time to grind out those final few, relentless kilometres. Like all great climbs though, the Galibier saves its very worst until last, and as you turn left just before the tunnel, the last km marker shows 9%, and after over 30km of climbing it feels all that and more. Rounding that last corner, the fire in the legs subsided as at last I saw the summit; the euphoria of the achievement carries you those final few hundred metres to what feels like the very top of the world. I’d conquered the Galibier!
Martyn soon joined me at the top, and it was decision time. The weather was good, and time was on our side. It was a no brainer, and we may never have the opportunity to do this again. As we rolled off the summit towards the Col du Lautaret it really was the point of no return.
I’d like to say that the descent was fully Rule #85 compliant, but the unlit tunnels put paid to that. Rolling into pitch black tunnels at over 50km/h to find that that lights have been knocked out is a truly terrifying experience, and not recommended!
Finally we reached the valley floor, and all that was left was a spin along the valley floor before the final climb of the day…..
Dessert – Col du Glandon – 1924m – 24.1 @ 4.8%
After the briefest of pit stops in Le Bourg d’Oisans, it was time for desert. All I can say is that the numbers above just don’t do this climb justice, it’s a fucking killer! Frank was right when he tweeted ‘Glandon is more than desert, that climb will kick your ass! Good Luck!’.
The climb starts in earnest from the Barrage du Vernet, a giant man-made lake that sits at the bottom of the valley. It’s big brother, the Barrage de Grand Maison sits much higher up the mountain. It would be some time before I saw that!
I was soon back into the climbing groove as I hit the lower slopes of the Glandon, and the kilometres were passing, albeit slowly. Mart and I soon separated; the plan was to re-group at the summit.
The climbing was relentless, but before too long I was rolling through le Rivier d’Allemont. Shortly after this town however this climb hits you hard. A series of downhill hill hairpins lose you a couple of hundred of the oh so precious metres of climbing you achieved, before it hits you like a hammer. Well in excess of 11% is not what I needed and it was the closest I’d come to stopping all day. An emergency dose of Rule VV, not to mention the 29 lurking on my rear cassette somehow kept the wheels turning, and mercifully the gradient eased(slightly).
I didn’t realise at the time, but it was this section that put paid to Martyn’s attempt to conquer the Glandon. I was now on my own.
The sight of the Barrage de Grand Maison was a joy to behold, and gave me a real boost. It was then that I heard the sound of a car approaching. As it passed I heard a familiar voice; Martyn was doing his finest Marc Madiot impression and was leaning out the window of the otherwise anonymous Renault, shouting Allez Allez Allez!! At first I thought I was hallucinating, but Mart confirmed that as Frank predicted, the Glandon had kicked his ass! Martyn’s misfortune provided the final boost I needed and I was more determined that ever to make it.
The final couple of km seemed to take an eternity, but finally, I made it. As I tweeted from the summit, I reflected on the most amazing day’s riding I’d ever undertaken. The V-meter was well and truly off the scale!
Mart was dropped off at the top by his rescuer, and I found him sleeping under a blanket supplied by a concerned camper who’d taken pity on him.
From here it was downhill all the way and after a fast and furious descent we rolled back into Saint Jean de Maurienne. I’d covered 167km and had completed almost 4000m of vertical ascent! An epic day in the saddle by any measure, and faithful to the Cogal spirit.
As the beer flowed, we reflected on the day’s riding. Scott had conquered the Galibier, and Mart(with a small amount of assistance) and I had made it round one of the classic Alpine loops.
La Vie Velominatus!