July 19, 2013
Day 9. Col de Glandon.
For Stage 19 Jennifer, Joni, and I rode our bikes from our hotel in Les Deux Alpes all the way to Allemont to watch the peloton start ascending the famous Col de Glandon. Along the way we got some terrific photos on the large artwork TDF bicycle displays in Bourg-d’Oisans and near the TDF helicopter site.
Eventually we set up alongside the road near Allemont to wait for the peloton to arrive. The helicopter flew in overhead, the crowd cheered and the racers flew by us.
Then we followed the peloton headed toward the famous Col de Glandon. Col du Glandon (1,924 m (6,312 ft)) is a high mountain pass in the Dauphiné Alps in Savoie, France, linking Le Bourg-d’Oisans to La Chambre. From Le Bourg-d’Oisans the route follows the D1091 through the Romanche valley before joining the D526 after 8 km (5 mi). The climb starts at the Barrage du Verney from where there is a further 24.1 km (15.0 mi) to the summit, which is reached shortly after the junction with the route to Col de la Croix de Fer. Over this distance, the height gained is 1,152 m (3,780 ft); the average gradient is 4.8%, although there are some downhill sections en route and a maximum uphill gradient of 11.1%. Our plan was to ascend the Col de Glandon and meet up at the lone restaurant for lunch and then continue on to ride the Col de la Croix de Fer as well. Jennifer gave me a few Euros since I was likely to get to the restaurant Chalet Hôtel Col du Glandon first and we all set off.
As I started up, there was a slight drizzle that came and went, but it did not get me wet or pose a problem for the climb. I relaxed into a very fine tempo which I was able to maintain all the way up into the small town of Le Rivier d’Allemont. There was a man riding directly behind me drafting my wheel for the last few kilometers up to the town. When we crested the top he pulled ahead of me and thanked me for the pacing. He said it was perfect! I laughed and asked him if I was his domestique. He smiled and laughed back. The town was small and very scenic so I pulled over to snap a few photos before heading on. At this point I think I might have been at about the halfway point to reach the Chalet Hôtel Col du Glandon.
There is a slight downhill at this section here with several switchbacks that take you all the way down into a valley and from there you begin the second part of the long ascent. I settled back into my rhythm and tried to keep a descent pace. There were lots of other cyclists making the trek up, but the road was not crowded and everyone just went at their own respective pace. The views are stunning as you ascend through the mountain pass with streams rolling by and you end up at a glacial lake way up high. This goes on for what feels like forever…
I arrived at the restaurant at 1:30, parked my bike, and sat down and ordered lunch seated outside on the patio. It was chilly but clear and pleasant. Lunch was terrific: homemade vegetable soup with croutons and cheese and a lovely green salad.
By 2:15 I began to wonder if Jennifer and Joni were coming. The temperature was dropping and the skies started to darken. By about 2:30 it started to rain, and then it started to pour. The temperature started to drop even more dramatically. All of the cyclists seated on the patio including me piled into the small restaurant building to stay warm and dry. I thought it would be good to wait out the storm rather than try to descend in it, but the rain just did not let up. Three o’clock came and went. It was getting late. The only thing that time in the restaurant bought me was more drops in the temperature. Now you could see your breath in the air when you exhaled. It was feeling like winter–very cold, probably close to 40 degrees–and I was dressed for summer. Not good. I didn’t know this at the time but this same storm had rolled in over Jennifer and Joni earlier on the climb and it was bad enough to cause them to abandon the climb just after Le Rivier d’Allemont. They turned around and had returned to Allemont to wait for me there. Unfortunately my cell phone was useless up on the top of the Col du Glandon so I had no clue where they were or what happened.
There were several bike tour groups at the cafe taking refuge with me. There must have been at least 40 cyclists in the cafe. Almost all of them were with big tour companies and they had sag vans waiting to take them back to their hotels in the storm. Most were planning to eat lunch and then just hop in their vans. However, none of these vans were going in my direction, and besides, they were all full. I spoke to one of the guides to get some advice. It was still pouring, the temperatures were dropping, and the descent down the switchbacks of the Col back to Allemont would be quite treacherous. This tour guide was advising his own folks to get into the van for safety. I explained to him that there was no van coming for me and that I really had no options to get home except on my bike. Fortunately I had my backpack with me and it still contained all of the extra clothes and gear that I had intended for emergency weather on Alpe d’Huez. I remembered that I had extra socks, long fingered gloves, toe warmers and a rain jacket! I put on every piece of clothing that I had with me: toe covers, arm warmers, vest for core warmth, and a light jacket on top of that, long gloves, and the clincher, my Eddie Bauer red rain jacket with the big hood which I pulled up and over my bicycle helmet. With all of this gear on the tour guide looked at me from head to toe, shrugged, and told me that I was as ready as I’d ever be. He advised me to leave immediately or else I would risk even more temperature drops. I was going to have to descend the mountain pass in this storm on my own. To tell you the truth I was terrified to descend in the pouring rain all alone. What if I crash and lie injured on the road? Would anyone find me?
I noticed that there were two Belgian cyclists in the cafe that were not with any of the tour groups. They were on their own and in the same boat as me and were also leaving. I quickly jumped on my bike and tried to follow them. One of the Belgians was more confident on the slick steep roads than the other one. He led the way and at one point he got too far ahead of his buddy so he stopped to wait. I caught up with him and asked him if they would mind if I descended with them. I explained that I was all alone and that my cell phone didn’t work and that my plan was to just get farther down the road back to Le Rivier d’Allemont to send a text message to my tour group. He was very kind and agreeable, so we set off together. The confident one was in front; I took the middle; and the other (more tentative) fellow took up the rear. It was pouring rain. Visibility was low and the puddles were large. When cars passed us we were forced into the puddles and were sprayed. I was terrified of my brakes failing on the steep grades or of fish-tailing my wheels on the slick pavement. We went real slowly down the mountain–about 9-10 mph. It took a long time and a lot of concentration. Once we passed the steep switchback part down into the valley we had to traverse two flooded sections of the road. We tried to pick the best part with the lowest water line. After we made it through the submersed sections of road we were finally at the slight ascent up to the village town Le Rivier d’Allemont.
I started up the switchback ascent and I slowly pulled ahead of the Belgians on the climb. Soon I could not see them behind me anymore. They were much slower than me on the climb. At the top I pulled up next to a cafe in Le Rivier d’Allemont and checked my cell phone. Still no service. But all of a sudden the rain stopped and the sun came out! Just like that. The roads were still wet but the storm had finished here. I pulled off my drenched long gloves and pulled my short dry ones out of my pack. I sent Jennifer a text message to let her know where I was and I got ready for the final descent into Allemont. Just as I was about to pull out again the two Belgians rode by and waved. They had finally made it up the switchback climb section and would you believe it, they pulled over for a smoke! Seriously? Here? We’re riding one of the most challenging cycling routes in the world and they are smoking? Clearly this was not helping their climbing. No wonder I beat them handily on the climb. I waved back, wished them well, and I made my way down alone the rest of the way to town. The road was damp, but no more rain. When I finally arrived in the valley I removed my rain coat and put it back in my pack. The wind on the way down had completely dried my rain coat, but my feet and shoes were soaked. It was nice and warm down in Allemont and I finally had cell phone service. Several backlogged texts from Jennifer started coming in as my phone dinged furiously at me.
In a series of frantic text messages from Jennifer I learned that they had turned back when the rain hit hard and they waited in Allemont for me the whole time, but they finally gave up. At this point they were well past Bourg d’Oison near the turn off choice point for Les Deux Alpes and Venosc and headed home. I quickly texted them and they said they would wait for me near the turn off to Venosc. After a quick bathroom break I rode as fast as I possibly could now as it was mostly flat terrain. The aluminum rental bike with a 50t big ring just did not have the get up and go power of my carbon Trek madone with a 53t big ring, so my little legs couldn’t get the bike to go much faster than about 21 mph. Nevertheless it felt like a time trial. By the time I arrived at the meeting place and found Jennifer and Joni the skies were growing dark again. The rain was starting. We all put our rain jackets back on and then it started to pour. We had a 7 km ride up to Venosc to catch the gondola back up to Les Deux Alpes and it was pouring for the entire climb. Eventually we arrived at the top of the mountain via the gondola and we rode to our hotel. I was shivering and my teeth were chattering. I couldn’t wait to get there. I was completely soaked. 67.5 miles on my bike with over 8400 feet of climbing. The hot tub that night was awesome.
After we warmed up and took our showers we headed out for a celebration dinner at Casa Nostra in Les Deux Alpes. This is an excellent restaurant! I highly recommend it if you ever travel there.
Daily Ride data:
On Garmin Connect http://connect.garmin.com/activity/346841134