Briancon to Valloire: Alpine Nirvana - French Alps 2017 - CycleBlaze

June 9, 2017

Briancon to Valloire: Alpine Nirvana

We were on the road by 8:30am, a little earlier than the norm because we would be riding two summits today: col du Lautaret and col du Galibier. It would be 37km to the second summit. David's knee is still tender and we decided to stay at Valloire at the base of the Galibier rather than pushing on over the col du Telegraph to St. Jean de Maurienne. We prepped our bikes before breakfast so we could eat and get on the road right away.

Our Fridays sandwiched between the motos at our Briancon hotel.
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The temperature was about 10 degrees and there was a light cloud cover to start. The first col sign for col du Lautaret was only about 1k out of Briançon, which is to say, that is where the uphill began. This valley is all about skiing in winter and mountain biking in summer. There were chair lifts and manicured ski runs all around us as we climbed steadily through the valley.

Col signs keep you informed of your progress.
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The spring runoff has created havoc in the upper regions of the valley over the years as we noticed several spots where there had been rock slides and small creeks flowed where once enormous torrents had washed out large swaths of gravel. Hillsides were propped up with enormous concrete blocks and several tunnels had been built in anticipation of more rock slides.

Tunnel in a slide prone area.
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Mountain flowers bring colour to the roadside.
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We passed through a long snowshed at the head of the valley and emerged at the summit of the col du Lautaret. By now the sun was out and the snow capped mountains were looking glorious with the backdrop of blue skies, as were the alpine meadows with their carpets of white narcissus and anemones to name just two of the many flowers in bloom.

Snow sheds ahead.
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Single white Anemones (Pulsatilla) were prolific around col du Lautaret.
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Ascent of col du Lautaret was long and gradual
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Marsh marigolds??
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I'm guessing this is a small anemone.
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Mountain summits are always a cause for a short break, a little victory celebration and a photo beside the summit marker. At Lauteret, we were joined by a group of cyclists who had summited from the opposite valley on their carbon fibre bikes.

Lautaret summit sign was mounted on a big bike.
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Photos taken, we were off for the final 9k to the Galibier summit.

Looking ahead up the Galibier.
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Scott AndersonAnd on my REALLY short list, Galibier is right at the top. If I could only climb one pass again, it would be this one.
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2 weeks ago
Alpine meadows at start of col du Galibier.
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Narcissus, by the thousands!
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At 8k, there is a tunnel for vehicle traffic only. Cyclists and motos ride another final steep pitch for 1km on a narrow paved road to arrive at the summit.

One km from the summit, cars take a tunnel. Cyclists make one last assault for the summit.
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View down from final 1km ascent of Galibier.
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We received lots of bravo's and chapeau's as we gasped our way to the tiny patch of road at the summit. We have seen very few cycle tourists but there were seven of us here at the same time. The views of the snow covered alps around us were stupendous. This is a special climb for cyclists and will go down in my memory bank as a great accomplishment for both of us.

The summit of Galibier is really small, but making it there is really BIG.
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I had stashed some Nutella in my pack this morning to use as a dip for my banana. With a handful of peanuts as a chaser, it's a that combo deserves a do-over. We compared notes with the other cyclists at the summit as we munched on our snacks. Then we plunged down the road and headed for Valloire. This side of the mountain was decidedly cooler and there was still a fair bit of snow on the banks.

Snow on the descent from Galibier.
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Snow walls on the Galibier descent.
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This section seemed to be built on a moraine or else there had been massive rock slides over the centuries. In any event, the road was in good condition which makes for a safer and more pleasant descent. Part way down, we noticed a team car for AG2R parked on the side of the road, so we kept our eyes peeled for professional riders scoping out the climb for the upcoming Tour de France. We didn't see any pros, however.

Galibier descent is through a massive moraine, or so it appears.
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Check out all that snow! We timed this one well.
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Snowbanks kept the air temperature in check.
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Snakey roads ahead.
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Roads below us.
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Roads on the descent.
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After 20k of descending we arrived in Valloire, a small ski village perched in a small bowl of alpine splendour. We arrived at our gîte and were given a modern apartment in a brand new building with the best view in Valloire of the surrounding mountains. We were the only patrons in the building, but come next week it will be packed with Harley riders. The HOGs come by the thousands every year. Boy did we time that right!

View of Valloire from our room at the gite.
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Mountain art in Valloire.
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Today's ride: 57 km (35 miles)
Total: 983 km (610 miles)

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