The goal today was to see if I could get to Col du Galibier from the Maurienne valley without taking Col du Télégraphe – not easy. The second part of the adventure was the final stretch trying to reach Galibier – which was officially closed above the tunnel. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I took a lot of photos, so I’ll try and let them speak instead of droning on too much.
Col d’Albanne is a very nice big climb in its own right .
Just over the Col, in the village of Albanne one looks out over a gigantic gorge and has a clear view of Col du Télégraphe and the standard road to Valloire.
Next comes the tricky part. Pass through the little village and there is a road that heads into the woods and hairpins down towards the gorge. Just before Albanette, is a hiking trail-head to Valloire. But soon the path becomes a vertiginous, super rocky cliff road. I suppose at one time, brave locals may have taken a vehicle here. But they are forbidden now, and the avalanche warning signs seem quite believable.
View of cliff “road” from opposite side (near Télégraphe):
The unpaved stretch is actually not much more than 2 kilometres, and I soon exited to a road just below Valloire. Excellent. I joined the road to Galibier at the low point of the second part of the climb in the profile at left. I slowly headed higher.
Perfect weather, I was looking forward to reaching the snow, but became slightly nervous when I saw the Galibier tunnel was open, but the Col above closed.
For details of the “usual” road bike routes up both sides of Galibier see here.
The Pantani Monument 4 kms below Col du Galibier:
I reached the Tunnel (2556 metres) and indeed the road to the col was shut.
But I decided to have a look anyway. Initially it was quite clear, then I had to pass a short snowy section. No worries:
The road cleared again, and I rounded the last bend confident of success:
But as the Col came into view, it became clear that there had been an snow avalanche and the road was completely blocked. Yikes!
I had a peek over, no foot prints, and it looked quite dangerous. I am stupid but not crazy, so I headed back down. Damn.
But earlier in the day a road worker had told me that I could pass through the tunnel – usually banned to bikes – if I was careful. So I did. It’s a single lane road, but traffic lights let me know when I had the best chance of getting through.
Col du Galibier was first made crossable for military purposes in 1879 with the sexy name: “Routes des Grands Communication #14.” To simplify the crossing, a tunnel was finished in 1891, roughly 90 metres below the summit. The Tour de France passed through the tunnel – at 2556 metres – until 1976 when it was closed due to disrepair. Instead, the road above the tunnel was improved on both sides – providing the most spectacular stretches and steepest cycling of each side – and a summit of 2642 metres. The tunnel was re-opened in 2002 – for cars only. But from 1976 onwards, suddenly the route to Galibier was higher and roughly a kilometre longer.
As I exited the south side of the tunnel, I saw the extension to the Col was also closed here – but again, I headed up. The road was completely clear. No problems at all.
I saw a few English guys descending:
And finally, voilà, I was at the Col:
I love how someone has chalked a border between Savoie and France. Vive Savoie Libre!
I headed down the north side to have a look at the avalanche.
I descended back to the south side of the tunnel, bracing myself for another tunnel-traverse (I am a tunnel coward – see here for some of the “best” in the Alps).
So I rewarded myself with a celebratory Galibier beer beside the Desgranges monument.
Nothing left to do but descend 35 kilometres – see map: I took the main road via Télégraphe – to the Maurienne valley floor, then unfortunately a few kms on a busy road (with a bike lane though) back to the start.
I was exhausted but thrilled. A successfully Galibier adventure.