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14-06-2024 | Rick Groeneweg

Galibier Challenge: in search of the elusive snow walls

Looking for a gran fondo that combined well with Alpe d'Huez, I came across the Galibier Challenge. This event took place on June 2, on the first day the Galibier was open. Given last winter's massive snowfall, it was still a little tense whether it would all work out. Spoiler: the gran fondo was able to go ahead!

Galibier Challenge

Small but nice

This gran fondo is one that I really liked. The organization was excellent, and there were no massive, chaotic conditions like in the bigger, more well-known gran fondos. In the same weekend, there was also a gravel race, so for those who enjoy both gravel and climbing, this is a perfect event.

The gran fondo (or 'cyclosportive' as the French say) had 577 participants. The start box filled up only in the last 20 minutes, and the race began with a neutralized section through the village for the first 1.5 km. After that, there was no chaotic pushing and shoving: the road to the first climb was a wide road uphill. The first climb (Orelle) is one that I was able to do entirely on the big ring. I positioned myself well at the front.

After this first obstacle, a group of about eighty men was left on their way to the first real col of the day, Col de Beau Plan. With 11 km at 6.5%, it was not to be underestimated and was unknown to many. The pace increased, and halfway up, only about forty men remained. I had to let the leading group go 3 km before the top to avoid blowing myself up. I kept them within a few hundred meters, but unfortunately, the gap widened on the dangerous descent. I took no chances and was overtaken by some locals.

The beast Galibier

At the foot of the Col du Télégraphe, I saw the second group riding and closed the gap. I conserved my energy and reached the top, knowing that the monster of the Galibier would follow immediately after. On the short descent to Valloire, I closed a small gap with seven others. Then began the long climb of the Galibier: 18 km at 7%. At the turn onto the steepest part at Plan Lachat, there were only three of us left from this group. The air became thinner, and slowly the landscape transformed into a winter wonderland.

At the start of the first snow walls, I accelerated and left the last two in my group behind. This move secured me the second spot in my age group and a commendable ninth place in the overall ranking. Finishing between the towering snow walls is downright epic! I am very pleased with this result, especially considering that a few weeks ago, I was unable to ride due to a pelvic fracture from a crash. The fact that the finish was at the tunnel and not on top of the summit (which was still closed) did not bother anyone.

Cyclist on Galibier surrounded by snow walls

Backpack service

The organization provided a finish bag at the summit for everyone, allowing us to put on warm clothes for the descent, which was very nice! The neutralized descent back to the start/finish village felt like a well-earned reward. Once we arrived at the bottom, it was like summer, and we all enjoyed a perfectly organized pasta party. What a great day!

All results can be found here.

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