Sometimes it takes a while to reflect on a race and realise what has been achieved. The inaugural SuperGranFondo Medio was such a race for me.
At a mere 73 kms with over 2,500 m of climbing the stats would suggest it would be tough. With 45 kms of climbing, two ascents of Col du Galibier (2,642 m) including an ascent of the Col du Lautaret (2,058 m) presented a significant challenge. The parcours was a simple out-and-back course from Valloire - La Salle-les-Alpe -Col du Galibier for a spectacular finish.
The 7:45 am start followed the 180 kms Gran Fondo start where several hundred riders began their day at 7:30 am. The temperature was a cool 12C. The sun rose over the mountain at Valloire gradually revealing the start line and bathing riders in bright sunshine.
From the start it’s an 18 kms climb to the summit of the Col du Galibier and after passing through the outskirts of Valloire and the initial couple of kms at 7-10%, the gradient settles at around 4% for about three kms. I managed to get into a group of about seven riders who had adopted a reasonable pace while others had hurtled off into the distance with boyish enthusiasm - I would see some of them again!
The ride opens into a huge wide valley, habitation recedes and the vastness becomes apparent. Height is gained quite quickly until the head of the valley and the first switchback where the road kicks-up into a ramp of about 10%.
Time to ease myself out of the saddle and change up a gear being careful to watch the heart rate. After about half a kilometre I realise I am the only one left from the group who have fallen behind and another hairpin allows me to see back down the slope and the groups scattered.
The next 12 kms average 7-10% using switchbacks to gain height without too much stress and I find myself gradually catching riders who had been too quick at the start. As I gained height and overhauled riders I realised that almost everyone I passed was in severe distress especially as I climbed above 2,000 metres. But, I felt smooth, composed and riding well-within myself.
About a kilometre from the top there’s a left turn and the road kicks-up again to around 15% and I found myself gliding passed riders in my 34 x 26 who seemed desperate to continue to the summit. For me, I was just loving the experience and then the summit, similar to Col du Tourmalet in the Pyrenees with a turn around the top and straight into the descent. I stopped though to put on my cape and the view towards La Salle-les-Bain was absolutely stunning!
The descent through the first few kilometres was technical and not so quick with tight hairpins and narrow road before the road begins to straighten and head towards the Col du Lautaret below. Apart from a confrontation with a Marmot where he decided it was better to run from the road than chance an encounter with me, the descent was uneventful but also exciting. Picking lines was essential to make the most of the 8.5 kms of descending to the Lautaret, averaging a 7% decline and losing about 600 metres of height. Then onto the main road for a continuation of the descent for another 19 kms and the turn at La Salle-les-Alpes. This part of the descent is hard work with a decline of 4-5% and the turn seems an age coming.
On the descent I could see the faster riders racing back in small groups and. One of the advantages of an out-and-back course is that you can gauge your position but one of the disadvantages is that you know that what goes down will go back up again!
By now the field was very strung out but there were still riders to catch and, of course, I didn’t want to be caught either. Time to dig-in and climb the Lautaret, all 19 kms, as fast as possible. At just over 2,000 metres, the Lautaret marks the point where the gradient increases again and the last 8.5 kms. It’s hot, but I have plenty to drink and a couple of gels. There are riders a couple of hundred metres ahead that give me something to aim for - I press on.
I’m still climbing well having completed 37 kms of climbing so far with just 8 kms to go to the finish and the summit of the Galibier. Nobody catches me now and gradually, especially where the gradient kicks-up I’m gaining on riders. I pass one and a second hoves into view as I make the right turn before the tunnel and engage the last kilometre. One rider has stopped and another is within my sights - can I reach him before the finish, the last hairpin, I’m gaining. There’s the finish, I’m gaining and turning the 34 x 26 smoothly, I’m travelling twice as fast and then as I close I realise I can’t quite get in front as the timing ramp passes under my wheels. I glance across at my fellow combatant and he has no number on his frame, he’s not racing! But, he gave me an incentive at the end!!
What an amazing finish for a race in the Alps. I soaked in the atmosphere, the panorama and the achievement.
Time to reflect on an amazing experience, a performance that I would not have been able to achieve without hard work and months of training but most of all I had achieved a first place in my age category, a podium. What a way to round off three weeks of racing round France - an 18th in age category at Les 3 Ballons, a 4th in age category at Morzine Haut Chablais and now, 1st - brilliant!!
Roll on 2019!!
My Time: 04:22:23
Medio Winner: 02:38:04
PS. The Valloire-Galibier Strava segment has me at 20th for my age group 01:34:32
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