Stage 3 - Bourg St Maurice - Monetier Les Bains
Climbs– Col du Beau Plan, Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galibier
Time– 4hrs 29 mins
Starting orders were same as before to allow for the group to stay as compact as possible and despite a few GPS glitches on my Garmin that tried to route us onto a motorway it was an uneventful roll out for the day. The day’s hors d’oeuvre would be the Col de Beau Plan which was a very scenic if quite sheltered climb, never quite exposing us to the views we may have gained. We came across Tom, normally a very strong rider, who was struggling on this first climb. He said he was just sticking to a steady pace but it was clear he wasn’t feeling great. We re-grouped with a few others and waited at the top. When Tom arrived he was not in great shape, suffering the effects of possible sun-stroke from the day before. The consensus was that it was likely unsafe for him to continue today and thankfully one of our support vans was there to pick up him, though he was understandably gutted.
The descent off this climb was nail biting, but not in a good way – steep, winding and with awful pock marked and loose gravel surface everywhere.
Today’s main course was a two part special of iconic Tour de France climbs, the Col du Télégraphe and, followed by a short descent, the mighty Col du Galibier.
The slopes of the Télégraphe are reasonably gentle, smoothly tarmacked and thankfully tree lined so there was plenty of shade to be had on the way up. The climb had a real feeling of being the warm up for what was to come. A nice lunch spot off the back of the Col allowed us views over towards the Massif de Cerces, where the Galibier lay waiting.
A wide sweeping descent takes you to the town of Valloire where the climbing begins again in earnest. This ascent is about 15km in length and averages over 8% with many sections above 10%. I knew by reputation that it was going to be a hard road ahead. The sun was beating down again, one must always make some complaint of the weather, but lets face it, sunshine was a darn site better than what we could be getting at these altitudes. The climb is steep and steady with very little in the way of shelter and draining by virtue of its lack of hairpins, the sections seem to drag ahead endlessly. I find myself again hoping that altitude gain will ease the temperatures somewhat and also gain slight relief as some clouds started to fill in.
Plan Lachat marks the point where things start to get more serious (really?! I thought to myself, this hasn’t already been serious?!) There are a series of switchbacks that take you up a steep edifice and at the top of this section you suddenly find yourself among the peaks, open rocky scree slopes replace the green pastures below. The air was noticeably packing less punch and I was gasping for every bit of it. Into the closing kilometers the summit looms into site but it feels hopelessly far away as I grinded my way towards it. The final km is an absolute kicker as you pass the tunnel that runs under the summit and follow the new road that leads up and over to the top.
As I reached the summit and the sign confirming my elevation of 2642m, I was overcome by emotion and started to cry. These were tears born of elation, effort, achievement and then a reflection once more in comparing this fight to the summit as a mere speck compared to those who are fighting for their lives against cancer.
The weather was really starting to turn now, the wind was picking up and some broody clouds were rolling in. We took the decision to, as Bear Grylls would say, “Get off this mountain”. The descent is technical until you reach the Col du Lauteret. At this point it opens up and straightens into a thrilling blur of wide sweeping bends as we raced away from the chasing storm. Within no time whatsoever we had reached Monetier Les Bains, just short of Briançon, our stop for the day. If ever there was a hard earned beer this was it.
But as we replenished ourselves we spared a thought for those who were still climbing or descending as by now the rain was coming down hard and thunder and lightening filled the skies.
That evening we were all treated to an incredibly inspirational speech from Professor Ian Smith who leads the research team at The Royal Marsden Hospital. It was just fascinating to learn more about the science behind the latest advances in liquid biopsy and how the money we were raising was being put to such groundbreaking work.