It was going to be an early start. There were only about 50km to go to the border, but I also knew that it was such hard work the day before and potentially it was going to get worse. Anyway the tech was packed away, the GoPro mounted on the bike and my phone plugged into both the extra battery pack and headphones. Then off to breakfast and more of that astounding view.
I was out and on the road by 8am with a quick stop to pick up Orangina and water. I cycled out of La Grave and headed for Briancon the last town before Italy. I must have ridden 2km before my legs gave out on the first part of the hill. The road known as Col de Lautaret was what the cyclists the day before had called the last big mountain, accompanied by the ever increasingly annoying hand gesture. The sun was out and already the mountain was making me sweat. It was during one of the many off the bike pushing moments that I heard the distinctive sound of an aircraft nearby. I was stood at the roadside looking when a C133 Fairchild flew past really close. In moments like this the phone is ripped from my pocket, the two leads disconnected and press the home key twice to get the camera function. the plane was so close and so low framed by the amazing mountains and snow, I quickly centred it and pressed the shutter button. what followed was an infuriating 10 second wait as the timer was left on. panning with the plane it slowly slipped out of sight as the counter ticked away. My moment had gone as had the plane. I plugged the items back in and continued to trudge up the road. But then the noise returned and this time I was ready and got some lovely shots as the pilot flew close, low and slow.
I had a surprising feeling of guilt as I left the wonderful scenery behind but I hoped for more of the same during the day. But first there was that mountain to climb. Col de Lauteret is 2058m (6750ft) high, although some of it had been completed the day before. The sun was really warm and the mountain was really steep. I managed just a few hundred metres of cycling for every 30 minutes of pushing. I had convinced myself I was climbing the 21bends, but later I saw that it wasn’t, however this route has been used several times in the Tour de france. Surprisingly it does not qualify to be part of the ‘King of the Mountain’ section of the race, probably to shallow a slope!!!! Those riders are legends.
It really was a twisty little road and it sapped my energy massively. It was about 11.30 that I reached the café at the summit. I had two small bottles of Coke with ice, sat outside in the shade but still very warm. Having had a suitable rest I decided to make a move. I picked up my rucksack and saw that there was water running out the bottom of it. I assumed the hydration bladder must have split and quickly pulled it out for inspection, it was fine. I knew I had no other water in the bag. Lifting it once more the water ran from under it pooling on the floor, nothing for it I let it splash on my finger and tasted it. There’s no easy way to say this, it was sweat, my sweat. I had already used huge amounts of energy and I was nowhere near completing my journey to Briancon. What I did know was that the guy on the racing bike yesterday had said just one more mountain until the run down to Briancon. I was confident I had now climbed that mountain and was looking forward to the downhill.
Leaving the café I was easily able to ride the very last bit of uphill. Quite literally turning a corner I was met with an obvious gentle downhill that seemed to go on forever. I set off and was quickly out of gears and coasting. It wasn’t long before the wind was rushing at me and drying my clothing which was equally as wet as the rucksack. I was happy to sail past a cyclist who was somehow going slower that me. Next thing I was gaining on a car and a British plated BMW GS1200 motorcycle. The road was twisty and the bike was held up by the car. I couldn’t pedal as I was already going faster than my maximum pedalling speed. I got so close to the bike but in a flash both he and the car pulled away from me. I didn’t care, it would have been fun to overtake but the reality was I pleased just to coast along admiring the views and not even thinking about the next uphill. Why would I think about the next uphill it was nowhere to be seen and I kid you not I coasted for nearly 15minutes.
(I almost overtook the Biker and I did overtake the cyclist on the road down to Briancon)
Before I knew it I had pretty much coasted to Briancon. I had hatched a plan to get some lunch in the town then visit the tourist advice and see what my options were. I was beaming as I turned down the steep road to Briancon town. Happy to have made it to the town I had read about and considered my potential last staging post before the assault on the border. Lunch was quick and then I went to the Tourist Info, they were closed until 2pm. I went to the train station to see if they could help with options for the rest of the journey. I got nothing from that. I went back to tourist info and sat at a café drinking Orangina whilst I waited for it to open. I had read that there was a train station in a town called Oulx in Italy. I had no clue as to how close Oulx was to the border but it didn’t look far.
To be continued…….