Photos & Words: Brazo de Hierro
The French Alps are some of the most famous climbs in cycling, deeply embedded in the lore of the sport. Having the opportunity to experience the very same switchbacks and pitches that have become household names is on just about every cyclist’s bucket list.
Raw Magazine’s annual Among The Giants (Instagram: @rideamongthegiants) trip headed to Montgenèvre, a small village right on the border of Italy and deep in the shadows of some of the biggest cols. The name of the trip says it all: Among The Giants. Our friends David and Aleix from Velodrom CC in Barcelona joined Raw Magazine for three days of high mountain cycling. David shares the story.
Day 1: Galibier + Granon
The alarm clock goes off at 7:30 AM. A long and hard day in the office ahead of us. The first doubts arise only when we open the window, finding a cloudy and cold landscape. The outside temperature is 7 C/45 F, but at noon the forecast was up to 25 C/77 F degrees. A radical change in temperature as the day goes by. It is not at all easy to select the right clothing combination for the day.
120 kilometers / 75 miles
3,000 meters / 9,842 feet of climbing
5:02 moving time / 7:48 total ride time
At 9:30 in the morning we set off in the direction of the Galibier. From the start we had a long and fast descent which would take us to Briançon. Together, we rode as a compact group until the start of the pass, where each rider could then climb at the pace that suited them.
As seen in the stage profile, from Briançon we won’t have any rest sections until we reach the top of the Galibier.
The road is in perfect condition, allowing us to ride at a good pace and in a compact group until the first challenge of the day.
At KM 27 things start to get serious, the group starts to break up. The first ramps of the Col de Lautaret start to lift the cards.
The Col de Lautaret is not a very difficult climb. It’s 12 km at an average gradient of 4.5%, but we have to take into account the altitude at which we find ourselves, and consequently the lack of oxygen.
After a small regrouping at the top of Lautaret we turn left, and looking up, we can see the first big mountain of the day. I dare say that almost all cyclists have heard of the Galibier, and all the “battles” that have been experienced on this great giant, but we are not aware of its immensity until we have it in front of us.
The Col de Galibier is a pass of 8.6 km with an average gradient of 6.5%. This slope is not very difficult, allowing us to enjoy the climb at a good pace and with good sensations. It’s a perfect day, the sky is completely clear and the views are incredible. In these giant mountains you realise how small we are. It is spectacular.
Once the whole group has climbed the summit and regained strength, we start a long descent down the same road we climbed earlier.
The RAW guys have a good surprise in store for us: Tadej Pogacar’s Achilles heel in the last Tour de France. The Col de Granon.
The first ramps already put us in our place. With 10 km at a super constant 10% gradient, it is possibly one of the most demanding passes I have ever ridden. There is no rest whatsoever, and the road to the top is narrow. The good news is that as you go on and gain altitude, the views become more and more spectacular.
Granon is a dead end pass, so you go up and down on the same road. It is a climb which can be descending without difficulties, allowing us to enjoy the scenery.
Day 2: Izoard
As on the previous day, the morning dawned cold, but nothing that a good coffee could not solve.
We had a long day ahead of us with the Izoard as the main course.
At 9:30 in the morning we took the direction of Briançon, it is in this town where the Izoard pass starts. A 19km pass with an average gradient of 6%.
124 kilometers / 77 miles
2,834 meters / 9,298 feet of climbing
4:46 moving time / 6:27 total ride time
The first ramps of the Izoard force us to take off our warm clothes. It is not a particularly steep climb, but 19 km is always long.
The scenery changes as we gain altitude. At the beginning of the pass we find an open road typical of a mountain pass. As we progress, the landscape narrows as we enter a typical Alpine forest.
In the last 4 km and coinciding with the hardest ramps, the pass completely opens up giving us some magnificent vistas of the French Alps.
At the top of the pass we regroup to start together the long descent towards Mont-Dauphin.
The rest of the day is spent on the small roads of the valley which directs us back to Briançon.
Day 3: colle delle finestre
The queen stage, with a clear protagonist, the mythical pass of Colle de la Finestre.
On la Finestre, we have experienced some epic battles in the Giro d’Italia. It was in this place where Chris Froome dynamited the race, winning the final victory in this great tour.
It is in Susa that the pass starts. The first ramps of the pass are a good appetizer of what lies ahead.
138 kilometers / 86 miles
3,360 meters /11,024 feet of climbing
6:09 moving time / 7:25 total ride time
The Colle delle Finestre is a 9 km asphalt pass plus another 9 km of gravel road, with hardly any rests and an average gradient of 9.3%.
It is possibly one of the hardest passes we have ever done, not only because of its distance and gradient, but also because of the added difficulty of the last 9 km on gravel.
The first half of the climb is on a narrow, rough asphalt road on which barely two cars can pass. The minutes tick by, but it’s hard to make the kilometres go by. If we look out over the edge of the road, we can see that within just a few kilometres, we have already gained notable elevation.
Halfway up the pass is where the party starts. A long stretch of gravel that is usually in good condition, but due to the time of year we are in, it is already quite deteriorated. For the more technical riders, managing the section is okay. However, for those lacking in technique, the switchback turns proved tricky.
At the top we can enjoy a completely open landscape on both sides of the pass. From this point we start a long descent to face the Sestriere Pass, a typical ski slope road with the main difficulty being the distance.
Frameset: ENVE Melee
Wheels: SES 3.4
Tires: SES Tire, 27c
Groupset: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 (52-36, 11-30)
Saddle: Fizik 3D
“The ENVE Melee proved to be just about perfect. It was fast and agile on the climbs with just the right amount of stiffness. On the technical downhills, the bike is solid and handles every corner perfectly. The SES 3.4 wheel profile give you speed without compromising during crosswinds.”