CESANA TORINESE / COL DU GALIBIER (VALLORIE)
Adjusted distance due to snow closure: 144.8k. The race finished just below the monument to Marco Pantani, Il Pirata (because of his DO/DON’T rag, earring and goatee) or Il Elephante (because of his ears).
Course Overview (according to FIGHT FOR PINK): Short Alpine stage with two climbs in excess of 25k. Descent from Stage start to Susa where a “pedalable” climb starts up the Colle del Moncenisio (25.7k, 1600 meters gained in vertical height). Long descent interrupted by the short climb to Aussois (intermediate sprint). From St. Michele de Maurienne, 35k climb to Col du Galibier1, broken by the short descent to Valloire after the Col du Telegraphe.
Weather: In the morning in Italy it was cold, until right before the start at 1:00 when it got warm and stayed warm-to-cool and mostly sunny until the finish in the Alps in France where and when it snowed—for the top finishers, at least. For the grupetto and beyond the road steamed, it got sunny and the clouds and mist blew off almost like the day's Epic, having only been booked for the finish that “matters,” packed its shit up and left before the race was entirely over. Or here’s another theory: as consolation to the slower riders for getting cracked-and-shelled while racing (day 15) into the sky past the trees and three quarters of the way to Valhalla, the sun came out and it stopped snowing.
We went to the start. I almost got on the bus with the Colombians. We went to the sign-in. We saw the race in Oulx. We drove to France discussing our excitement regarding Galibier. We sat in a long line at the border, anxious for no reason about whether we needed papers/passports (see DYS sign below). We paid for and drove through a tunnel to France. We had trois cafes on the top of Telegraphe. We got stopped like three little Rodney Dangerfields of Cycling Journalism at the base of Galibier (10k from the finish) because we didn’t have a permesso or “special pass.” Apparently there was an email regarding instructions about obtaining a special pass. Apparently there was a shuttle bus at 3:00pm; the time at that point was 3:45pm. Maybe because it was the finish of today’s stage, or maybe because this was the HIGHLIGHT of the entire 2013 Giro d’italia (as in going to the top of Galibier was possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity, not to mention we’re talking here about going to the top of Galibier during the Giro in a year with a lot of snow), but whatever it was we were c-r-u-s-h-e-d.
We stood around in the deviation parking lot kicking rocks and talking shit for quite sometime. We walked around confused and disappointed. We ate sausages in French bread with dark yellow mustard. We commiserated with other media, some were walking, some were hitchhiking, some were trying to find a way up in team cars. We stared at the mountain, or rather in the mountain’s general direction as it was in the clouds, hiding. In the midst of our funk I photographed an Italian-looking man leaning on a wooden rail, he looked annoyed, I smiled. Ten minutes later that man and some of his friends offered in Italo-English to take one of us (they only had space for one more person) to the top, apropos of nothing, out of nowhere.
At some point during the drive to the to top (in a Black Audi A6, two in the front, three in the back—I sat back-right), past the first set of switchbacks, out of the clouds and into the mist, I almost cried.
At the top, past the finish and somewhere in the vicinity of the Pantani Monument, they dropped me off and told me I was welcome to ride back with them (I didn’t; I walked back most of the way and took the shuttle the rest), then handed me a small paper box with a slice of very delicious pizza inside. I had an hour to make it 2km back down off the shoulder of the mountain and onto the face of it for the finish.
- (FROM STAGE 14) Pushing Nathan Haas up yesterday’s post-finish climb to the lodge at the end of his day. It was steep, he was cold and wet, nobody else was around, he recognized me, he asked, I was happy to oblige. His lower back was wet (rain*sweat*misc.) and muddy and frankly, disgusting, but I was extraordinary happy to contribute. Almost oddly so.
- (ALSO FROM STAGE 14) As it started to rain I tried to pull the hood of my sweatshirt through the the top of my Brooks Rain Cape AND my #14 paper-cloth photo tunic, and while the respective holes of each were “somewhat” aligned complications remained. The problem was the shoulder strap of my musette bag was tangled between the Brooks Rain Cape and my hoodie. Furthermore, the Frogskins hanging from my neck via Croakies were tangled in the musette bag strap. Exacerbating what had now become a project: trying to keep my baseball cap on, holding a camera-combination-fragile-flash in one hand, and a fast approaching bicycle tournament. FYI, this was a public project. I was standing in front of a barricade in the apex of a televised corner, and behind the barricade stood several thousand Italians. At any rate, after a minute of one-handedly struggling through the problem (and losing), I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder, some light rummaging in the “collar area” behind my head, then a quick chiropractor-like tug of my hood successfully clearing all the aforementioned obstructions. When I turned I was stunned to learn my helper was a Polizia Man. I had just shared a publicly tender moment with a Polizia Man, and my fucking hood was finally up and out.
- At approximately 11:30am the Finish Caravan drove past in Cesana on their way to Col du Galibier. The Banana car, on the back/top of which is a massive Banana (sculpture?!), had snow on it. There was snow on the Banana.
- In the town of Oulx, an older woman standing and laughing and talking with friends on the edge of the course waiting for the race to pass, shouted at me “Bello Ragazzo!” as we pulled up and parked.
- Discussing avalanches and echelons at the same time, about the same race, on the same day.
- Learning horns were disallowed on Col du Galibier because of Avalanche Danger.
- From the Gazetta dello Sport English language live comments (regarding snow on the Col du Galibler): “The fifteenth leg was amputated due to bad weather.”
- In the lane-line to pay the Fréjus Road Tunnel toll (41.40 euros, one way) at the border between Italy and France, this was posted on a sign: "The thermographic control does not remove the responsibility of the driver who shall remain the final judge of his vehicles safety."
- Another sign demanded, "DECLARE YOURSELF," in three different languages.
- In the middle of the heat of the finish (helicopter above, riders, team cars, steam on the road, shouting, etc.) a spectator, forced backwards by advancing cyclists, fell off the road and rolled down a snowy embankment – he was fine!—I think?!—no, seriously, he was fine. But for a moment there it was a seriously confusing situation. Like when my friend Brian Poland used to skate jump ramps, he had the worst style but he could land some some pretty rad shit anyway: 360s, Judo Airs, Japan Airs, Methods, Saran-wraps, etc. But it was scary, you never knew if he was making something or compound fracturing his tibia. Mostly he was landing, albeit sketchily. This dude landed it. But it was definitely a, "No…….Yeah……..Yeah—No…No…....Yeaaaaaah," situation.
- A young boy on the side of the road in Fourneaux shaking a worn plastic Careefour shopping bag at the caravan as it passed, as if to say, "Look at my bag, I have a bag, viva il Giro!"
- Regione Rhone Alps: Located on the eastern border of the country, towards the south. The region was named after the Rhone River and the Alps mountain range.
- a.) Following behind for a corner or two b.) The existence/institution/use of c.) Passing, the four Zamboni-like street sweeper vehicles cleaning every inch of the Col du Telegraphe.
- Walking off Galibier with Brent Humphreys and his assistant Max, talking about stupid mistakes. Standouts include Brent and Max driving into a curb and flatting a rental car tire, myself forgetting (not joking) how shutter speeds work.
- Trying the combination of an “original” flavored Italian Pringle chip and a Haribo sour gummy pacifier.
- The sound of a wild marmot in the Alpine wilds.
- Listening to British Spectators in a whiteout, waiting for the Movistar dude and all the rest to ride past, discussing the weather, in particular how this weather would impact the Colombians. Everyone loves the Colombians, nobody knows why, nobody cares, we just do.
- Watching a dude in Director’s Kit in the Bardiani Valvole – CSF Inox Team Car in front of us on the way back to Italy after the race argue with the French toll operator. Watching, the argument clearly not moving along as he had hoped, as the self same maybe-director dude got out of the Team Car and walked over to the booth where he leaned-in to watch as the toll operator (all was clear at this point based on visuals) attempted to run his credit card once again. Apparently it was declined, once again. He paid cash.
- The Tunnel came with instructions which instructions included a pictogram. The pictogram offered step-by-step advice regarding what to do should your car explode. First, bring your (exploded?!) car to a stop. Second, get out of your car. Third, orient yourself in the direction of a glowing green SOS light. Fourth, run in the direction of the green SOS light.
- Receiving the AT&T Free Msg.: Welcome aboard! text in the Fréjus Road Tunnel the second we crossed the border into France, halfway through the 8.1 mile long tunnel.
- The Fréjus Road Tunnel toll – 41.40 euros. Maximum speed 70 kilometers an hour. Speed cameras throughout the whole-entire tunnel. Like, it might as well have been video from a camera mounted on a zipline-type cable, tracking your progress. Minimum required distance (150 meters) between your car and the car in front of you. Real-time, interactive digital signage giving you updates (in intervals) as to your progress in terms of your speed and distance. If you get too close to the car in front of you a diagram of one car rear-ending another car flashes AT you.
- Modane, France (the first town on the French side of the Fréjus Road Tunnel). That’s it, just Modane the place. It is a low point.
- Leica SF-20 batteries dying on the way into a very (purposefully) dark Colombian Team Bus.
- Trying the combination of an “original” flavored Italian Pringle chip and a Haribo sour gummy pacifier.
- Arguing with the toll operator between France and Italy on the way home from the race. Apparently we had only purchased (for 41.40 euros) a one way ticket, and an additional 10.60 euros was required to return. Getting honked at by the Vini Fantini–Selle ItaliaTeam Bus while we argued. Fluo is cool, but not that cool.
- The Pantani Mountain of the 2103 Giro d’Italia is Col du Galibier, in memory of the Romagna Climber’s feat in the 1998, when he won the Tour De France (during the Stage 15 Grenoble - Les Deux Alpes), realizing the Giro-Tour double. [↩]