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Souvenirs from Galibier




When you’re more than 2000 meters high, things seem to be different. When you’re more than 2000 meters high mind slowdown takes over your actions, everything is slower, tiring. Your body notices while your mind deals with it.

More than 2000 meters high, men get out of their comfort zone and explore their limits. “In Galibier we’re like a pale and common little animal: in front of this giant, we can only take off our hat and say hello with modesty”.

The man who said that about the 2645 meters of the Col du Galibier is Henry Desgrange, the man who inspired the “souvenir Desgrange”, the prize for the first cyclist to surmount Galibier.


It’s a prize that reminds us of who we can consider the first prominent person on cycling history, he provided the first time records in the famous Parisian Velodrome of Buffalo at the end of the 19th century and he also encouraged the first edition of the Tour de France.

When Desgrange took his career to the summit of the Galibier he knew somehow that it was as if he had left a print on the moon because it was, in short, the story of an enormous piece of nature that the human being once wanted to explore.

And in that “almost lunar” conquer the legend of Émile Georget remais, since 1911, the prehistory of cycling, when he became the first cyclist to surmount it after a2.5 hour pitiful climb, weaving in and out and strongly believing in what he was doing. They say faith can move mountains, and hope was what pushed Georget that day.





The path Georget traced


Émile Georget wasn’t the best cyclist of his generation, but he made history in his peculiar climb to the Galibier, because he went to unknown territories no one had gone before and everyone went to after him. His look of a refined cyclist with a dense moustache would make him the perfect poser of a cult café today, but back then he seemed to be a crazy man that went to the mountains in search of adventures that sounded like a fantasy.


They say Georget, along with Paul Duboc and Gustave Garrigou, was the only cyclist who never put a foot in land on the whole climb.

100 years after Émile Georget, the Galibier was the brightest star in the Tour de France. In a race marked by equality and the apathy between the favourites, Andy Schleck started on the Izoard, went down alone to the Briançon and from the valley flied to the Galibier, first with the help of Maxime Monfort and after that alone, to win the most beautiful stage of the recent times.

The next day, the Galibier wouldn’t be the finish line, it would be a passing point before the climb of its partner Télégraphe, to see the riot of Alberto Contador who left his passion and fury in the journey finishing in Alpe d’Huez.


The Galibier has been ascended twice, the most recent one in 2017, when the victory was held by a cyclist that flies against the clock and doesn’t blink twice in the climbs, Primoz Roglic.

The previous occasion was that in which Miguel Indurain and Tony Rominger brought fear to the pack, hand in hand, by marking the distances the Galibier can only show when you’re inspired. The Swedish won this stage, but the general classification was inclined towards the Spaniard.



Francisco Cepeda, the tragic name of the Galibier


There are also sad stories written about the Galibier. Francisco Cepeda was a Basque cyclist that competed in the Tour de France of 1935. Those were the times of the Prehistoric cycling, the years of Mariano Cañardo and the international awakening of spanish cyclists.

Cepeda was going down the Galibier, down the slope of the Lautaret to Le Bourg d’Oisans. Following after the legendary Rene Vietto, one of the most remembered domestiques in the cycling history, Cepeda was hit by a car in the middle of his route.

He got medical assistance in the shoulder of the road but he didn’t improve. After being urgently carried to the Grenoble Hospital, he died at midnight.

He was the first cyclist to die in the Tour de France.





The story of Marco Pantani


Twenty years ago, there was no other favourite for the Tour than Jan Ullrich. Powerful, number one, the German wore a yellow jersey while sitting comfortably after the long timed races that filled the Tour during those years.


Any person in his right mind would have turned the page, would have been content with a fair result. Marco Patani wasn’t just any person. In the face of that storm, he rushed out of the pack of the big ones. He didn’t give them a choice. In the group, Ullrich included, they acted as if they didn’t see him and they did wrong, Pantani not only outperformed the advantage the German had, he also ended the journey being the noted leader with four minutes to spare to win his Tour, the Tour of 1998 that changed the history of cycling.


In 2007, in the Galibier, Alberto Contador placed his bet when started the climb powerfully with a dry attack that made people focus on the young Spanish boy that was starting to become famous but no one knew exactly what he was capable of. That ended up being Contador’s first Tour.



The snow on Galibier


The path of the Galibier was created because of the need to connect completely isolated valleys back in the 9th century. The first routes joined the valleys of Maurienne with Briançon in 1876, although years later a new tunnel was opened near the summit to avoid nearly two kilometres of an insidious route that was more than 2600 meters high.


The Galiber is full of surprises due to its usually cold and misleading weather, as it was in the Tour of 1996, which could have been the sixth of Miguel Indurain if bad weather and rain wouldn’t have played against him. The route was shortened because the giant mountain was full of snow in the month of July.

Snow, a surprising element in summer, appeared in the Galibier and that day, in which Bjarne Riis started to outstand in Sestriere, made history for being a rare event in the history of the Tour.


In the Alps, the Galibier is not the highest but it’s the king. It’s the port of ports and demands humbleness because only a few have dominated it more than once and the quality of names such as Bahamontes, Gaul and Julio Jiménez who talked about the importance of a challenge that now has a name “Supergranfondo Galibier-Izoard”, a cyclotourist march through legendary routes and the two mountain ports that witnessed the smaller of the Schleck in the Tour on the centenary of the Galibier.


A unique march that means the debut of Gobik as the supplier of the jersey that will be given to the participants, a piece of clothing that will carry the names of great legends of a centenary sport.


Texts: El Cuaderno de JoanSeguidor

Photos: Super GranFondo