Fatty Goes to France, Part VIII: Col du Galibier

10.6.2011 | 5:00 am

It was 3am. I was lying in bed. Not sleeping, just lying there. I had two reasons for not being able to sleep:

  1. The next morning, we were going to ride the Col du Galibier. First up the North side, then down the South side. Then up the Telegraphe, then back down, then back up the South side of the Galibier, and then — finally — coast down to the hotel. A big day of riding and climbing for our final day on the tour. I was just too excited to sleep.
  2. There was a very loud group of Belgians partying all through the night outside, just below our window.

The Belgians were there for a big event: a charity ride, where thousands (literally) of people would climb the Col du Galibier, the same day we would be.

The good news — as far as we were concerned — was that the road would be closed to cars because of this event. The bad news was that thousands of bikes are almost certainly more of an obstacle than a few cars. Oh, and no cars meant that our trusty follow van wouldn’t be there for us. We’d have to carry everything we needed for the day, like normal folks.


The Belgians went to bed around 5am (really), so I got a good solid two hours-worth of sleep. So I woke grouchy and foggy. I knew it wouldn’t last, though. I knew from experience that riding gives me (temporary) relief from sleep deprivation, not to mention from cold symptoms.

But the sky was looking dark. Like it could rain.

The Hammer and I rolled up armwarmers and rain jackets and stuffed them into our jersey pockets. Surely, that would be enough.

A few miles of climbing from our hotel in La Grave brought us to the Galibier. Carlos — a heart surgeon from NY who goes on a couple tours with Andy Hampsten every year — rode with us. He asked The Hammer if she calls me “Fatty.”

“No,” replied The Hammer. “I used to, but now I call him Elden.”

Carlos looked at me. “You should have everyone call you ‘Fatty,’” he told me. “Who would want to be called ‘Elden‘?”

I admitted I had never thought about it that way before.

Summiting the Galibier (The First Time)

The Galibier is a daunting climb, because you can see all too well where you’re going. The road just grinds up and up and up.


Fortunately, as you climb, you can also look down and see what you’ve accomplished, so far:


We weren’t trying to set any records that day — I’d had enough of that for one trip — and so we took time to get pictures.



Thanks to Carlos, we were even able to get some with The Hammer and me together.


There were several cows — all white — alongside the road. Some of them would run beside you. Most of them would moo at you, too.


“Fatty, I think that cow just told you to get moooooving,” Carlos said. Which started a whole string of moo-related jokes. Which all seemed totally hilarious at the time.

Laughing and joking the whole way up, I hardly noticed that we had just climbed around 4000 feet in under twelve miles.

We were there. At the top of the Galibier.


As were about five hundred other people.

We got a shot of us with Andy Hampsten:

Was it a coincidence that Andy wore his “Galibier” jersey when he climbed the Col du Galibier? Only Andy knows for sure.

And I got this shot:

I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the world with a picture of him or herself being put in a headlock by a grand tour winner at the top of the Col du Galibier. Can anyone prove me wrong?

It was kind of fun to stand back and watch people on the summit. I saw several people suddenly recognize Andy and point him out. It was the cycling equivalent of going to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and seeing Mic Jagger hanging out there. Or something like that.

La Rivine

We began the descent down the South side of the Galibier, which meant we were going the opposite direction of most of the thousands of people still climbing. All the way down, I looked at peoples’ faces. Some were having a great time; some were suffering bad. But everyone was doing what it took to get to the top.

I love that about cycling.

We got to a cafe, where we bought all kinds of pastries. And paninis. And quiche.


And, for The Hammer and myself, a couple of Cokes.


For whatever reason, there was nothing quite as wonderful as Coke during this trip.

I don’t know if it was that we were hungry, or just that we were tired of 12-course meals, but this was my favorite meal of the trip thus far. If I ever go to France again, I am going to do all of my eating out of roadside cafes.

As we ate, the clouds got darker. The wind picked up.

“I don’t think we should do the Telegraphe,” said Andy.

On one hand, I was a little bit disappointed. On the other hand, it’s not like we didn’t have plenty of riding ahead of us. In point of fact, we now were going to climb the South side of the Galibier.

The Galibier Climb (the Second Time)

We started climbing again, this time with The Hammer, Carlos, Andy and I all riding together.

Then I made a mistake.

I told Andy, “You should really be writing a book. Have you thought of writing one?”

“Actually, I have,” said Andy. And he started telling me about it. From time to time, I’d throw in a little piece of input.

But you know how when you get absorbed in a conversation, you can totally lose track of what you’re doing? That’s what happened with Andy. As he got interested in telling me about his book idea, he started riding faster and faster.

Still talking easily, still breathing calmly. But definitely going faster.

Before long, Carlos and The Hammer dropped off the back. I was hanging on.



Andy was riding easily, thinking and talking about how he’d organize the chapters in his book.

I’d say maybe two or three words between gasping breaths. Andy spoke in full paragraphs.


And the climb just went on and on.


Finally, we got to the top. I figured, based on how I felt, that we must have been ten to fifteen minutes ahead of The Hammer and Carlos.

They rode up about one minute later.

At which point, I got my favorite shot of the trip.


At the moment I took this shot, it began to rain. One drop.

Then ten at once.

Then it was a downpour.

We put on what we had brought with us and began the trip down. At which point, I began to wish we weren’t descending in this downpour; that just made us all the colder.

I followed The Hammer the whole way down. I am not ashamed to say it: she is a better road descender than I.

Half an hour later, we were soaked, freezing, but back to our hotel.  


La Grave is beautiful even when it’s raining.

This gave us a daily total of 43.5 miles, with 7200 feet of climbing.

I love the elevation profile:



That was the end of our last ride. Sure, we finished with soaking bike shoes, but we spent the whole week riding with dry shoes. That’s not bad at all.

It rained the next day as we made our way back to Lyon. Torrentially. And the bus broke down. And it rained all through the night and into the next morning.


And our train — the Rhonexpress, which had broken down on our way from the airport to Lyon — broke down on the way from Lyon to the airport.

It didn’t matter. We were giddy from what we had experienced.

It’s now been almost exactly a month since we finished this trip; it’s been fun for me to re-live it by writing the stories down. Earlier today, I asked The Hammer, “Can you believe we got to go on that tour? Any one of those rides would have been worth the trip. Stacking that many incredible rides together, well…wow. That was the vacation of a lifetime.”

And it really was.

PS: In case you’re curious, our total mileage for the tour was 420 miles, with 45,344 feet of climbing. That’s a lot.


  1. Comment by Sara | 10.6.2011 | 6:48 am

    I only wish we could attempt such an awesome trip! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Comment by Duncan | 10.6.2011 | 7:06 am

    The Coke tastes better because it is made with sugar not high fructose corn syrup. You can get the real stuff here in Texas, usually at Mexican stores.

    Love the blog, keep up the good work. It was great to relive my trips to the Alps through your stories, I hope to take my kids there one day.

  3. Comment by Jen Mac | 10.6.2011 | 7:24 am

    What? It’s over? Noooo, mooooore please.

  4. Comment by evil3 | 10.6.2011 | 7:45 am

    What no Hammer point of view again?

    I wish I could have any mountain to climb, as I only have some rolling hills (some might kick up to around 20% however), that are short to climb. Other then that it is mostly flat in the north-western/north-central part of IN, and south-western MI.

    Duncan, I think you have it backwards, real coke has HFC in it, as after all it is a drink that is made in the USA. Of course after riding up mountains, I am sure a Coke would taste better then a simple day on the flats in a draft (that and it sounded like they ate mostly pastries, so I am sure they wanted that extra bit of sugar intake).

  5. Comment by evil3 | 10.6.2011 | 7:47 am

    Fatty, I think Andy has taken lesson from Levi and is the reason you ended up in yet another headlock.

    I also think that is why he said he never got put in a headlock by Levi, as he was already being trained how to get you.

  6. Comment by Mark in Ottawa | 10.6.2011 | 8:02 am

    That was such an awesome trip! The Hammer looks on top of the world in that picture on the Galibier (she almost is, literally!).

    What a trip! Again, I have to thank you for sharing it with us – I know I probably won’t have an opportunity to go on one like this myself, but I am thankful I was able to enjoy yours through your great posts!

    Thanks again,
    Mark (in Ottawa, Canada)

  7. Comment by Christina | 10.6.2011 | 8:12 am

    I always thought Coke tasted better in Europe because it was such a rarity. And nothing is better than Italian Fanta. Orangina tries, but orange Fanta in Europe is divine.

    Wonderful trip! Wonderful report! Wonderful legs! (Whoops…I went too far on that one.)

    Thanks on all counts, especially the legs one. Wish I’d have tried Fanta while in France! – FC

  8. Comment by Jim Tolar | 10.6.2011 | 8:20 am

    Thanks for sharing this whole unbelievable trip with us. As always with your writing, it feels like I got to go there too. And now I add another person (Andy Freaking Hampsten) to my list of people who I’ll greet like long lost friends if I ever see them in person, and who will have no freaking idea who I am.


  9. Comment by Liz | 10.6.2011 | 8:21 am

    Again, awesome report. Thanks very much. I know you are especially looking forward to viewing the Tour de France next summer now that you have experienced some of the famous terrain.

  10. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 10.6.2011 | 8:35 am

    So Fatty. When the rest of us make our trip to the Galibier, will we find a Fat Cyclist Sticker on the summit sign?

    Raining here in Marin today. Maybe I’ll climb Mt Tam….and pretend.

    A wonderful report, like others I hope to get there one day. And I too would like to hear one last story from the Hammer about the trip.

    I’m afraid I didn’t bring any FC stickers w/ me, so the Galibier remains Fat Cyclist Stickerless for now. As for this report, The Hammer and I wrote her last couple letters together, so I just augmented what we had already written to get what you see here. So her letters would just read like condensed versions of what you had just read. – FC

  11. Comment by Luke | 10.6.2011 | 9:28 am

    Not sure if anyone has mentioned this, but you have talked about how delicious Coke was on this trip. I’m going to theorize about why this is.
    1) Coke is delicious when you are calorie starved and need caffeine to push you up a big freakin hill on a bike.

    2) French Coca-cola is NOT equal to US Coca-Cola. No other global Coca-cola is equal to US Coca-cola, they are all SUPERIOR. That’s because they don’t use high fructose corn syrup abroad. They use SUGAR! Real, not quite as bad for you as HFCS, cane sugar. Hope you enjoyed it while living in a country with a whole different set of insensible agricultural policies and subsidies.

    You’re absolutely right on #1 at least. I’ve mentioned in other posts about how much I’ve loved Coke while riding Leadville, or doing a marathon, for example. While in France, we were doing that kind of effort practically every day, so the caffeine + calories were extra-welcome. – FC

  12. Comment by Jeremy | 10.6.2011 | 9:38 am

    “I love the elevation profile.” – awesome!

  13. Comment by buckythedonkey | 10.6.2011 | 9:46 am

    I am delighted that you finally made it over here. We did Chamonix to Nice this year and have a Pyrenees Coast-to-Coast in plan for 2012 (both with an outfit called GPM10, who I recommend highly).

    It’s there to be ridden, I’m glad that you did. Chapeau!

  14. Comment by Jefferson | 10.6.2011 | 9:55 am

    Well beyond my current skill set, but I imagined myself straining away at the back of the pack. I’ve added this trip to my bucket list. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Comment by Bee | 10.6.2011 | 9:56 am

    Coke is made with other recipes for other countries- my mom once visited the Coke factory (I don’t recall where- perhaps Georgia?) and was able to try Coke for other places. She said middle Eastern coke is almost spicy, and French coke is less sticky-to-your-teeth sweet and seems to have more caffeine bite. She was able to try the cokes side-by-side with American coke. Here, we have a few cans of Iraq coke on our hutch. Never opened, though. The cans are just cool.

  16. Comment by Mike C | 10.6.2011 | 10:03 am

    Thanks for sharing the trip with us. I’d love to do something like that with my wife someday.

  17. Comment by Wife# 1 | 10.6.2011 | 10:20 am

    Another great post! Still cracking up at this part: “I figured, based on how I felt, that we must have been ten to fifteen minutes ahead of The Hammer and Carlos.

    They rode up about one minute later.”

    So if you told us this already and I missed it, sorry, but been dying to know… despite all the hard rides, did you gain any weight and if yes, how much? Because I tried to count how many times you said “eat/ate” in your Tour de French Fatty posts, and the number added up to a lot.

    So for those of us who also love food, can you go to France and eat whatever you want if you ride hard enough, or is there a secondary reason that XL offer from Twin Six just happened? :-)

  18. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 10.6.2011 | 10:36 am

    No Stickers??? That just means the next time Andy offers this prize, stickers will be mandatory. I can wait.

    And how ’bout a summary of (new) foods eaten. Foie Gras was alluded to in an early post, how did that go down?

    Need to check the kidlettes college fund,maybe I can ride in France next summer….

  19. Comment by roan | 10.6.2011 | 11:05 am

    Once again awesome photos & write-up. This series has changed my opinion on cycling there…can’t wait to go but wait I must. The last pic is a puzzle to me, really doesn’t look like Fatty, certainly not Elden, maybe a traveling gnome that pays 6 euros each for too many Cokes.
    Did you see any ‘real’ cycling tourists, you know the independent pannier loaded pedal mashers ?

  20. Comment by nh_joe | 10.6.2011 | 11:13 am

    I love those profiles. You can do that in Leadville too!

  21. Comment by jesse | 10.6.2011 | 11:22 am


    Thanks for the installments. I’ve really enjoyed them – and of course they’ve got me thinking of a cycling vacation of my own!

  22. Comment by Marshall Miller | 10.6.2011 | 11:31 am

    A dashed line on the pavement obviously means something different in France. Where’s the other half of the road???

    Fatty, there’s clearly something about you that makes people want to put you in headlocks. High school must have been a nightmare!

    And may I just state for the record that The Hammer has an absolutely killer smile. You could light up small towns with that smile.

    Another great post. These French chronicles have been a real treat!

  23. Comment by centurion | 10.6.2011 | 11:44 am

    So Elden, do you call The Hammer, The Hammer?

  24. Comment by Gabi | 10.6.2011 | 12:13 pm

    thanks for sharing! I now know what my dream trip would be…someday I too want to travel around France drinking too much coke.

  25. Comment by Lady Cyclist Wannabe in California | 10.6.2011 | 12:39 pm

    I can’t hold back any longer. I’ve been reading this blog for a long while, and enjoying all the various photos. It’s been fun watching things develop over time. I hope I’m not being inappropriate, but I just have to comment on Fatty’s awesome, STUDLY legs! Those quads are BEAUTIFUL!!

  26. Comment by a chris | 10.6.2011 | 12:55 pm

    Well…since Coke was sold for decades before HFCS was invented, I’d say it’s not too unreasonable to call the sucrose version “the real thing.”

    But back on topic…your report and photos bring back great memories for me. I’m happy to see people being happy doing something that I’m happy when I do. Did that sentence work?

    Got a shiver from the rain photo. That brings memories too!

  27. Comment by skippy | 10.6.2011 | 12:56 pm

    Good decision by Andy to head back w/out the Telegraph climb ! As a winter guest of Valloire Tourism i skied all day and then rode over the top of the Telegraph for a few miles but decided to turn back as light was fading . The following night i rode up the Galibier to the third avalanche barrier and turned back for the same reason .
    When Lance rode the Galibier on his way to victory in Sestriere i was 6km from the top as the race passed and then the heavens opened ! Cresting the Col and riding down to Briancon was in 2inches of water flowing over the road so you were lucky only to have wet shoes . This drowned rat was taken in by a Ski Instructor’s family , short of Sestriere and i had the pleasure of staying in their home again during this TDF ! Mother has passed on as a VICTIM of Cancer and Valetin wears the “LiveSTRONG ” wristband !

    Loved the photos , some of which i will use to liven up my blogs !

    Your style of reporting brings out an amazing amount of detail and i hope that you are able to enlarge on these memories during the winter months and i am sure there are stories others on the trip would be happy to relate . Laura S. most definitely will delight those who have read Hammer’s perspective of the adventure !

    LOve the new Banner showing racing and Mtb !

  28. Comment by Charlie | 10.6.2011 | 2:18 pm


    So, is this a coincidence… the 24 Hours of Moab announcer, guiding a tour in the French Alps had a major crash and broke multiple bones. Sounds familiar! Same guy?

    Will you and the Hammer be at Moab? I’ll come steel a Brat if you are!

    We were going to be, but the team fell apart and we’ve been traveling so much lately that we were kinda grateful when it did. And yeah, same guy. – FC

  29. Comment by Charlie | 10.6.2011 | 2:18 pm

    or steal…

  30. Comment by Bethany | 10.6.2011 | 4:06 pm

    Strangely enough, Mic Jagger is not actually IN the Rock & Roll Hall of fame.

    Well, that’s just wrong. I’m not saying you’ve made an incorrect statement; I’m saying it’s wrong he’s not in there. – FC

  31. Comment by AngieG | 10.6.2011 | 6:36 pm

    More pictures for me to ride my stationary bike to :-)

    It will be like being there, but with a mound of laundry next to me waiting to be folded. Ok so not so much like being there…Darn!

  32. Comment by skippy | 10.7.2011 | 12:07 am

    Hey Angie ” Fatty team are multi task talented ! Try folding the laundry as you pedal after all you have to do something with your hands even if it is only to turn the pages of the book you would be reading !

  33. Comment by Cookster | 10.7.2011 | 1:59 am

    The elevation profile reminds me of Madonna during the eighties.

    If you need a umberella holder/bike bag carrier next time I am available to assist, really I don’t mind.

  34. Comment by roadrash | 10.7.2011 | 7:13 am

    Fatty – Thanks for sharing your stories and pictures. An epic adventure for sure. If you ever start your own touring company… “I’m all in”.

  35. Comment by Marco | 10.7.2011 | 10:12 am


    Thanks for sharing these posts. I’ve been looking forward to reading them every day….and I’ve already started looking into doing a tour with Andy’s company. It just looks too amazing to pass up!


    Awesome. You’re going to love it. – FC

  36. Comment by charley | 10.8.2011 | 9:34 am

    how is your gearing set up. you obviously climb well. i have a compact and 12/27 and usually die here in colorado springs. i awoke to the fall’s first snow shower and thought of some pictures i once saw of andy climbing some hill in europe in a raging snowstorm… then i drank another cup of coffee.

  37. Comment by Noodle | 10.8.2011 | 3:41 pm

    Jealous! Want to go to there. Then again, I want to go everywhere.

  38. Comment by Arnaud Bachelard | 10.21.2011 | 8:10 am

    The only stickers you can see there are from Ibis Cycles. And I still don’t know why…


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