The Ultimate Job: having a moment on the Col du Glandon

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Our Ultimate Job competition winners Matt McCullough and Stefano Ferro have just finished their second day in France, a day spent tackling the mighty Col du Glandon. Here’s their report and some great photos.

Two days from now we’ll be caught up in the Tour but for these first few days we have the time to take in some great rides in the Alps. Today we climbed the Col du Glandon — not the most famous climb in Tour history but one that has featured numerous times since 1947.

We descended from Alpe d’Huez (where we were staying the night before) and as we rolled down from the balcony road overlooking Bourg d’Oisan nestled in the valley below, Stef’s chain got jammed between the cassette and wheel. It was a serious mechanical that plagued him for the rest of the day. He finally dropping his chain again, taking out two spokes in the process.

Pat from Bikestyle Tours worked tirelessly solving the issues but in the end Stef only had time to make it a few kilometres up the climb before time ran out and the rest of the group descended. A big thank you to Greg Gibson for providing some photos from the summit that Stef missed out on.

I can talk about the gradient and the distance but those details fall away against the pure, unadulterated joy of riding this road. It begins with shaded roads tracking through postcard villages and then, as the altitude increases, opens out to waterfalls and wide mountain vistas with snow touching distant peaks.

The landscape changes dramatically over the 25km to the top – most spectacularly when you reach the lake. This is when it really got ridiculous — impossibly green slopes laced with waterfalls framing an azure mirror of water.

I admit to having a small “moment” at this point. These are the kind of sights and experiences you want to breath so deep into you that they alter you from that point on. No photo can fully capture this — there’s something exultant about it.

Further on the clang of cow bells (actual cow bells, on actual cows – yes, really) ring out across this storybook landscape. If you scripted it no-one would take you seriously.

While we have these few days before the behemoth of the Tour becomes our central focus, to be able to reconnect with a simple, untrammelled joy that riding a bike can bring somehow seems important.

These surroundings would be scenery from a car; from a bike they are something more. You become part of the place – there’s a connection formed with each metre claimed, each challenge conquered. No doubt the various hormones and chemicals infused through your system from the effort play a part, forming an internal chemical bond to a place.

The Barrage de Grand Maison. (Image: Greg Gibson)
The Barrage de Grand Maison. (Image: Greg Gibson)

This was a challenging climb. I was sleep-deprived and stretched from the previous day’s ascent of Alpe d’Huez. I can honestly say once we left the trees behind none of that mattered. Each pedal stroke wasn’t about pushing harder, or maintaining the cadence – what mattered about it was it propelling me further into this mind-boggling environment.

There was something new in this. Suddenly riding was less about the internal part of the process and all about the external – where I was, not how far I’d come. The gradient was a part of what I was experiencing rather than something I was fighting.

It’s easy to forget that sensation of freedom and control of first being on a bike. It’s easy to forget the reasons you began riding once it becomes all about heart rate zones and wattage. To reconnect with that would be enough in these quiet days before the storm but incredibly I found something new on the way to summit of the Col du Glandon.

It’s a huge shame Stef’s mechanical prevented him from making it beyond the tree line. I met him on the last kilometres of the descent to hear the tale of his mechanical woes, having assumed he was held up taking photos.

Go ride your bike – it’ll teach you things, it’ll show you places, it’ll feed you.

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