Cykelnerven 2024 – Day 1 – Briançon to Col de Vars

Note: On June 4-9, I participated in Cykelnerven, a cycling event that benefits the Multiple Sclerosis International Foundation (MSIF). We took on some of the toughest climbs to be used in this year’s Tour de France.


This is the day. Or more specifically, This is the day that the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.


Like many Americans, I started watching the Tour de France in the early 2000s when our TV networks decided a race with an American contender would be worth showing. Thank you Outdoor Life Network!

Breakfast at the Parc

The names of these climbs were epic and mythical. Alpe d’Huez. Col du Tourmalet. Mont Ventoux. Col du Galibier. In 2010 I signed up for a Trek Travel trip and climbed the Tourmalet. Twice. In 2011 I climbed Alpe d’Huez, and Mont Ventoux on my solo trip to France. I tried to climb the Col du Galibier but was turned back by a blizzard on July 11, 2011.

Snow Col du Galibier – July 11, 2011

Surprisingly, I made a good decision on the bike that day. I turned back rather than die on the mountain. Still, it was the coldest I have ever been on a bike. I was slightly disappointed but reasoned it was not meant to be. There would not be a second chance. But yet ..

Park Hotel, Briançon, France

Here I am in France with Cykelnerven. And today we are to climb the Col du Galibier.

Cykelnerven milling around at the hotel

In preparation for this trip our coach, Bo, asked for a self-evaluation as he tried to determine riding groups. Each day we would be presented with a long and a longer (bonus) stage. What is my experience? Am I experienced in the mountains (yes) or am I just enthusiastic about riding in the mountains (also, yes). My self-description is that I love climbing but I am more enthusiastic than talented. That was true in 2010 and is more true 14 years later.

Annaleise and Frank or Klaus on Lautaret

The writing was on the wall. We would have two routes on day one. And only the fastest riders would attempt the Galibier. The basic option would ride from Briançon to Col de Vars, a distance of 34 miles. The bonus would head in the opposite direction, 22 miles to the summit of the Col du Galibier, and then return to Briançon before riding to Col de Vars.

Climbing Col du Lautaret

In my comments, I told Bo that my only goal for this trip was to be able to climb the Galibier. Last night at our team meeting Bo told us that he wanted everybody to go up Galibier. Yes! I would do it. If I could do it.

Climbing Lautaret

In 10 years from age 40 to 50, I didn’t lose much power. Likewise, from age 50 to 60 I didn’t lose much. But in the last eight years, I have seen a drop-off.

Snow shed near the summit of Lautaret

When I built my bike last night both my wheels seemed off. And I thought I had a broken rear derailleur cable as when I tried to shift from the smallest cog nothing would happen. I wondered if the coaches had a cable to fix it. After five minutes I realized I was shifting in the wrong direction. The cable was fine. My mind was showing signs of fatigue, probably from jet lag.

Climbing Col du Lautaret

We were supposed to be wheels down at 9:00 a.m. What’s a few minutes among friends? We broke into two groups and our trail group quickly caught the first one when they had a flat tire. Yikes. Not a good start.

Col du Lautaret

I have been on this climb before – in a car. In 2011 I drove in the snowstorm to Galibier. And the next day I drove down the road from the Col du Lautaret to Briançon on my way to watch a stage of the Tour. But I was still cold and decided to drive to Marseille instead and sit by the Sea rather than freeze in the mountains.

The start of the climb of Col du Galibier

The ride up the mountain was familiar. Seventeen miles to Lautaret before the turn and five more miles to the summit of Galibier. I knew there was one snow shed on the way up.

Col du Galibier looking towards Brionçon

I was right in with the second group when I pulled off for a nature break. We had already split and I was with Group 2A when I saw Group 2B go by. I thought I would catch up to them but never did. They had about 1:00 on me and I never closed it nor did I try to. I rode at my own pace.

Conor climbing Col du Galibier

At the summit of Lautaret was our snack and water van. I began the climb right behind Conor, a rider with Primary Progressive M.S. from Ireland. As I caught him and slowed to ride with him he told me to go on. I told him “Nobody rides alone” and I rode with him side by side to the summit.

Col du Galibier

Getting to Galibier was nice. I think that completes my “bike-it” (bucket) list of climbs. I welcome new and different climbs but I don’t see myself making a goal for one in particular.

Col du Galibier Henri Desgrange Monument

Getting to Galibier was nicer because I have a stem cap on my bike – I ride for my Daughter. I am on this trip for 25 strangers to raise money to fight MS because of her. My reward was making it to the top but my real reward was looking down every time it got hard and thinking of her.

Col du Galibier

The Col had just opened to the tunnel last week. In fact when Bo was here with his team and the road was closed at the Lautaret his team, or maybe him, ignored the signs and rode up to see how far they could get. To a policeman was it. A hefty fine and stern warning that he is now on double secret probation and could be imprisoned the next time. Ouch.

Bo – Col du Galibier

The tunnel avoids the true summit as the road to the summit was still being cleared of winter’s snow. Like in any sport, you can only play the schedule they hand you and our schedule had us going as far as the road was open – to the tunnel. I am satisfied.

Tunnel at Col du Galibier – The road to the summit is just to the right

Conor and I, joined by Bo, descended to Briançon for lunch. We were encouraged last night to think about the long term and that was finishing. We didn’t need to spend all day on the bike and have nothing left.

Lunch in Brionçon

Although we had just ridden 44 miles, the next 34 would be tough. Tougher. Toughest. Bo said it would take four hours. That didn’t seem right, how about 34 miles in two hours?

Toni on the 12% climb

It was four hours. Some flat, some climbing including a one-mile stretch of 12%, and an eight-mile climb to the hotel up the Col de Vars.

la Biaisse

I wasn’t happy with my bike setup. The front wheel never seemed perfectly seated and I saw a touch of brake pad on the rim when the brakes were in the lock position. I opened the brakes for riding uphill. On the descent from the Galibier I hit a bump and the handlebars dropped down a little. I pulled over and muscled them back into position. Twice more in the last 34 miles I had to stop and adjust the bars. I did not take the time to use a tool and do that properly. That would have to wait until the end of the ride.

Champcella – We would descend to the air strip before the last climb

After the climb of the 12% wall, we had a two-mile plateau before a two-mile technical descent to the valley. On the descent, we stopped at a hairpin. Bo told us one of our riders crashed out here ahead of us. I’m not sure who it was but it sounds like too much speed and overcooked the turn. It happens to the pros – they’re racing. No need for it to happen here.

Bo. Stopped here at the hairpin.

We came to Guillestre and stopped to regroup and to search for water. We were all out and had six miles of climbing to Vars, the first five miles would be really tough. We must have water.

Bo with water supply

In addition to Conor, some of the other riders abandoned on the Col du Vars leaving me as last rider on course. And last finisher. When I arrived the group was outside enjoying beverages and cheered for me. I know it was meant as encouragement but I would have preferred to slip in quietly without notice and fanfare.


I think not coming to Europe early was a big mistake. Fatigue already set in and some of it was certainly caused by jet lag. Essentially I arrived on Tuesday (Milan) for riding on Wednesday.

Kerry at Col du Lautaret

Last year I arrived one week ahead of the Roosters trip but when my bike didn’t make it until I got to Luxembourg and I was “off” I blamed that on not riding for a week. I need a better plan.

Lodging and dinner was at Le Vieille Auberge Hotel, Col de Vars St. Marie. Dinner was a soup appetizer followed by lasagna.


Col du Lautaret – 2 058 m (6,752′) – 26,1 km @ 2.9%
PJAMM Fiets*: 3.3 – 16.2 miles – 2,549′

Col du Galibier – 2 642 m (8,668′) – 23 km @ 5.1%
PJAMM Fiets*: 6.4 – 20.8 miles – 4,182′ (from Briançon) – 3.8
PJAMM Fiets: 5.3 – 5.3 miles – 1,848′ (from Lautaret) – 6.6%
We could not reconcile the climb data listed for the TdF with the data listed in PJAMM Cycling

*See PJAMM Cycling for a description of the climb

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