Monsieur Vélo Rides Again: Cycling the Galibier, A Tour Classic

Monsieur Vélo Rides Again: Cycling the Galibier, A Tour Classic

For the next instalment in the continuing story of Monsieur Velo, our cycling tragic finds a helping hand. ‘Come in’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm…’

He has done it again, Monsieur Vélo, and added another col to his col-lection. Fortunately, given the circumstances, several other French gals, this time in the form of Mesdames Tasse de Thé, were there, too.

For serious cyclists, the Col du Galibier needs no introduction. It has featured over 30 times in the Tour de France, including this year’s boucle. Whilst there are a couple of ways to make it to the top, if you take the north side, the Galibier is only accessible after the Col du Télégraphe, making the ascent from Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne nearly 35 uphill kilometres.

©Kal Fried

A few days ago, Galibier was Monsieur Vélo’s objective. Riding solo, and with a few happy snaps along the way, he made it to the top. Obligingly, the sun followed him there before declaring its upper hand and seasonal disrespect by abandoning him to gale force winds and sheet rain. In these conditions, he began his descent. After a kilometre, he chanced upon a little roadside shelter and took refuge in the hope that the storm would pass quickly. Madame Tasse de Thé, in a teeny, tiny Clio saw him cold and alone and offered him shelter in her vehicle. Preferring instead to just get off the mountain, he re-saddled and with non-existent visibility, slippery roads and extreme cold, his descent was amongst the worst he has ever had to endure.

As luck would have it, arriving in the village of Valloire, distressed and shivering uncontrollably, Madame Tasse de Thé spied him again. This time, his protests were ignored as she put her own coat around his shoulders and helped him into the nearest café. Using his limited French, he attempted to apologise for the water that was streaming off his body and creating puddles on the floor. Unconcernedly, the café owner and his Madame plied him with cups of hot tea, dry clothes and warm attention. Self-labelling this climb as category ‘glad to be alive’, Monsieur Vélo eventually handed back his sopping, borrowed clothing and forced himself back on his bike in order to complete the final 17 kilometres home.

©Kal Fried

There are so many lessons to be learnt from this story. Firstly, that the weather in the mountains can, and does, change. If you are heading out, you need to have all-weather gear, or a Plan B, even in the middle of summer. Secondly, a little bit of French goes a long way. Although there is no doubt that words were not necessary to convey the extent of Monsieur Vélo’s suffering, using what he had learnt at his language classes helped create a closer, personal bond. And, finally, human kindness is still prevalent. This is worth noting.

Interesting facts:

  • The Col du Galibier is often the highest point cycled in the Tour de France.
  • The Col du Galibier first appeared in a Tour de France loop in 1911. In that year, only the winner and two other cyclists did not walk at some point in the ascent.
  • In 2011, the Tour riders climbed the Col du Galibier twice.
  • In 2011, there was a stage finish at the summit of the Col du Galibier. It was won by Andy Schleck.
  • Henri Desgranges was the instigator and first director of the Tour de France. There is a monument to him near the summit.

©Kal Fried

Ascending from the North:

  • Start Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne (including Col du Télégraphe): distance 34.8 km, gain 2120m, average gradient 6.1%
  • Start Valloire: distance 18.1 km, gain 1245 m, average gradient 6.9%
  • Maximum gradient of 10.1 % is at the summit

Ascending from the South:

  • Start at the Col du Lautaret: distance 8.5 km, gain 585 m, average gradient 6.9%
  • If you missed France Today’s first Monsieur Vélo adventure, you can find it here.
  • If any reader happens to know the identity of the Mesdames Tasse de Thé, who live in Valloire, Monsieur Vélo would be most grateful if you could again pass on his thanks.

©Kal Fried

About the Author:

The author, Catherine Berry, lived for several years on Lake Annnecy with her family before buying a house in the lakeside village of Talloires. It is available for rental and is perfect for families and small cycling groups (sleeps 8). Take a look at for details. Her family’s story, ‘But you are in France, Madame’ can be purchased as an ebook on Amazon or in print by contacting her directly on [email protected].

About Monsieur Vélo:

He is a cycling tragic who, when not in the French Alps, can be found doing the regular Melbourne, Beach Road, Mordy-and-back ride, before settling into a few flat whites at the Brown Cow café in Hampton.

©Kal Fried


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Over a decade ago, Australian-born Catherine embarked on the ambitious project to only speak French to her son despite this not being her first language. In the wonderful way that one challenge often inspires another, Catherine and her husband then decided that living in France would bring some authenticity to this social experiment. Either that or it was a thinly veiled excuse to up stumps and shelve adult responsibilities. The initial one-year adventure with their three children turned into 3 ½ and the purchase of a house on the Annecy Lake. ‘But you are in France, Madame’ is Catherine’s published memoir of this period and their house is available for holiday rental ( Catherine loves to engage in dialogue about bilingual education, moving across the world, her French buying experience and her writing.

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  • Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)
    2017-08-11 13:21:06
    Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)
    Now that is a great story, Peter. I am going to send you an email because I would love to know more! Many thanks for writing, Catherine


  • Peter Newman
    2017-08-10 16:38:49
    Peter Newman
    Well done Monsieur Velo. At age 24 in 1957 I rode over the Galibier with three colleagues on a two week tour including climbing many over 2000 metre climbs before returning to England as my summer holiday from work. The Galibier climb can be found published in three consecutive editions of Fellowship News the quarterly magazine of the FCOT. If you are interested my email is [email protected] I did somewhat similar in 1959 when the Galibier was ridden in the opposite direction (South to North) Peter


  • Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)
    2017-08-08 01:07:16
    Catherine Berry (But you are in France, Madame)
    Hi Ellen, Generally, in France, we find that there is a good complicity between riders and non-riders. We, like Monsieur Vélo, have been the recipients of lovely French warmth and hospitality. I like to share stories that highlight the positive!


  • Ellen A.
    2017-08-07 20:27:18
    Ellen A.
    Kudos to Monsieur Vélo! The Col du Galibier sounds like an immense accomplishment! Good to know that there are such kind people everywhere who want to support cyclists like him. I guess the Tour de France helps everyone appreciate what they go through.