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Recap of ATG5: The French Alps. Coming full circle

Some days ago, between September 5th and 9th, we gathered again to participate in what would be the fifth edition of Among the Giants. This time, coming full circle around the Alps mountain range, we set our base camp in Montgenèvre. The French village, a couple of kilometers from the border with Italy, is clearly devoted to winter sports but also has a lot to offer in summer. After recovering both physically and emotionally from the experience, we took some time to look back on those days and share them with you.

Day 1 | Bienvenue

The first thing we noticed upon our arrival was the temperature difference from where we came from. We would be staying in a chalet at 1.900 m of altitude, which clearly implied different conditions compared with sea level.

The Raw Cycling Mag (Toni, Javi, and Pol) and the media team (Brazo, David, and Júlia) were the first ones to arrive, preparing everything to welcome all participants. Xavi from Wattios Coffee, Deby and Bruno from Biehler, David and Aleix from Velodrom and Enve, and Kike and Jul arrived at the house before sunset. After a warm welcome and a quick tour of the house, some took the opportunity to visit Montgenèvre, while others decided to stay in to recover from the trip.

After a friendly chat, dinner was ready and we all had our first meal around the huge table in the dining area. One could notice faces of excitement but uncertainty at the same time. We later moved to the living room, where the fifth edition of Among the Giants was presented. As we unveiled the routes the anxiety among the participants rose but so did the willingness and motivation of the whole group to tackle them. Long and tough days were ahead of us.

A funny moment took place when Rik and Ruben coming from the Netherlands suddenly stumbled into the house just in the middle of the individual introductions. They had just landed and walked directly into the lion’s den, but they succeeded in making a good impression on the rest. It was time to wrap up, go to bed and get a good night’s sleep to prepare for the upcoming days.

Day 2 | Col du Galibier et Col du Granon (check route details)

They say that one has to get used to staying at altitude before heading out for a hard ride, but there was no time to lose as we were eager to conquer the first couple of giants.

Slowly gathering for breakfast, oatmeal was being prepared for the whole team while, parallelly, we had some specialty coffee from Wattios, the necessary combo and push for a long day on the saddle. Sleeping at high elevation we consume more calories to get all the oxygen needed, so we woke up really hungry. Fully stuffed, we sat around the table for the ride’s briefing, where we also got a welcome bag with gifts from Strava, Aveo, Biehler, and Raw that caught everyone’s eye. Not a single soul was calm, as people were hesitant about what to wear and still finalizing their bike check, including the three Sarto bikes we would be trying firsthand. Two hors catégorie climbs awaited us, it would be a tough day but the weather was promising.

Things did not start as planned. First descent from Montgenèvre into Briançon and also the first and only puncture of the three rides we would do. Once fixed we headed to the col du Galibier through an ascending faux-plat that seemed endless. The group started to split up as the gradient increased. Before the col du Lautaret we had a jaw-drop moment when we saw for the first time the mesmerizing Glacier de l’Homme. Once at Lautaret we turned right to start the actual twisty climb to Galibier. We left the glacier behind but got surrounded by yellow-peak blackbirds and the sound of marmots indicating we were getting high. The main group decided to have fun and some attacks took place. Gradually regrouping at the top, to avoid getting cold some descended to the restaurant in Lautaret where we agreed to take a break. The weather was great, but at over 2.600 meters of altitude the cold wind was blowing and we descended in search of oxygen. There, we ate a sandwich, a muffin, or drank some soda before heading to Granon.

The approach to Granon was a fast descent in which taking turns at the front of the groups was hard. It was a nonstop descent for over 25 minutes, which made us realize how much we had ascended during the first part of the route. Together at the bottom of Granon we rapidly split up as the gradient was already high from the start. The Saint-Chaffrey road twisted upwards, leaving the forest behind and rewarding us with views of Serre Chevalier and the glaciers on the other side of the valley. Paints on the road with the main characters of the Tour de France let us know we were in a place where magic had taken place some weeks before. After realizing how strong should professional riders be in order to climb this beast that fast, some birds joined us again as we passed the 2.000-meter mark. While a few were still grinding their teeth, the ones on the top decided to go down encouraging those still climbing.

We all regrouped at a so-needed fountain at the bottom of the climb from where we took the road back to Briançon as a consistent pack. There, the group split up in two, as some of us could not resist the temptation of a local boulangerie and its smell of croissants, brioches, and pains au chocolat.

At that point, we were not aware of how tough the Col de Montgenèvre would be. It might not be an hors catégorie climb but it was not easy after the accumulated fatigue from Galibier and Granon. As soon as we arrived at the house everyone dealt with the evening differently: jacuzzi, shower, recovery food… but all with the same feeling of satisfaction. It had been a first long and rewarding day with lots of stories already to talk about and photographic material to go through.

The evening was going to be special as the Montgenèvre Tourism Office invited us to dinner at the Isabel restaurant. They delighted us with a mix of Italian and French cuisine. Surrounded by a warm welcome and charming ambiance we had the chance to refill our batteries as well as to share anecdotes about our cycling experience. By that time Puck joined the team, ready for the upcoming rides. Stomachs full, we headed back to the chalet under a slight drizzle. That made us worry a bit, but we were tired enough to instantly fall asleep as we got into bed thinking of what we had accomplished.

Day 3 | Col de l’Izoard et la Durance (check route details)

Oatmeal had become the go-to food for everyone, the perfect deal to have energy for the whole day. As the day before, coffees were coming and going among toasts with all kinds of stuff on top. The last check on the weather report in Italy made us change plans, as we decided to switch routes and stay in the French part of the Alps to avoid the rain. After breakfast and just before the ride, Xavi conducted a masterclass on specialty coffee, telling us the different coffee brewing methods and how and when we can use each process.

Again, we took the descent from Montgenèvre to Briançon. Some construction on the road caused the group to split up before reaching the bottom of the Izoard. In small groups that gradually split up, each one climbed at its own pace; fast or slowly but steadily. After Cervières, the actual climb started and, taking a last look at the village, off we went. The road passes through the forest, covering some straight sections, twists, and turns, to later open up to the whole valley just before reaching the Napoleon refuge. There, the views become unreal, with rocky peaks at the back, a clear tree line, and the winding road to the summit. We were a bit disappointed as the top was under construction and we could not take the mandatory photo at the obelisk.

Once we gathered, we descended to the other side of the pass finding a lunar landscape. First as a group and later as scattered marbles we got to the bottom at full speed. There, in a perfect two-by-two formation we descended through the canyon hurrying into Guillestre as hunger was knocking at the door. After two successive failed attempts to eat in a boulangerie and a creperie, a supermarket resulted to be the best option to load our batteries. This was the source of some funny moments, and we all shared an improvised meal of unhealthy food that we devoured without thinking about it twice.

The track continued on a secondary road parallel to the main one. Following the Durance river upstream, through the valley, and along the feet of the mountains, we rode never-ending leg-breaking ups and downs. In spite of that, the views of the valley and the villages we crossed were incredible, leaving a feeling of awe in our hearts. After the hilly terrain, we got to Briançon. We all knew we had a final climb left, the fearsome Col de Montgenèvre with its five u-turns and constant traffic. This is why some decided to get ice cream, others stopped in the boulangerie, while the rest headed directly home.

The remainder of the evening was about dealing with the fatigue, having a good time with the group, and getting ready for the next day. That day Xavi would be leaving us, which meant no proper coffee for the next day, but at the same time, Marie and Apolline joined the party.

With so many content creators within the group, our chalet looked like an office with everyone editing and posting the photos they had taken during the day. We all had dinner at the house, and although 20 people around the table could have been a bit too much, it all felt natural. We had become a family.

Day 4 | Col de l’Échelle et Colle delle Finestre (check route details)

A thunderstorm and the sound of rain had woken some of us up during the night. However, the only trace of that was a faint mist that rapidly faded away as the sun rose. Everyone was excited but cautious at the same time. Craving for oatmeal and all kinds of long-lasting food, we had breakfast. Despite the chilly morning, we knew it was going to be a day for short-sleeved jerseys.

As it could not have been different, after the briefing of the ride we went down towards Montgenèvre but, this time, we would turn right to Les Alberts in order to head towards the first climb of the day. After some confusion at the cross-section, each one took the climb at its own pace. Along the river, we gradually climbed on a rather rolling terrain till we reached the last two kilometers at 8-9% with warming sun rays and views of the Clarée Valley. It was chilly and humid at the sun-forgotten Col de l’Échelle, so we regrouped after the descent already in Italy, where a winding road opened up with amazing views of the valley.

Once together in Bardonecchia, we rode probably the fastest kilometers of those days. The way to Susa, where the Colle delle Finestre started, was a descending faux-plat with some moderate uphill sections. Altogether we took turns at the front and the Dutch guys showed us what they are capable of. From Bardonecchia to Oulx, and then to Susa. Those kilometers went by faster than we expected but they also made us hungry, therefore, we stopped for a coffee and some focaccia.

The little pause got us all laughing and ready to face the 18 km of Colle delle Finestre, where the last half is pure gravel. A long ascension as such is better to take it at your own pace and that is what we did. One by one or in groups of two, we all passed by the village and dived into the forest. After the never-ending lacets of the road section, a water source welcomed us to the start of the gravel part and allowed us to refill our bottles. From there, there was only one possible option; getting to the top no matter how. Out of the woods, we could see the end of the climb and, despite it not seeming that far, we knew we still had a long way to go. Even though it was hard as the gravel forced us to keep our butts on the saddle, the views of the mountains and the valley were magical. The fastest waited on the top and cheered the rest as a trail of cyclists slowly moved forward. The giant of the day had been conquered, and this required a group photo to celebrate the feat.

As we descended into the valley we stopped at the refuge Alpe Pintas where, surrounded by Italian charm, we ate some fries and pasta while listening to Italian music. This was the prelude to what was coming next. A slight descent took us to the bottom of the valley and we gradually climbed to Sestriere. The ascent might not be hard, but it was long. The pause forced us to restart our engines, some finding it more difficult than others as the fatigue was crawling in. Once at the top, a refreshment was needed to face what would be the last descent and upcoming climb to Montgenèvre, but this time from the Italian side.

The downhill to Cesana was fast with views of the whole valley, allowing us to see what was ahead of us. Once regrouped close to the riverside we set off and began the climb. The main road had nothing special but, as the tunnel section for cars started, all cyclists are diverted to a parallel road that passes through enchained arched tunnels. The road continued upwards but we did not care as it felt like being in the guts of the mountain and we were just captivated by the show we were granted.

One by one we got to the house, exhausted but with smiles on our faces as we had succeeded. The riding was over, we had conquered the giants of the French Alps, coming full circle in the fifth edition of Among the Giants. Nonetheless, the day was far from finished. People jumped into the jacuzzi without hesitation to relax their muscles and mind. In the meantime, the BBQ was being lit on and burgers cooked. We all gathered around the table in the garden for a final time to celebrate what had been an incredible experience in terms of the people we had met, the places we had been, and the challenges we had endured.

Day 5 | À bientôt

The ones who had to travel further had already left the previous day. Others woke up before sunrise to start the car ride towards their home. But the majority stayed for the last breakfast together. Oatmeal was there but this time just as a reminder of the energy we had spent during the last days. Unlike other editions, the long road ahead of us forced us not to go on the typical ‘extra-day ride’. However, this left us more time to say goodbye to the rest of the participants as we all eventually went our separate ways. We could not be happier with how everything went.

All good things come to an end. When we first met we did not know what to expect from these days, but as we rode together we got to know each other better. By sharing the same passion for cycling it is easy to get along, and by conquering the giants we got stronger together. The mountains will always be there, ready to be climbed, but what made this experience really special was the people we surrounded ourselves with. The selected participants and brands could not have been better. For this, we can honestly say thank you and see you soon on our next adventure.