Anecdotes and stories from the BRA (Brevet de Randonneur des Alpes)

Looking towards the next BRA (the 51st) that will run on the15 and 16 July 2023, and following the publication of an article Un peu d’histoire et de géographie au sujet des cols du BRA 2023  on the Cyclotouristes Grenoblois website BRA page, and a message on this subject on our LDD (21 March 2023), many Club members’ reactions were received. They are the subject of the « VERBATIM » reproduced below.

The messages recounting the various experiences of Club members on the roads of the BRA have given us the idea of writing a more exhaustive article collecting all these stories. You can find a short description of this article (and the link) below, after the verbatim.

The article presents this mountain cyclosportive that allows you to admire ….

The BRA also visits 8 cols (9 for the Super-BRA) including 4 cols of more than 2000m 

Col de la Croix de Fer, (and nearby on the route  the Col du Glandon)
Col du Mollard
Col du Télégraphe
Le Col
Collet de Plan Nicolas
Col du Galibier
Col du Lautaret
And for the Super-BRA the Col de Sarenne

The article will remind you that, for example :

North-west of the Escarton de Briançon : the Col du Galibier.

if the route is situated in the départements of the Isère, of Savoie and the Hautes-Alpes, these regions were formerly called : The Holy Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Sardinia, the département of Mont-Blanc, the Republic of the Escartons, etc. …

the roads you take have suffered some accidents  …  particularly the landslides on the  Col de la Croix de Fer road in 1989 and in the Chambon tunnel in 2015.

The landslide of 1989 from Pic Bunard ; on the right the new section of road (steep !)  on the left bank of the Eau d’Olle, in the direction of the Cols du Glandon and de la Croix de Fer

The verbatim

Comprising the reactions of Club members on the Liste de Diffusion to reading the messages of Gérard Galland.

Hello all,

In looking to define certain historical points concerning the first BRA (a work in progress with Gérard Galland), I’ve discovered that several modern sources indicate erroneous dates concerning the opening of the new road (south side) of the Galibier. As a result, I dug a bit into the question and published a short article on the subject, on my club’s website that you can read at this address :

Best regards,

Lucien Chevalier (CCC 1300)

Hello Lucien,

and my regards to a member who entered the Club a bit before me (1300 as against 1364 !:-) This article is fascinating, congratulations for the documentary research ! Do we know who the cycletourist photographed in 1979 with a checked shirt that wouldn’t disgrace a certain Christophe Guitton ? (or Michel Mathieu for sure, but he must have been a little too young at that time for it to be him, and the rear view doesn’t suggest him).

To be complete, shouldn’t we mention the recent history of the closing and partial reopening of the tunnel ? 

Here is a copy of the very succinct article from Wikipedia on the subject : « Opened in 1891 and the last link in this road connecting the Hautes-Alpes and Savoie, the tunnel was closed to traffic in 1976 as it was in a poor state and replaced by a section of road passing over the col. Renovated in 2002, it was opened to car traffic alternating in each direction and excluding cyclists and pedestrians.

My personal recollection is to have taken the tunnel in 1974 for my first Galibier (by the easier southern approach to begin with) and to have crossed the geographic col in 1976 for my second Galibier (from the north side this time, climbed from St-Michel).

So I have always wondered if the tunnel was closed in 1975 or in1976. A detailed article would ideally give an answer to this question.

A subsidiary question that bugs me (yes, yes) : our famous member n°5000, Eddy Merckx, did he one day cross the Galibier by the geographic col ? I think not, and because of that I think that the tunnel must have been treated like other tunnels of the same type, for its reference in the catalogue, so that Eddy must have counted the tunnel and not the col !:-) On the other hand, I am absolutely certain that my father, who could have entered the Cent Cols posthumously, only ever went by the tunnel during his numerous climbs of the col.

So, cordially,

Jean-Michel Clausse (CCC 1364)


I climbed the Galibier twice in 1975 (the 22/7 NS and the 16/8 SN), both times by the tunnel.

Claude Morin (CCC 222)

Hello all,

Claude, maybe we met on 22/7/1975, depending on whether you then descended to Briançon or not …

In fact, I was making my first tour of the French Alps, solo, and that day and the one after I rode with two lanky Californians who were doing a tour from Nice – Frankfurt, on good bikes with racing gears and saddlebags much lighter than my front panniers, but at a cycletourist’s speed that suited me well.

We had met at Guillestre the morning of the 22nd, and having climbed the Col de l’Izoard together we arranged to meet at the Col du Lautaret at the end of the day. During that day I passed some time at Briançon in the shop of a grumpy mechanic who, all the same, helped me for practically nothing, no doubt taking pity on the helpless little lad with his white cap and coat that I was. I and the two Americans dined together that evening at the Hôtel des Glaciers at the Col du Lautaret.

The next day, we set off in convoy from the Col du Lautaret to arrive together at the Galibier tunnel, I assume towards 8h30 in the morning from my notes, besides it was the last year without altering the clocks for summer, so the day broke an hour earlier… After the descent, we seperated at St-Michel de Maurienne, they heading for the Col de l’Iseran and me for the Croix- de-Fer that I didn’t yet know…

A rather old photo taken the 23/7/1975 at the southern entry to the tunnel shows all three of us with their mounts, mine less elegant with gaspipe tubing being partially hidden behind the sign post.


Marc Liaudon (CC 289)

PS: thanks to CT Grenoble especially Lucien for his great article.

Hello to Jean-Michel and to all,

The cycletourist photographed is not one of the Club members that you mention. He was never a Cent Cols, even if he had climbed more than enough of them to join.

Indeed, I didn’t mention the last episode of the tunnel. It was closed at the end of the 1975 season, replaced the following year by the summit road, the geographic col thus becoming a road col for the third time.

The south side is much easier, but only up to the tunnel. For the road above, it is the contrary. Cyclists from the Romanche valley familiar with the Galibier climb the south side, pass through the tunnel (which is forbidden) and finish by climbing the north side above the tunnel.

For Merckx, it must be possible to find out by consulting the sporting press of the time.

Best wishes,

L. Chevalier (CCC 1300)

Hello all

Thanks Marc, I love your photo … and may I allow myself (after the fact!!!) to ask for your permission to include it in my slide show BRA 2023 :les cols   … (it’s already done !!!). This slide show illustrating the article that we discussed on the Liste de Diffusion already two months ago – it was in March .

 In 1977, the BRA crossed the geographic col for the first time … we will speak about it again soon in an article to come « Anecdotes and stories from the BRA »; in which with Lucien we have reproduced several of your commentaries (notably about the edition of 1977).

 Regards to all … see you soon.


Hello all,

Thanks Gérard, cheeky of you , but what an honour beside this moustachioed champion in red white and blue !

To make a long story short, of my two Californian acolytes with the look of rock stars, I talked the most with the tall brown-haired one called Bill who was an engineer at Hewlett- Pacard, classy at the time !

On the climbs he pushed his huge gear, sometimes seated and sometimes standing on the pedals. On the descent after Plan-Lachat, he punctured and repaired it very quickly, then caught a severe stomach bug near Valloire. I hope that 48 years later he is still of this world and still remembers this descent of the Galibier.

Concerning the same story, Claude Morin has replied to me and it seems it is in fact possible that we saw one another on 22 juillet 1975 on the Briançon side.

Finally, I faced a great headwind climbing from Briançon to the Col du Lautaret, and it was almost always like that the many times that I climbed it in that direction, as I suppose it was for many of us. And proportionally, our speeds not being comparable, we remember the exploit of Andy Schleck in the Tour of 21 juillet 2011, fighting against this wind on this section of the route on the way to his triumph on the Col du Galibier.

Best wishes Cent-Cols,

Marc Liaudon (CC 289)

Good evening to all and especially to you Marc, you are a veritable encyclopaedia with your messages always backed up with images and extracts, just like the other Cent Cols ( G Galland, G Garcin, and others..)  I really enjoy all this while I’m waiting to try my old iron again !

By the way, thanks and well done to the editors : the super Revue 2023 arrived at la Mandallaz yesterday (with a great article from our clubmate Ollivier Tocqueville pages 103/109 ). Like the others, it’s a great pleasure to read this edition.

Goodnight fellow cyclists, for tomorrow many of you will ride, push or carry your bikes !

Chat maigre 4113  Gilbert Roy

In 2011 I rode the BRA and as I didn’t understand French, I continued to pedal (easy for a Dutch speaker).

Start Sunday at 6 in the morning at Vizille. At 3km from the top of the Croix de Fer (junction with the Col de Glandon) it started to rain. Afterwards the rain got heavier, then came hail, snow, a fairly violent wind, cold,…

Saint-Michel de Maurienne: bus ready to take us (my reply: I haven’t booked, I don’t have a ticket…).

Valloire: bus ready to take us (my reply: I haven’t booked, I don’t have a ticket…).

Before the top of the Galibier: a car with members of the CTG passes me and asks me if I want to stop: no, I’ll carry on, it’s only a little snow.

Summit of the Galibier: snow and high winds, I eat a little and begin the descent. After a few hairpins: gendarmes come up with their sirens on but I pretend not to see them and continue on my way towards the Lautaret.

La Grave: the pompiers stop me, put my bike inside. I think they are looking a bit too much at the bike (do they want to steal it?) I take it outside and start in the direction of Lac de Chambon.

Junction: BRA or Super-BRA? No hesitation: I’ve signed up for the Super-BRA! The feed station has left by the time I get there.

Bourg d’Oisans: feed in a place full of cyclists who have abandoned; I spot someone from the Manosque club that I know. Everyone is shivering with the cold. No one wants to accompany me towards the finish.

Vizille: arrivée.

Often during the ride: open and reclose my waterproof to avoid being too hot/too cold.

Hugo Suy 

The collection, in a fairly chronological file, of these stories Cent Cols have experienced during their participation in preceding editions of the BRA has led to an article collecting all the available information on the brevet, since its creation by Gustave Darchieux in 1936

BRA 1977 : at the col de la Croix de fer
(photo André Rudaz)
But where are the marshals ?
17 juillet  1981 : Neige – BRA annulé
BRA 2017 – the landslide in the Chambon tunnel and the emergency road (now a cyclepath)

At the start the aim was only to collect participants’ stories, but in the course of editing, the authors have tried to collect all that was available : organisers’ memories, levels of participation, the direction of the circuit and any modifications to it, the creation of 2 day cyclosportives, press cuttings (old and new, particularly articles from Cyclo-magazine from the 40s and 50s digitised by the BNF), nevertheless there is much lacking, especially for the 50s.

This article – that only needs to be completed – is available on the website CTG – BRA:Anecdotes et histoires du BRA.