Pyrenees day 8 – what a week

So my fears were realised by being woken up by rain hammering on the tent. Feeling smug that I’d managed Luz Ardiden yesterday, I turned over and went back to sleep. No riding for me today, it was all about finding a cheap hotel and spending the afternoon and evening chilling out and having a bit of time to reflect on the week .

And what a week! I pretty much rode all the major climbs I’d hoped to do with no injuries, which was what I hoped for. As a bonus, the weather has been great and the scenery is even better than I’d thought.

The bike was pretty much perfect – I’d put a new groupset on a few months ago (52-36 with 11-32 11 speed Ultegra) and in spite of my reservations, it was perfect.

My saddle has started to come apart a bit, but not a great problem.

The real stars though have been my tyres – Michelin Power Comp with Michelin Comp latex tubes…. So comfy and amazingly fast rolling…. a great buy!

Even my brakes handled all the descents perfectly…. Standard Ultegra with original pads… Nothing special…

Anyway, enough tech…. The week did what I wanted – gave me the chance to test myself on some beautiful rides, spend some time on the bike and see the amazing scenery of the Pyrenees – it was perfect…. What next ??!

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Pyrenees day 7 – parts 1 and deux

Today I had to ride Col d’Aubisque. One way or another…. Also Soulor was destined to make an appearance. I’d been put off my original plan to ride them tomorrow from Laruns due to too the dodgy weather forecast…. I really hope it’s not too bad as I know Toby’s heading this way as well… Then again he’s more hardcore than me so might not mind!

Anyway, I found a circular route starting from Argeles-Gazost that took them both in as well as the wonderfully named Col De Spandalles. A full description is here and it’s pretty spot on.

Spandalles is a beautiful climb through forest, only let down by the sketchy road surface…. Not so much fun on the descent!

That leads straight on to the Soulor which is a stunning route with incredible views of the Cirque du Litor.

At the Col, I took the right turn to complete the climb to Aubisque. This is supposed to the the wrong/easier side…. Perfect! Especially with the great views!

At the top I bumped into a crowd of Brits doing the Raid Pyreneean… A great challenge… And supported with a van carrying food and gear – what a good idea! 🙂

Back via Soulor and then the main road back down to Argeles-Gazost and the campsite.

During the course of the week I’ve been noticing some pretty big looking birds of prey surfing the thermals as I’ve been struggling with the gradients. I think I’ve been seeing lammergiers and maybe griffon vultures, but I must admit that I haven’t taken enough time to study then properly! There’s also a small bird that I’ve seen a lot of…. Googling makes me think it’s a wallcreeper, but I’m open to correction!

Anyway, that’s not the end of today. I mentioned that the forecast for tomorrow is rubbish and I really don’t fancy finishing a brilliant week soaking wet. There’s also one other climb I HAD to do (as well as many others I’d LIKE to do!) and that’s Luz Ardiden. It’s about a 15km ride along the main valley road and at that time of the afternoon I frankly couldn’t be arsed! The hire car is here for a reason! So quickly throw the bike in the car and head to Luz St Savour, park up and off again.

13km, 1000m of climbing, 25 hairpins and I made it!

Another day, another spooky out of season ski resort!

A very cold descent too the car and it was back to the tent for a long hot shower followed by a couple of beers and another pizza!

Tomorrow?? Well that really depends on the weather…..

Check out “Pyrenees day 7” on Relive!

Check out “Pyrenees day 7 – part 2” on Relive!

Oh, and Spandalles? All I could think about was my favourite cycle touring footwear… The SPD sandal… or “spandal”!!

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Day 6 – The “rest” day

The plan was to have a gentle start, drive the pretty route via Aspin and Tourmalet to Argeles-Gazost, find a campsite and have a chilled afternoon to give the legs a little break. The first few were all fine, until camping virtually at the beach of Hautecam got too much…. Well, one climb can’t hurt can it?! So 3 o’clock-ish sees me back on the bike and heading up. In fact, not just heading up but as this is the one climb of the day, for some reason I decided to try a bit harder than usual – not taking it quite as gently as usual…. There are only a couple more days left after all…. I hadn’t been climbing long before I spotted a target… White jersey a few hundred yards ahead…. Closed in and took him…. He was about 80! Hope I can still be riding up HC climbs when I’m that age. Next up a clutch of matching jerseys….. As I approached, I read “St Alban’s Men In Lycra Pyrenees Tour 2017” ….. Feeling strong, I overtook first one, then another, then a total of about 8! Now it did take me a little while to calm down from my euphoria and remember that those guys probably already had 2 or 3 climbs in their legs today, whereas this was my one of the day! But even that couldn’t detract from my pride at hearing their support driver tell me I was making it look easy as I arrived at the ski station!! But I’m not competitive really….. Honest! Up from there into the cloud to the Col de Tramassol a mile further up the road…a couple of pics to show the (complete lack of) view and it was back down to the campsite and dinner. Not too bad for a rest day! Tomorrow’s looking like a lovely day and an equally lovely route. I’m really looking forward to it so long as the church bells that seem to surround the campsite don’t ring all night! Oh, and also hoping that the tweak in my back caused by carrying my washing up back to the tent responds to the ibuprofen dosage…… Fingers crossed! Check out “Pyrenees day 6 – “Rest” day” on Relive!

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Pyrenees day 5 – a game of two halves

A damp and cloudy morning meant a slow start, but eventually I was on the road ……in the car! Having ridden back along the main road yesterday, I didn’t fancy ~15km of it this morning so drove to Saint-Lary Soulan as a starting point for what turned out to be two very different climbs.

First up, Pla d’Adet – at ~11km it’s not too long, but it is pretty steep with the first 7km averaging 10%. Just to help, there were resurfacing works about 3km up…. that made the surface a bit sketchy and the smell of tarmac stayed with me for the rest of the climb!

I made it to the village without a problem, except it was cold, ghostly quiet and wreathed in cloud.

Any ski resort out of season is a strange place, but this felt…just weird!

Anyway, photos taken and back down to Saint-Lary and a bit of sunshine.

A quick bite to eat (that food thing again – strangely it really does seem to help!) and it was off again. For the first few km of gentle rise along the valley was really difficult to get into any rhythm, but once I turned off and started the climb proper I was soon back into it.

The road turned straight into a beautiful gorge with hardly any traffic. The sign at the turnoff telling me it was 15km to Lac de Cap de Long didn’t give any clue as to the gradient, as as the route des lacs hasn’t been used in the Tour as it’s in a National Park, there were no helpful km markers either. As it turned out, the climb was one of the toughest and most beautiful I’ve ever ridden!

If you ever want to ride a climb in the Pyrenees, put this at the top of the list. Stunning scenery, no traffic and a cafe at the top – what more could anyone want?! Being September, the descent was pretty chilly – I had to stop in the sun and out of the wind a couple of times to warm up – but lovely.

A fast blast back along the valley to Saint-Lary where I spotted a bit more support for the bears!

Then it was time to hit the supermarket and head back to Arreau for shower and dinner.

A couple more in the bag!

On another note….as I write, I’m listening to Aja as a bit of a tribute to Walter Becker (in fact “Josie” has just come on – great tune!). Now I’ve never been a huge Steely Dan fan (although I’ve always loved Haitian Divorce), I’m now wondering if I’ve missed something – RIP Walter Becker

Check out “Pyrenees day 5” on Relive!

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Day 4 – “Boom….a proper day on the bike”*

*credit Toby Castle!

The day started with an alarm at 7.30.. Tent down and on the road. Breakfast stop at the top of Peyresourde…

And a rather lovely place for breakfast it was!

On to Arreau, find the nearly empty Camping Municipal, tent up, bike gear on and it’s wheels up for the biggest one yet.

The climb of Col d’Aspin starts almost immediately you leave Arreau… and what a climb it is… Unlike many that start on forests, Aspin gives you amazing views right from the off, helped by stunning weather.

The descent is equally amazing…. Helped by my singing at the top of my voice…. Into The Valley by the Skids being the main one…a throwback to my Alps trip 7 years ago!

Almost at the bottom I spot the turnoff I’ll be taking later on… after the main course of the day …. Tourmalet. Now this is a proper climb – it’s been in the Tour since 1910 and originally ridden with the fixed gear bikes of the day. As I click down gear after gear, I’m glad I have the “artifice of a derailleur” as Henri Desgrange disparagingly described them on banning then from the Tour – gears weren’t allowed until 1937, despite having been in use for almost 30 years!

A quick stop for a sandwich at the start of the climb… I’m not being caught out hungry again…. especially on a day like this…. and it’s grind away to the top. I actually managed to catch and overtake a couple of people today…. Even though it’s not a race…. Of course!

Time for a U-turn and the start of a stunning descent… I’m getting to enjoy these!…

On the way up the route goes through La Mongie – a ski resort about 3km from the top. A really ugly ski resort at that, BUT even out of season these places have restaurants that serve all day so in spite of the sandwiches earlier, it was time for lunch. A veg platter and chips hit the spot and it was time to get back to that gorgeous descent….

Until… Bloody hell what’s that??? I’ve been stung! Some little bugger has got me on the inner thigh…. Really not what you want when you’re heading downhill at 60kmh! A quick stop to check he’s gone and relief that it wasn’t worse and I’m off again.

A bit of a main road drag on the start of the Aspin climb from the other direction and it was time for that turnoff to Horquette d’Ancizen.What a difference!

A lovely tiny road with just a few walkers around and I was soon into the meadows…. For a while it felt more like the Pennines than the Pyrenees, but that might have been helped by the cloud coming in!

The lunch clearly helped as I felt pretty strong, in spite of the 2 big climbs on my legs…. No faster, just feeling better!

Another descent, this one taken a bit slower as the road had been resurfaced not long ago and still felt a bit loose.

Some lovely views into the valley.

The weather felt as though it was closing in so it was the quickest way back to Arreau, making it just before the rain started.

Then time for dinner….. Nutrition is the way forward!

All in all a proper day on the bike!

Check out “Pyrenees day 4” on Relive!

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Day 3…..Peyresourde and more…

Rain! Well that wasn’t in the plan…. Fortunately it was overnight and stopped by 8 so it was up and on the road…. Today was really the main course for the area and I think I have Toby to thank for the route, which was rather lovely.

The day started by going pretty much up from the start….Peyresourde take 1.

I soon spotted some support for the bears…. Yay!

It took quite a bit too warm up, but soon enough the Col hove into view.

After that it was a lovely descent, then the inevitable… Up again. The climb to Val Louron-Azet couldn’t have been more different to the main road Peyresourde climb… especially the final few km where the route turns off the already small road into a lovely quite tiny road. All I saw from there to the top were some walkers who gave me a lovely “Bon Courage Monsieur”! which is always nice to hear.

Another descent and then some gentle rolling side roads through forest and tiny villages with great valley views.

I had plenty of time to ponder exactly why I wanted to do this…. I could get the same views by taking the hire car on the same route and cover even more ground. It’s obviously the physical challenge …. Dragging my middle aged, lycra-clad body up and down the same mountains that the pros rode in the Tour only a couple of months ago – albeit VERY much slower – is a great feeling. But then there’s the mental side. It does become a mental challenge as much as physical when you click down into that lowest gear with another 10+ km to go to the summit, with no respite in the gradient. You do just dig in and get into a meditative rhythm – all you think about is the present…. legs keep turning, turning, turning. Tim commented yesterday about hoping to be inspired by my ride….. I hope you are – if you have the time and a low enough gear, you can do it…. Pretty much anyone can do it…. given a big sprocket and the will, it’s possible. If that seems beyond reach, go for an e-bike for an extra bit of help! I must admit, I have done this sort of ride before so knew what to expect, but due to injury I hadn’t trained anywhere near enough, but knew that by taking it slow and steady, I can do it.

Oh, and eat enough! I got caught out as I always seem to by the lack of shops in small French rural villages as well as the very strict restaurant opening times. 3 gels had to see me through the day!

Better planning tomorrow!

Oh, and these Relive links are worth a look ….Google earth-style flythroughs of the route…. Pretty cool!

Check out “Pyrenees day 3” on Relive!

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Day 2 – Port de Bales x 2

A good night’s sleep meant that I was raring to go at 7am…. Not quite! Faffed around and got on the road by 11…. Started with a blast along the valley on the main road…. Fortunately with light traffic and a bike lane, it made for a great warmup.

Turned off the main road and started a gentle rise until the start of the Port de Bales climb.

Every few hundred metres there are “Non a l’ours” messages on the road…. I understand that farmers are not only objecting to the reintroduction of bears to the region, but the want the ones that are here killed – o see other signs calling for “Mort aux ours”. Rewilding is clearly very unpopular here….amongst farmers who are scared that their sheep will be taken by bears. Hmmm…. I’m not convinced that allowing native species to live in their natural habitat is a bad thing.

The climb of Port de Bales from the north is mainly in the forest so you don’t get to see where you’re headed until the last couple of km. Fortunately there are signs every km telling you how far to the top and the average gradient for the next km….. Which is fine except when you pass one that says 10% and the next 500m are flat…..

The obligatory photo at the top and then another lovely descent. Is read that the climb from the south was actually more scenic and it certainly looked that way on the way down. Only one thing to do then….. Turn round and go back up! Another slow climb and then it was that descent again… This time all the way back to Luchon.

Then shower and….

If you know the area, then you can probably guess what’s to come tomorrow…. I’m certainly looking forward to it!

Check out “Pyrenees day 2” on Relive!

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Day 1 – slow and steady

A gentle start to the week…a bit of a leg loosener. Hospice de France and Superbagneres. That was pretty much the perfect start – after a night of little sleep as I think I was a bit concerned about the lack of training, I drove to Bagneres de Luchon, set up the tent, put the bike together and headed out. I decided to take it easy….there are a lot of climbs to come… and that was a wise decision. Hospice was the ideal starter, a quiet road with a bit of variety in the gradient. That done, it was on to Superbagneres…. Longer but more consistent a gradient…. I started to get into a rhythm on the way up…. Slow and steady! Quick pics at the top, then back down…. A really lovely swoopy descent… Great fun! Back to the campsite and ready for dinner and more fun tomorrow!

Check out “Pyrenees day 1” on Relive!

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Bring it on!

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It’s 2017 and time to (finally) head for the hills again….

Next week I’ll be in the Pyrenees to have a crack at some of the lovely climbs there. The bike’s serviced, gear prepared and plans made… it’s just a pity that I’m woefully undertrained!  It’s going to be an interesting week…. stay tuned for more…..

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