Route : Pau - Gan - Lasseube - Oloron Ste Marie - Asasp - Escot - Col de Marie-Blanque - Plateau de Benou - Bielle - Laruns = 75km
Lodging - Hotel de France, Laruns
We'd obviously brought the bad weather with us when we arrived at Pau. I did not relish the prospect of riding 45 miles over drizzly mountains, as I looked at the grim day through the airport window. We'd inadvertently brought the bad weather from England with us.
Talking to folks in Pau they didn't make us feel any more reassured when they said the weather had been pretty bad all summer. Finally a local couple, impressed by our plans and wanting to be positive told us that they forecast sunshine for the afternoon and we'd be fine. "The sun always shines on the Aubisque", the man said as we parted company.
This was a short day cycling wise. We'd only had a few hours' sleep so we didn't want to do any heroics.
After lunch in Pau town Centre (Centre Commercial, Bosquet) we made our way to the mountains.
Even though we were on main roads it was surprising how few cars there were - especially on a sunny saturday afternoon.
Initially the terrain was very green and rolling - it was rather like cycling in Kent. Then after Oloron Ste Marie we got a proper view of the mountains in all their glory - and the threatening clouds ahead ! We decided to press on with our ride anyway, knowing that we had waterproofs etc to cope if there were a downpour. Luckily the rain never came. In fact the weather got hotter, and by the time we reached Escot to start the climb up the col de Marie-Blanque the heat was a little more than we would have wanted.
I wasn't fully used to my pannier laden bike at this point, and wasn't comfortable about riding out of the saddle. Also the cleats on one of my pedals wasn't properly adjusted and at times my foot would fall out. I felt even less confident.
I didn't know much about the Marie-Blanque - just that it had been used in the etape du tour 2004, was steep, but short. The fact that the col was tackled near the end of a 100mile back ride on that occassion would have made it understandable that this was hard work. We only had about 20miles in our legs and we weren't too fatigued so I thought I'd be ok for the 5 mile climb. How wrong I was ! The first 2 miles were ok - they were around 6 or 7%. However the last 3 miles were a real killer. The gradient didn't go below 12%. Stan recorded a few sections of 18% on his alitmetre.
I was panting so much and sweating profusely in the afternoon heat. My quads were burning and my back was protesting as I struggled up the hill in the saddle. I had to stop every mile, just to get my breath back. I realised the compact chain-set would not be enough. Oh hell !
Stan stopped with me as I rested up in the odd shaded area I could find. He was red-faced and sweating, so I knew this was tough for him too.
When we reached the top, we were greeted by applauses from holiday makers who were picnic-ing at the summit. The were very impressed with our feat. "You've certainly not taken the easy way round." they marvelled.
I was glad just to see a bit of flat. The rest of the ride was more of a celebration that we'd made it up our first col. For me I'd had to grapple this first achievement from the arms of failure. I was pleased I'd done it nevertheless.
It was great to reach Laruns in the early evening and have our dinner in the shadow of the majestic mountains around.
Photos by: Stan & 2wheelchick