Laruns - Col d'Aubisque - Col de Soulour - Argeles Gazost - Luz St Sauveur = 75km
Lodging : Hotel des Templiers
This was our first full day in the Pyrenees. A heavy work-load and getting up for an early flight meant we had only been getting a couple of hours' sleep in the days leading up to our departure for South West France.
Although we managed a few more hours' sleep on the first night of the trip, any hope of having a lie-in was dashed when we were rudely awakened. At 7am sharp a loud pa system was turned on.
Apparently a big event was taking place that morning. The annual Montee de l'Aubisque - an 16km running race from Laruns to the summit of the col d'Aubisque. About 700 runners and competitive walkers were assembled below our hotel window, warming up for the start of the race ! And the compere was giving it his all to gee up the folks ahead of this famous local event, complete with motivational music etc.
We realised we had no choice but to get up - especially when the canon went off at 7.45 to signal the start of the first wave of the race. Furthermore, we would not be able to set off early as the road would be closed during the event. This led us to take a leisurely breakfast before leaving.
I think we took things a little too leisurely (mainly due to my dawdling)so we didn't get going until almost 11am.
By this time the weather was pretty hot. I had backache from having tackled the previous day's back-breaking/quad-busting gradient in the saddle.
The hotel folks reassured us that since we'd crested col de Marie-Blanque via the hard side, nothing we were about to do would be any worse than that. I suppose that's the advantage of starting the tour with the toughest gradient !
The ride up the col d'Aubisque would be long and hot - thankfully the gradient wouldn't be too stiff - starting off at 5%, then rising up to 10-11% in the middle, before levelling off near the top. I decided to take it easy. I was feeling the strain of having 9kg of panniers and a ruck-sack to carry. It felt worse when we were passed by lots of local club riders on their Sunday run round the lanes ! I tried as much as possible to keep in the shade. This was possible as far as Eaux Bonnes, but afterwards I was faced with the full exposure of the midday sun.
Eaux Bonnes was a pretty village, however what I remember most about it was how the gradient went up to about 12% through the town, and we had to tackle this on a one way system !
I stopped a couple of times on the way up - notably at the ski station of Gourette. The views from there were spectacular, however I was too conscious of the need to drink more, and get the salt out of my eyes !
Stan, with his low mountain bike gears was able to take it at a more relaxed pace, while I waddled along. The road was quite busy at times - mainly due to the series of coaches that were transferring runners back down to Laruns after the running race. We also saw a number of people who had chosen to run down to Laruns after their race. We greeted each other, while probably wondering which one of the parties was madder !
Finally I reached the summit, to be greeted by many cyclists and picnic-ers who congratulated us on our feat - having made it to the top while carrying our loads. I'm sure the views were even more spectacular at the summit, but at that particular moment I just wanted to sit down among the cattle and rest, while wolfing down any food that came in sight.
There was a good ambiance at the summit, with lots of people milling around, a couple of cafes and sweet shops - plus the big steel statues of bicycles in the Tour de France jersey colours - I'd seen these in various photos and during the TdF coverage. It was impressive to actually see them for real.
The sun was definitely shining here too, as our man at Pau airport had rightly predicted.
After a break we then continued on - a short descent, followed by a climb up the col de Soulour. This was hardly noticeable - just 2km at about 3%. We then paused very briefly for another photo opportunity before continuing the long descent towards Argeles-Gazost.
CHANGE OF PLAN
It was only on reaching here that I realised how much time we'd wasted. It was mid afternoon, and we were supposed to have been going over to Sainte Marie de Campan that day - only 30miles away, but it would involve the small matter of an 18km climb up Tourmalet. We also needed to re-stock on food supplies - not so straightforward on a Sunday.
After a bit of a discussion, with Stan fearing that we would fall behind on our schedule and me trying to reassure him otherwise, we decided we would just head on as far as the foot of the Tourmalet and end our ride there.
As we had more leisure time on our hands, we made the most of the pleasant bar in the main square of Argeles Gazost and sampled the local brew. Other customers nearby were quite intrigued to hear about our adventure. The said it was tiring enough doing these roads by car ! One thing I did note was the fact that we'd been lucky weatherwise. Many holidaymakers said they were making the most of the weekend after having had a week of wall to wall rain. So it wasn't just London that had had a lousy summer.
At the end of the afternoon we then made the 10mile trip over to Luz St Sauveur. This was quite a buzzing town, with lots of activity going on. We easily found ourselves a hotel in a quiet square.
We knew it was going to be an early night for us though, as we would have to do Tourmalet plus the other scheduled classic cols. We had a long day in stall.