Monday, 17 September 2007

Pyrenean Adventure - Part 3

Luz St Sauveur - Tourmalet - La Mongie - Saint Marie de Campan - Col d'Aspin - Arreau - Col de Peyresourde - Bagneres de Luchon - St Beat - Arlos = 120km
Lodging - Hotel L'Abri d'Arlos

The Landlord at the Hotel des Templiers was very keen to warn us of what a challenge we'd set ourselves.
Riding the Tourmalet would be tough enough. But adding in the Peyresourde and the Aspin would be a tall order. He advised us to have a good breakfast.

For me this was going to be a challenge - especially as Stan feared I wouldn't get through the day, and we'd be obliged to again stop early. He even suggested that we defer our arrival in Barcelona. I wasn't having any of that - it would be throwing in the towel before we'd even tried.
The reason why I'd wanted to stop the ride early the previous day was because I'd thought it may be unsafe to descend from the Tourmalet late in the day - it could be dark, it could be rainy and misty too. If I knew I had all day to ride I would be able to do the 3 climbs. Riding with the panniers and with a shortage of low gears would be difficult, but I was determined to get through the itinerary - even if it hurt.


TOURMALET


We set off at 8.15am on a slightly chilly Monday morning. I didn't mind the cold - at least we wouldn't overheat when tackling the climb. The climb up the Tourmalet began immediately. The average gradient of the whole climb would be 7% - not too challenging, but obviously some parts would be significantly steeper. I was going to take it verrry eeaasy !

The climb up the Tourmalet was very straight forward. Climbing it first thing in the morning was definitely a good idea. Within a short time the sun came out and the views of the mountain peaks in the sunshine were beautiful. Being a working day there weren't as many cyclists around as at the weekend. There were even fewer cars. We practically had the road to ourselves. Half way up the climb I had to slow down while a shepherd crossed the road with his herd. This was a recurring theme in the Pyrenees - passing through extensive stretches where animals roamed freely. It wasn't just cattle - there were horses and ponies too.

The last couple of kilometres of the climb were quite challenging, with 9 and 10% gradients to negotiate. I was really pleased to have crested the Tourmalet comformatbly. I had even ridden up without removing my arm and knee warmers !

At the summit there was a real club run atmosphere, as many cyclists, including those who had ridden up from the opposite side congregated at the cafe in the sunshine, or took photographs next to the Octave Lapize monument. It was good to chat to other cyclists about their itineraries or how long they'd taken to ride up. One guy who had just ridden up from Luz St Sauveur was going to go down towards La Mongie and then climb up Tourmalet again ! A masochist ! I realised that most of the vehicles that had passed us on the climb were actually support cars for the riders. Stan and I were definitely doing things the more adventurous way ! Or maybe some thought we were the masochists !


COL D'ASPIN


After a half hour cafe stop we pressed on with our descent, through La Mongie, Sainte Marie de Campan, and then up the col d'Aspin. This climb was quite easy - it was only about 5 miles long, and wasn't particularly steep. It was the anti-dote to the big climbs we'd done in the previous 48 hours.

We had lunch at the bottom of the col d'Aspin, in Arreau. A pleasant but sleepy town. There we ate the most delicious pizza I've ever had (outside of Italy). The owner had only recently taken over the pizza parlour, after having spent a life-time working as Head of Facilities at various blue-chip companies in Paris. He'd done a course in italian cuisine, and was putting it all into practice. I'd definitely recommend this place for a cafe/lunch stop.


COL DE PEYRESOURDE


After a good re-stock of energy, we then set about bagging the last challenge of the day - the Peyresourde. I was feeling good, but knew I had to take things easy. We were in for around 10mile of climbing. I don't think the climb up the col du Peyresourde was particularly difficult. But the fact that it was over 30 degrees celsius made things very challenging. The afternoon heat was taking its toll on me, and I ended up stopping and sitting in the shade. Funnily enough I thought I should've coped better in the heat than Stan - he just seemed to plough on up the hill unaffected. Luckily there was a quaint cafe/honey making shop at the top, where he sat and watched the world go by while I watched sweat dripping off the end of my nose !

Once at the top I savoured a well deserved coke and ice cream. We joined a group of guys from London. We'd bumped into them on every col that day, and we would continue to bump into them, as we were following similar routes. The were doing the trip with a full back-up, complete with their own food supplies and cooking facilities ! They'd opted for the luxury package !


THE HOME STRAIT


All we need to do now was just get down the Peyresourde to Bagneres de Luchon and then do a 10mile run in to St Beat. It was a lovely descent - 6 miles and no need to pedal. After Luchon we the road was slightly downhill too. It was great. St Beat seemed a bit grey and dreary. I was glad I hadn't reserved a place in the centre of the town. We stayed in a Centre de Vacances place at Arlos, a couple of km on from St Beat and less than 10 miles from the Spanish border. It had a homely feel to it as there were mainly families on holiday there. We ate in the garden while watching children playing, and others having an evening barbecue. It was really idyllic tucking into a hearty meal and sipping wine in the moonlight, under the protection of the mountains.

The day's exertions had taken their toll on me, as I struggled to lift my arms just to eat my food ! I was ready to slump over the table and go to sleep immediately. But deep down I felt happy that I had lived up to the challenge. This also meant we were back on course with our plans.
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