For the third year running we were off to the Pyrenees, Bagneres De Luchon to be precise, for our end of year trip/cx training week.
Flying and driving Saturday, the plan had been to ride upon arrival, but much faffage put paid to that. And I had bigger problems. So instead we went to the towns casino to register for Sundays fondo the La Lapebie. As Fraser and myself had already done this two years ago we opted for the shortest option with just the HC climb of Port De Bales to contend with and that's enough believe me....I'd done it twice already. Neil was urged into doing the mid length option that included the Col De Mente and two Champagne climbs. And Phil all the way over from Belgium opting for the full Monty, too silly for me to even look at!
First though I needed to put right the custom frame work carried out by the baggage handlers, So where to get a sheered off mech hanger for a British made 853 frame in the French Pyrenees? Answer, no where. Still the LBS vows to carry out a repair, my frame goes into their cellar workshop and once out of sight all I could hear was the sound of hammer on steel. I needed a beer.
By 4.45pm I had an operational bike. Time to relax.
Sunday arrives. Phil is off before I'm even up (the long ride goes off first and is timed so all the distances get back together)
I'm up now and looking down at the competitors getting ready for the next wave, Neil's group. Stood there, coffee in hand and Neil getting ready I notice that they seem to be erm well leaving. 'When you off Neil' Seems there's a bit of confusion and Neil goes flying out the door.
At the summit Fraser is waiting, and without a second to even start faffing he suggests we go and try and get in under three hours. Gilets and arm warmers on we plummet off the top. A quick pose for the photographer on the way down and whoosh. It's a long way down off the Port De Bales with a few tricky bits. Then it joins the road off the Peyresourde which is super fast and pretty safe so we try and keep it at 40mph into Luchon. Off the mountain and into town and it looks like we can do it with minutes to spare, but the last marshal sends me the wrong way, luckily I look around to see I'm alone with a Frenchman waving furiously at me and and seemingly thinking I'm the idiot! We cross line inside three hours in a Gold medal time. Neil's day didn't get any better. Phil was Phil riding the monster without batting an eyelid. Then off for the post ride meal. No free energy bar and off you go here. Instead it's a sit down three course meal with wine and waiter service. UK are you listening?
Monday and it's time to conquer my nemesis. Superbagneres. Twice I've tried and twice I've failed. Once simply at the end of a heavy week in the mountains and the second time my back went halfway up. Setting off from the apartment in Luchon you find yourself climbing within minutes, think it was eight minutes to be precise no time to warm up barely time to get even cool! And this isn't an annoying climb out of Leighton Buzzard we're heading for the clouds. So eight minutes in I'm puffing and panting, this old body needs far longer to get up to speed. And part of me is thinking I'll fail again. I reach the first hairpin that marks the start of the climbing proper. I feel better as the road narrows and steepens and I'm looking for the snow post that would mark the point my back went last year. I pass it and turn for the summit. I feel good now even if I'm off the back. The views change as I leave the tree line I view Luchon down below and clouds and snow above. Still feeling okay I pass the 3km to go sign, I love those signs. Up ahead is Fraser, and the folly of a hotel that sits on the summit lingering in the cloud. I push on and onto the brute of a straight that'll take me to the top. Suddenly I get chest pain, so I slow and stand carefully monitoring any worsening. I crawl to the top and cross the imaginary line before rolling back a few yards to meet the guys. The summit is bathed in sunlight but we only stay long enough to grab a Coke and picture the view.
Regards the chest pain, it seems that anything reached over 1500M can cause this, and I'll find myself suffering the same later in the week. We all at some point get a dry throat from the altitude.
With gilets and warmers donned we race off the mountain with a planned lunch of omelette at Chez Manus in our thoughts.
Sitting in our favourite café we decide that the Artigue will be the afternoons climb. A baby at just over 1200M, no problemo. After lunch we detour around Luchon to get rid of our café legs before we start the climb. I mean the Artigue after Superbagneres a walk in the park surely?. Seems I'd forgotten that this park was the Hautes-Pyrenees! And holy cow this ones steep from the start, thankfully it's short. However I'm hardly moving so this might take some time. The pecking order on Superbagneres has fallen into chaotic yo-yo'ing on this one. So it's all we need when we find the road has been dug up, and is blocked by diggers and trucks. I can't be arsed to pussy foot about and just don't care about ripping my good tyres, I wheel spin in the deep gravel scrape past the digger and clatter onto the tarmac once again. A combination of concentration and pure bloody mindedness get's me up. The view from the summit is outstanding, we can look down onto the valley floor and up again to see the summit of Superbagneres in the distance. It's not often you can see a whole days ride laid out before your eyes like this.
|The Artigue, shortest but hardest climb of the trip|
Watch out ladies it's Speedo time! After two full days riding, each summiting a HC climb we head off to the towns natural spa to recover.
Day three is another HC or multiple HC's Fraser and myself have an easy day of just one climb. Phil and Neil have three in mind. Our day starts in the the beautifully named Luz-Saint-Sauveur. The big ride is to summit the Col du Tourmalet, followed by the Col d'Aspin then the Peyresourde. Fraser and I are just riding Luz Ardiden another HC climb made infamous by the Lance Armstrong spectator/bag crash. We've planned to complete our ride and then follow the other two back over the three summits to Luchon (in the car). The three climbs are going to be tough, and I admire their courage, I really feel happy I'm not doing it. I've done Aspin followed by the Tourmalet before and it's enough.
So we depart. Phil and Neil head off onto the beast of a drag that takes you to the foot of the Tourmalet, whilst we twist through town and over bridges to the foot of Luz Ardiden. So,as to what Phil and Neil got up to I'll never know, but for now we're on a peach of a climb, I like this a lot. Narrow twisting with wicked cambers nice. We ride steady together through the treeline, I soak up the atmosphere recalling images of colourful Tour characters racing up here. After a while I need to stop for a nature break, Fraser doesn't need to witness this and presses on. Back on the road again I see Fraser has passed a lone rider and I set off to do the same. Sadly the blokes not going to let another Engleeesh past and continuously monitors proceedings behind him. I nearly have him, but the ski station is reached and that means no more road, Fraser is already up here and filming me arrive, tummy and knees in and a broadside finish just for a bit of a flourish. Pictures taken we tank back down, Fraser is ahead and I get stopped on the fastest section by a digger clearing fallen rocks which is a shame. At the bottom we um and ah about riding another summit, but decide against it. So we head back to the car and de camp in the heat of the sun.
Day four and we ain't giving up it's going to be another HC climb followed by two other summits. First the HC Pla d'adet then the Col d'aspin and finally Hourquette d'ancizan.
Pla d'adet isn't suited to me, just a few gentle metres from the start in Saint-Lary-Soulan and the climb just goes for it. Leaving the others to go on ahead I target the first hair pin where I plan to stop and straighten my back. Just looking down on the town from this first bend I'm amazed at the altitude gained. I'm back on the bike and just feeling a little more dialed in, but still it's tough. I'd like forty minutes of riding before hitting a Pyrenean HC climb, less than four minutes hasn't given my lungs a chance to get out of bed. It's a struggle and it's a bit hot, but look where I am I think to myself, and another part of me enjoys the masochistic pleasure of it all. Then relief comes at a small village on the climb, it's lesser gradient is enough for me to recoup on. I pedal through the village that clings onto a horse shoe shaped col. And then I'm ready for the rest of the ascent and to help I'm riding into a cooling breeze. My pace ups and soon I'm at the summit. The climb has been tough but beautiful, sadly the summit ski resort has nothing to give, just empty brick chalets. We loiter wordless for a bit then tank back down. What was tough going up is now a whoop whoop descent with a few places that you need to take care on, despite a 4000' drop we don't exercise any care at all. Even bunny hopping the drainage gullies at Pyrenean descent speeds probably wasn't the best of all ideas? We reach the bottom and Phil's raggedy tyre goes. Why do they blow when you reach the bottom? I mean that's great having descended of a very rainy Portilon for the tyre to explode at the bottom I 'll be forever thankful.
Next it's the col d'aspin after we've had a good blast through the countryside to get to it's base. I've ridden the col d'aspin before from this very same side it's a peach. The early kilometres are easy, and though not a massive climb it passes through stages. At first it's a dark stream lined road. Then the forest thins out before becoming mountain meadow and finally all you have is rock besides you. The summit welcomes me again. It's a saddle that you go up and over. Or wait a while on as we do, but not for long because this descent is even better than the last. We leave together in tandem and stay that way for the entire descent. It works out well as the hairpins come so thick and fast that the last rider can spot vehicles coming up as the first rider hits the turns.
We descend wheel to wheel out of the tree line into the valley.
We'll have a stop here before the next accent. We pick a nice café with comfy loungers and order large sugary coffees......then ice cream.
Our third and final climb for the day is the Hourquette d'ancizan. This has some real steady long gradients, nothing compared to the last two climbs, but after sitting here so long after riding two Tour De France climbs we'll have the mother of all café legs.
We roll out homeward bound, down the valley road and then turning to the mountains. Although the going up here should be easy it's not and it's very hot and you get bears here. I don't like this long long arrow straight climb I'm on. I look ahead at all the mountains rearing up ahead of me and think Christ. But I'm saved, a road appears from the left, it's my road and it's turning away from those looming mountains. And there's a headwind, which in this case is great as I'm so bloody hot. The gradient now is much steeper but my Garmin says I'm going quicker, I know I am. Up and up I go weaving past wild horses on the road. I'm now in a massive col and the gradient marker bearing in mind I'm still climbing says 8% descent, I'll have that. Fraser is with me now on this weird landscape. And we ride together up towards the narrow cutting that marks the summit and the way down.
Over the top the difference in landscape is stark, open mountain meadow one side and now down though tree lined and gorge like landscape?
|Time on the Hourquette|
We again descend in a group, this is beautiful and I feel so well tuned in. Cars allow us to pass and enjoy this very narrow laned descent. I really take it all in and knowing all three climbs have been done helps.
We're spat out off the mountain into typical French countryside. The pace along the lanes gets super fruity, but then at the next village I just want to kick back and enjoy the ride home. At a tiny village I wash myself at a fountain before following an avenue back to the car.
They'll be lashings of ginger beer tonight.
It's Thursday Phil and Neil set off for another days riding, whilst Fraser and myself think sod it and head to the spa and cafés.
|It's not all about the bike|
Strangely the Peyresourde road seems easier? I tap away and soon arrive at the right hander I need to take. Holy cow it becomes steep, I can see Fraser ahead, he looks close but I know it's an optical illusion he's probably several hairpins ahead. It's hot as well. On I go over familiar ground, I can see he first of the few mountain villages I'll pass so I know it'll ease off soon. And soon it does.
Then I get a strange feeling. It feels a little to easy, I can't see anyone else and all of a sudden it doesn't feel familiar. I've been here three times, but always descending at stupid speeds. I wonder if I'll end up in the wrong place and have to retrace my steps. I'll press on, the tempo still feels easy. Then finally I recognize a familiar section, a right hand hairpin, straight up then that left hand hairpin that goes past 180 degrees. I see a bunch of Spanish guys in club kit up ahead and my steady tempo takes me past them, because in Leighton Buzzard that's how we roll. Past a Dutchman with dinner plate gears and out into the hot open summit climb.
Tempo tempo tempo and I see the only Km marker on the route and it reads 3km. It's also the point at which Phil descends past me heading for the summit of the Peyresourde.
As I've said above, 3km is in the bag as far as I'm concerned when riding. I spin to the top to meet Fraser and await Neil's arrival.
We talk about doing the Peyresourde ourselves, but nah. Instead Fraser switches on he's Go-Pro thingy as it's superfast downhill all the way to the front door and we are going to give it some for the camera.
Off we go, been down this bit three times and up it once so I know it well enough. I follow Neil and Fraser struggling to descend as quick, but when I find the right position on my bars I'm up and past them. Cars on the lower slopes of the Bales slow us down, and I'm on the brakes all the way to the road that takes you off the Peyresourde and into Luchon. Good job I know it's here!
Then kaboom superfast wide road to the finish. We play for the camera swapping leads and giving each other the finger with heads down holding out as long as possible for the next turn. Probably not damaging Levi Leipheimers Strava time on this descent.
All that's left to do is have one last coffee at Manu's before tidying up to leave.
Another great trip, thanks Fraser. And thanks to you Phil for dragging our arses out of bed each morning to kill ourselves on the mountains, ta.
That was a lot of mountain kilometre,
A few extra images.
|With Fraser topping the Horquette|
|The guys on the Aspin|
|Neil. From Superbagneres to the Artigue and all before our eyes|