🚲 60.9miles, 3122m climbing, Cols: 🏔 Col du Tourmalet 2115m, 🏔 Col d’Aspin 1490m, 🏔 Col de Peyresourde 1563m
With re-renewed vigour and lowered expectations, we set off up the Tourmalet after a couple of pastries, planning to stop partway for our morning coffee. We’d ridden this climb non-stop 12 years ago when I was 10 weeks pregnant, and long before Strava, but given the previous few days we felt stopping had its advantages.
Just after commenting “twelve years ago there were cows on this bend”…and there they were…
It was somewhat busier, though, with respect to cyclists – there was just a handful back then, today there were hundreds. It was lovely to see such enthusiasm for cycling, and even complete new-comers to the sport giving the famous climb a go. But, I have to admit to being somewhat disappointed by the new ski station and car park on the sweeping grassy bend I remember so well. Back then, we saw a marmot – now, there was little chance of any serious wildlife spotting. Still, it was a lovely day, and much cooler, and despite being on gravel bikes and carrying our kit, we made it to the top in good time. The view above the clouds was spectacular and the atmosphere amongst the gathering bike-riders at the summit was fantastic – from all around the world with a love of cycling in common.
We stopped for the obligatory photo and searched out the Zepnat sticker…
but didn’t hang about for long… there were two more big cols to ride, and the valley road was long.
The descent off of the Tourmalet was incredible: smooth wide winding roads, a few tunnels, and spectacular views. It was faster on a bike than in a car, but we only needed to overtake a couple of them. It just went on and on – the disc brakes and Terreno Drys gave so much confidence – loved it! Even if you aren’t a fan of the climbs, any pain for getting up was certainly made worth it. I was glad we had re-routed from our detour off-road over the top to get some much less stressful fun. Alex, though, spent a lot of time pointing over at “where we could have been”, which was mostly swathed in ominous looking cloud, so might not have been a wise route choice today anyway.
We dropped down to the official start of the Aspin and quickly arrived at Les Marmottes de Payolle for the perfect cycling lunch of omelette and chips part way up (this stopping half-way no-longer feels like a cop-out, it’s a great idea – we do this for fun after all!)
We chipped up the last few km of the Aspin, in what seems like no time at all (compared with some previous endeavours), but we had started to spot road-kill again! There are a lot of squashed frogs or toads in the Pyrenees.
More coffee was needed. We stopped in Arreau (location of our 15th wedding anniversary trip in December 2017) for a crepe and a coffee, knowing we only had the Peyresourde to go. It helped that the Peyresourde wasn’t an unknown, and this time we wouldn’t be riding it in freezing conditions. We plodded on up to the top, knowing that Bagneres de Luchon would be open for business when we arrived, and we could cook our own dinner and have our first proper cup of tea!
Then, over a beer (and the food Alex had carried over numerous mountain passes in our RideForCharlie bag), and with some wifi, we devised our plan to get to the Mediterranean on time: we would complete tomorrow (hitherto ‘Day 4’) with a key Spanish gravel sector as planned, before looping round to the north of Andorra to squash our former days 5, 6 & 7 into two long days. This would mean missing out on some potentially spectacular riding in Andorra and what looked like it would be a wonderfully remote semi-glamping place we’d booked. It seemed the only way to make it though.