Today we rode up one of the Tour de France classics and got to experience the Tour at first hand as well, when it finished at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet.
We began early to try to beat the crowds, riding up the familiar bike-path and then up the valley road for 20 klms to Luz-Saint Sauveur. The road was packed with motor-homes, police cars and cyclists but that was only a fraction of what we were to experience when we turned onto the road to the Col du Tourmalet. The number of motor homes parked in every nook and cranny along the way was unbelievable. as was the number of people walking and riding up the mountain. The 18 klm to the summit at 2115 mtrs high is a steady grind of between 7 and 10% gradient. Although I’ve climbed it previously, at 10 klms I started to have doubts I’d make the top but I kept pushing one klm after another and wondering at the sights and scenery along the way. Just when I was confident of making it, I was stopped by the gendarmes at the 800 mtr mark. They had closed the road to the summit because of the number of people up there,
I headed back down and found a nice little vantage point on the side of the cliff/road at the 2.5 klm mark. All the others in my group had headed back to our hotel to watch the Tour come through the town, but I decided I’d sit it out for the 4 hour wait to experience the Tour on the mountain. With no food or water left this was perhaps a rather foolish plan but after sharing part of my vantage point with 4 young Spanish guys, I was made an honourable Spaniard for the day and they proceeded to ply me with wonderful baguettes filled with gherkins and sausage and cans of beer. I had the most amazing day, perched on the side of the mountain looking 5 klms down the valley and topped off with the eventual arrival of the Tour riders.
Riding back down the mountain was a nightmare for the first 5 klms but then the traffic freed up and I was able to make it back to the hotel in time for dinner at 7:30. All up I rode 75 klms for the day in 4 hours 40 mins and burned 1,664 calories which I’m sure I replaced with what the Spanish guys gave me to eat and drink. To cap off all the excitement, my son Paul messaged me to say he’d seen me on the TV coverage back home as the Tour riders passed me on the mountain.
Gavarnie is a little town nestled in a valley in the Pyrenees which caters mainly for walkers, cyclists, horse-riders, campers and motor homes in the summer and skiers in the winter. It’s nearly 40 klms from our base in Argeles Gazost. We set out along the familiar bike-path and then up the valley road to Luz-Saint Sauveur, which has just been resurfaced for the Tour de France which passes that way on Saturday. Then it was onto the road to Gavarnie – a steady 20 klm climb of between 6 and 8% gradient. Some of the stronger riders in the group opted for the extra 12 klms to the Col de Tete while the rest of us enjoyed lunch in a great restaurant further down the mountain at Gedre. Then it was a nice fast ride back to our hotel in Argeles with Dwain leading the bunch, in time to watch the Tour de France on the TV in the pub and see Caleb Ewan (an Aussie) win the stage. My stats for the day were: Distance travelled 78 klms, riding time 4 hours, average speed 20 klms/hr, maximum speed 55 klms/hr, average heart rate 119 per min, height climbed 1,103 metres, average cadence (pedal revolutions) 64 per min.
Day 3 was meant to be a rest day. The group decided on a short ride and then car ride and walk to the lake at Cauterets. As I’d already been there in 2017, I opted to stay home and get this blog underway. However a little distraction was market day in the town square, so I’ve captured a bit of the atmosphere on video.
Day 2 saw us heading for Col d’Aubisque via the Col du Soulor – a climb of 1,709 metres.
We no sooner left the town and we were into the climb at an average gradient of about 8%. I managed to lose the group again when I stopped to take some video but managed to latch onto the wheel of a passing rider and met back up with them when they stopped. Then it was hard grind up the mountain with Karly and I keeping each other going. With a few wandering hazards along the way (sheep, cows and horses) we had to be a bit careful but it was great hearing their bells ringing out over the valley. We made it to the restaurant at the top of the Col du Soulor in time for a cool drink before we headed for the Col d’Aubisque. The scenery between the two Cols is spectacular to say the least with the road running along the edge of the steep valley sides and through tunnels in the rock face. Little wonder that this area features so often in the Tour de France and will again host the race on this coming Saturday. I rode about 60 klms in 3 hours 40 mins and thankfully my average heart rate was down to 123.
Jet-lagged and with little sleep the night before, we set out on our first ride to the ski station of Luz-Ardiden.
At a height of 1,715 metres it was a far test first up. we set a fairly cracking pace for the 20 odd kms up the valley to the foot of the climb and I was a bit concerned that my heart rate was nudging 145 for a fair bit of the way. My early fears that I might struggle on the climb after pushing it hard early were realized when my legs started to feel like jelly with 6 kms of the climb still to go. However I gutsed it out and made it to the top to see the spectacular view just before the clouds enveloped everything in white. The descent was exhilarating and I managed to find the rest of the group at a cafe at the base of the climb, for lunch. All up I rode 66 kms in 3 hours 45 mins. My average speed was 17,8 kms/hr, maximum speed downhill was 72.5 kms/hr, average heart rate was 126 (high for me) and my Garmin bike computer tells me I burned 1,670 calories (if that can be believed).
Argeles Gazost is a small town of about four thousand people, situated at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains in France. It’s a popular stopover for walkers, cyclists and skiers visiting the Pyrenees National Park. We are staying at the same hotel as last time – the Hotel Beau Site, owned and run by a delightful elderly couple, Monsieur and Madame Taik-Colpi. I’m back in my old room 9, this time rooming with Brian Smith from Sydney (two over-seventies together).
We arrived at about 1am on Sunday morning (about five hours later than expected) and promptly fell into bed. The next morning we awoke to Bastile Day Celebrations in the town square and the task of unpacking our bikes for the first day’s ride. We were joined at breakfast by the 2 remaining members of our group of 11 (9 men and 2 better halves), who had arrived at a more sensible hour the night before.
Much of my training for the trip was done on Mt Mee, about 45 klms from my home on Bribie Island. Although only about 3 klms long, the gradient averages about 9% and kicks up to 15% in places, so a few repetitions of the climb is a good workout for the legs.
I’m getting used to packing my bike away in it’s travelling bag, as I’ve taken it to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under for the last few years.
Leaving Bribie around noon on Friday 12th, I’ll be flying to Sydney to meet up with some of the group before a 15 hour flight to Doha, a 3 hour layover before a 7 hour flight to Barcelona and a 6 hour car trip to our little hotel in Argeles Gazost in the French Pyrenees. (40 hours in all so I’ll be looking for a bed when I get there)
I didn’t really expect to be riding my bike again in France, but when Andrew (our tour leader from 2017) emailed me an invitation to join the 2019 trip to France and Spain, I jumped at it.
It was just 4 days after the passing of my wife Merryl, and I knew I’d need a goal to work towards in the future months to help get me through the difficult time that was follow.
So, after quite a few months of training, I’m ready to leave for France on 12th July.
Our last day of our Tour was spent in Lyon, which is France’s 3rd largest city. Situated on the junction of the Rhone and Saone Rivers, it’s an important commercial centre. The old inner city is fantastic with narrow cobble-stoned streets and has the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre dating back 2,000 years. We enjoyed a visit to the magnificent cathedral on the hill (accessed via a funicular train), wandered through the streets and had our last meal together at one of the many open-air restaurants.
As this is my last post of the trip, can I say thank you to those who have followed my travels and for the comments that have been made about them. I’ve had a great adventure and I’ve enjoyed every minute bringing it to you. Thanks too to son Paul who set the blog format up for me and made it so easy to post regular updates to. It will be a great momento of my trip.
On our last day in Alpe d’Huez, I wandered around the town and took a few more photos and video. Even took a short ride part-way up the mountain in the gondola to get the early morning cloud hanging in the valley.