Andorra la Vella is located high in the east Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. It is the capital of the small independent country of Andorra which has a history dating back to the 11th century. It’s main industry is tourism and it is know as a duty-free retail hub. It also earns considerable foreign income from being a tax haven with only a 4% tax. The country has about 70,000 inhabitants but in the winter hosts up to 6 million visitors. It is one of Europe’s most popular ski resorts. We stayed in a small hotel of 40 rooms named Arbella, located in the upper suburb of Ordino.
It’s therefore not surprising that our first ride was to the Col d’Ordino, because the road when right past our hotel. The Col is 1,980 metres above sea level but from our hotel it was a climb of 690 metres over 9.9 klms. It was a steady ride averaging about 7% gradient and I rode 20.5 klms in all over an hour and 35 minutes. The ride featured in the 2015 Vuelta (Spain’s version of the Tour de France) but I doubt that the riders had time to look at the amazing views along the way.
Today we tackled one of the more difficult climbs in the area – to the Ski terminus of Hautacam. the climb is about 13 klms, although we added another klm by riding up to the cafe at La Tramassel on the top of the mountain. It’s 1,520 mtrs above sea level and we ascended !,390 klms from where we started at the base of the climb in the Pau valley. Although it averages 7.5% gradient, there are some quite long stretches of 9 and 10 and even 14%. In all I rode 49 klms in just over 3 hours for an average speed of nearly 16 kms p/hr. My average heart rate was 116 – getting lower which I think indicates I’m getting fitter. The scenery along the way was spectacular as usual, although when I reached the top it was covered in cloud, so I couldn’t see much. After a quick coffee, the ride down was exciting, although I was a little restrained only hitting 62 klm/hr. (think I’m being a bit more cautious, remembering what happened last time I was over here). On our way home, we took a little diversion to do a bit more climbing up to the small town of Saint-Savin before heading home to Argeles Gazost to watch the finish of the Tour de France stage for the day.
On Day 5 we decided to tackle one of the Tour classics – the Col d’Aspin, and because the Tour would be finishing reasonably close-by at Bagneres de-Bigorre, we thought we could take in some of the Tour hype on our ride. To get to Bagneres de-Bigorre, we first rode down the bike path to Lourdes for 8 klms and then over the Col de la Croix Blanche for 13 klms. We stopped off at
Sainte-Marie de-Campan for lunch and then headed up the road towards Col d’Aspin. However we’d left our run too late, as the gendames had closed the road with 8 kms to go, because of the Tour. We headed back along the 20 klms of beautiful fast road to Bagneres de-Bigorre which the Tour riders would be doing in another 4 hours and managed to check out the team buses etc at the finishing line, before heading for home. I managed to take a wrong turn on the way, which gave me another 10 klms of secret training, but I still managed to get back to Argeles Gazost to see the Tour finish on TV at the pub. It was a big day. I rode 114 klms in 5 and a quarter hours, ascended 1,433 mtrs and burned 2,044 calories, some of which I replaced in the pub afterwards.
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.