View Full Version : Another NL Pyrenean cycling trip

14-09-2014, 09:45 AM
Part 1

Following on from our stupid Ventoux three times challenge in June we decided to go to the Pyrenees next. What could possibly go wrong..? Now to make one thing clear, I’m not your typical road cyclist. I like cake and beer a little too much but I love cycling and I don’t give up once I’ve started. I may not be a lightweight mountain goat but I’ll cycle up a mountain at my own pace and I won’t get off and push. Orangina and cheese and ham baguettes fuelled us up Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez so we thought we’d try that technique in the Pyrenees.

Unfortunately Dave couldn’t make it as he was just getting back from a two-week holiday so it was just Henry and I. Two weeks before we were set to leave I get a text off Henry… “Mark, I’ve dislocated my shoulder playing rugby” Oh. “But don’t worry, I can still cycle!” Hmm, let’s hope that’s the end of our bad luck!

Dave kindly lent us his BMW 320d estate as we couldn’t get two bikes and two weeks of kit in neither my M3 nor Henry’s Alfa Spyder so Dave and I swapped cars. If he can’t be there in person, his car can take his place. We packed the bikes and kit into Dave’s car and headed off to Portsmouth for our ferry to Bilbao. We boarded and went in search of our home from 22:30 Sunday night until we docked in Bilbao on Tuesday 07:30. We didn’t have much choice of cabins as we booked so late so the one we were left with was err… cosy. The bathroom was especially compact. I could sit on the throne, shower and brush my teeth all without having to move.


The ferry departed at 22:30 so we decided to start our carb loading early and grabbed a beer from the bar before heading to the matchbox to sleep.


We woke up and faced with another twenty four hours on board so we grabbed some breakfast and set up home in the bar area to use the free wifi and plan some of our days riding.


We soon got bored of that. We had exhausted conversation with each other. We then exhausted conversations on Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter. We had skimmed through our magazines. What to do now? Carb load out on deck and watch the dolphins and whales in the Bay of Biscay.


We headed for bed knowing that the next would bring us cycling heaven. I want to say I awoke like an excited kid at Christmas but we were awoken by the PA system saying we about to dock and please vacate your cabins. We headed down to the car… Henry: “Mark, the rear door is open”. Oh. Nothing was missing so we closed it and jumped and got ready to drive off. I turned the key in the ignition and… nothing. Ah. We must have left the rear door ajar and this caused the interior light to stay on, for thirty six hours. That’ll be a flat battery then. We were left on the car deck suddenly very alone.


Fortunately the chaps that were unloading the ferry were very helpful. We tried bump starting it. No joy. The guys then jumped in and tried it themselves. No joy. They then pulled out an industrial jump starter on a trolley. That did the trick! Not a great start to the holiday but we hoped that was the last of our bad luck. One benefit of being the last off was a clear exit from the port and the motorway out of the Bilbao.

We were staying Lourdes in a serviced apartment. The reception was open 07:00-12:00 and 15:00-19:00. We weren’t going to make it before 12:00 so we had a steady drive to Pau and stopped for some steak hache et frites and a wander around. It’s quite a nice town. Generic photo below.


We finally arrive in Lourdes and are greeted by an English lady who works where we’re staying. She gave us a rundown of the local area. Where’s good to eat and routes out of town for our rides. She warns us that down the hill to the right, it’s the touristy religious part, to the left, the town where the locals eat and drink. How religious can a town be? More of that later.

We were keen to bag a climb so we dumped out bags in the room, put our kit on and grabbed our bikes. We had decided to climb the Hautacam as it was on our doorstep. Within a kilometre I remembered cycling in France is very different to cycling in England. Henry carries his speed into a roundabout, I was following but couldn’t make the gap before the approaching car. I naturally slowed to a stop. The driver of said car, held his hand up to apologise for making me slow down and he gave way to me. I like France! Anyway, to the Hautacam. The vital statistcs:

Average grade: 6.8 %
Length: 17.3 km
Height start: 465 m
Height top: 1635 m
Elevation gain: 1170 m

What a hard climb. We could find no rhythm and the stats just don’t represent the difficulty. There was one kilometre I remember vividly that was signposted with average gradient of 7%. We started off going downhill, big ring downhill. That could only mean one thing, a wall is ahead and I was right. My Garmin started recording double figures for the gradient. After a lot of time climbing up road like this


We got to the top and time for the obligatory photo.


And one shortly after when I thought the camera wasn’t on me


I turn to Henry and clearly say “We’re here for two week so lets have a steadily descent. Famous last words looking back shortly after I said it. He was following me down at a comfortable pace when he overtook me into a corner. I saw his rear wheel lock up and he began pumping the brakes but I knew it wasn’t going to end well. He went down, hard. I could see him and his bike, as he was still clipped in, sliding down the road heading towards a concrete wall approximately a foot high. He took the brunt of the impact which caused his bike to somersault over the edge. I was there within seconds. He picked himself up, adrenaline pumping through his body “Mark, I’ve broken my Jawbones” But you’re talking fine! “No my sunglasses, can you find the pieces”. Err, sit down, and catch your breath. Where does it hurt? “I’m OK” No you’re not, your nursing your shoulder. “I’ll be OK. Where’s my bike?” I peer over the edge and luckily it was only about 10ft below. I find my cleats surprisingly grippy when climbing down a steep grass bank. I haul it up and we check over both Henry and his bike. His shoulder doesn’t look good. His bike is doing better than he is with what only looks like a buckled rear wheel. I ask if he can ride or if he needs an ambulance? “I can ride”. He doesn’t look right. We stop at a water fountain in the next town on the way down to wash his cuts and take another look at his shoulder. It looks broken or dislocated to my untrained eye. Despite the pain, he rides the 30km back to the apartment. I help him with his jersey but draw the line with his bib shorts! Fortunately he had just started seeing a nurse and he sent her some photos of his shoulder and we head off for dinner.

If you’re ever in Lourdes, visit Da Marco’s and have their calzone! During our calzones and coke she replies and says she’s show the photo to a consultant at her hospital and he recommends he goes to a hospital. We headed straight to Tarbes A&E. Henry walks up to the counter and informs them “I fell off my velo”. They stare at him confused, we both raise a smile at his excellent French and the lady at reception goes off to find an English speaking colleague. He was seen relatively quickly and taken for an x-ray.


Oh dear. That doesn’t look good. I can see he’s gutted. He informs me he has to come back tomorrow lunchtime to see the consultant to assess properly and see whether surgery is required.

We return the following day and the consultant diagnoses a grade 2 AC dislocation which mean no surgery, just rest. Henry then optimistically asks the consultant “Can I ride my, err, velo?”. He said he doesn’t recommend it but it should be OK but rest it as much as possible for a few days.

We head back to the hotel and I’m told that I must continue riding and not let this ruin my trip. I decide to go for a short ride, up and down Luz Ardiden and then back to the invalid. I head off to Luz Saint Sauveur and I start the climb.

Average grade: 6.9 %
Length: 14.7 km
Height start: 710 m
Height top: 1720 m
Elevation gain: 1010 m


The start of the climb is quite steep but unlike Hautacam, your can get into a rhythm.


I emerge out the covered part of the climb and the views start to improve.


http://i37.photobucket.com/albums/e60/penfish4/Pyrenees%202014/A8EBE8BE-1E4F-4139-BED0-6A4F90D2E610_zpscjexbm1q.jpg (http://s37.photobucket.com/user/penfish4/media/Pyrenees%202014/A8EBE8BE-1E4F-4139-BED0-6A4F90D2E610_zpscjexbm1q.jpg.html)

http://i37.photobucket.com/albums/e60/penfish4/Pyrenees%202014/447F4F60-DB2A-4CB5-9A19-68905739045D_zps5ga4gurn.jpg (http://s37.photobucket.com/user/penfish4/media/Pyrenees%202014/447F4F60-DB2A-4CB5-9A19-68905739045D_zps5ga4gurn.jpg.html)

Sometime later, I make it to the top.

http://i37.photobucket.com/albums/e60/penfish4/Pyrenees%202014/29D51271-B7D5-42DF-8EDC-AFF7E40A5C03_zpsiginl15o.jpg (http://s37.photobucket.com/user/penfish4/media/Pyrenees%202014/29D51271-B7D5-42DF-8EDC-AFF7E40A5C03_zpsiginl15o.jpg.html)

I pick up a stone and place it in my jersey. This was for Henry, he has to return it to the summit before the end of our holiday. That’ll cheer the invalid up!

I get back to the apartment and give him the rock. “You bastard”. You’re welcome. We head back to Da Marco’s for a calzone and coke. Henry tells me that he plans to rest it tomorrow, go sightseeing around Lourdes and instructs me to continue riding.

After dinner we take a wander down the hill to see the tourist part of Lourdes. It was quite a shock. There were more neon lights and more shops selling cheap tat that Blackpool.




I’m not religious however what was an impressive sight were the thousands of Catholics walking around at 9pm with their candles.


14-09-2014, 10:03 AM
Part 2

The next day I decide to go and bag Col de Portet d’Aspet to pay my respects to Fabio Casartelli and its neighbour, the Col de Mente.


I park up in Aspet and head for the Portet d’Aspet. On paper it looks like a nice easy start to the day.

Average grade: 4.2 %
Length: 14.31 km
Height start: 475 m
Height top: 1069 m
Elevation gain: 594 m

The first were 10km were nice and easy. I then to the junction where you turn left for the Portet d’Aspet and right for the Mente. I was confronted with this sign.


It was quite sad to see how close to the bottom of the steep and dangerous descent that Fabio Casartelli died. He was so close.

I stopped and paid my respects as I did with the Tom Simpson memorial on Ventoux.



I can confirm the next 4.4km did indeed average 9.7%. It was tough. Very tough.


I wasn’t sure whether my eyes were stinging from the sweat or tears and I stared at my Garmin watching the metres tick by too slowly as the gradient spent too long in double figures. I was passed by a guy also enjoying the climb albeit in his 997.2 GT3. In true French fashion, he slowed for me, gave me room then continued revving to >8000rpm up the road and out of sight.

Finally I reached the summit.


Next the decent back down to the junction to tackle the Mente. It was a steep descent which I took steady and gave a nod to the memorial on the way down.

The Mente was a climb I had not seen on the Tour so it was a mystery to me.

Average grade: 4.9 %
Length: 16.21 km
Height start: 538 m
Height top: 1344 m
Elevation gain: 806 m
Maximum: 9 %

It was a very pleasant climb and an ‘easy’ ascent. The only problem I had was when a large snake slithered out in front of me. Fortunately it’s easy to take avoiding action at 8km/h!


And I soon made it to the top.


And it was a nice flowing descent back to the car in Aspet.

I arrived back to a very depressed looking Henry. “Mark, I can’t take this town anymore! I’ve splashed some holy water on my shoulder and planned a short ride tonight with a small climb to see how my shoulder is. Are you coming?” Meh. OK. We set off and he was riding well. We got the “small climb”… FML! I saw 20% on my Garmin at one point! It was a mini Zoncolan! I was suffering, Henry wasn’t. This isn’t fair! So your shoulder is getting better then! We then headed back to Lourdes for a, you guessed it, calzone and Coke. Over dinner we discussed the plan for tomorrow. A 120km loop taking in the Col de Soulor and Col d’Aubisque.

We left early in the morning to try to avoid climbing in the heat of the day. We soon reached the first sign of the day.


The climb up to the Soulor starts off hard then levels out as you follow a valley road towards the start of the next steep section.

Average grade: 5.2 %
Length: 19.48 km
Height start: 455 m
Height top: 1474 m
Elevation gain: 1019 m

It was a pleasant sight.


After the valley it ramps up and becomes less fun but I struggle up to the summit knowing there’s an Orangina and snack at the top.


Wait, there are goats everywhere and this one’s trying to photobomb me.


After the photo we go to the café for our Orangina. Henry makes a new friend.


The weather is closing in fast and the clouds are rolling in quickly towards us. We make the short descent off the Soulor and head towards the Aubisque. What a road to the summit of the Aubisque and on familiar roads I’ve seen on TV during the Tour. The climb to the summit of the Aubisque isn’t too bad








The weather was really closing in now and visibility is reducing quickly.


We summited the Aubisque and decided on more Orangina and an omelette knowing we have another 70km to go until we’re back in Lourdes. After lunch, we take the usual summit photographs.


Visibility really is very poor now and we descent very carefully to the base of the Aubisque and head towards Lourdes. The road level out and we’re riding along the flat, tapping out a good pace then I feel it, the dreaded bonk. It hits me hard about 20km from home and I’m done. I can’t even hold Henry’s wheel. Our pace drops about by about 15-20km/h I’m that bad. I eventually get back ok and decide it’s a double dinner night!

We decide on Da Marco’s again. We have a pizza for starter and pasta for mains washed down with Coke and a beer. We began planning the following day’s ride. For some reason we decided on the Tourmalet… from the harder side.

14-09-2014, 10:04 AM
Part 3

For those of that don’t know the Tourmalet…

Average grade: 7.4 %
Length: 19 km
Height start: 711 m
Height top: 2115 m
Elevation gain: 1404 m
Maximum: 10.2 %

We rode along the valley road to Luz Saint Sauveur which looked flat but we had gained over 200m in 10km and had a headwind. By the time I reached the base of the Tourmalet I was already pretty tired.

I was pleasantly surprised by the road surface going up the Tourmalet. I’m guessing it was resurfaced ahead of the Tour’s visit as this was the face they descended down. The climb is not easy but you can tap out a rhythm. My rhythm was rather slow! The first half, like most climbs wasn’t exactly pretty but the scenery soon starts to improve as you get higher up.




Finally, the famous summit was in sight and I could have a sit down, an Orangina and ham and cheese baguette!

It was busy at the top but squeezed through the people and bikes for a photo.


Now for the descent. I don’t think words can do it justice. The road surface was perfect. The views were stunning. The weather was great. The pain of the earlier climb was forgotten. We arrive back in Luz Saint Sauveur and decide on a celebratory slice of cake and bottle or Orangina (our sports nutrition!) as I was keen not suffer on the way back like the previous day. Riding back along the valley road I now realise the gradient as I’m soon spinning out the gears and over taking cars and the road twists and turns. So that was the Tourmalet ticked off! Back to Lourdes for a calzone!

The next day we had planned another long day taking in three climbs; Superbagneres, Col de P****sourde and the Col de Portillon into Spain.

Superbagneres was quite a tough climb up to the ski station.

Average grade: 6.3 %
Length: 18.5 km
Height start: 630 m
Height top: 1800 m
Elevation gain: 1170 m

It’s hard throughout but has some great views.




We descended back down to Bagneres for lunch. With hindsight, lasagne and bread wasn’t ideal just before tackling the P****sourde.

Average grade: 6.1 %
Length: 15.27 km
Height start: 630 m
Height top: 1569 m
Elevation gain: 939 m

I was regretting a big lunch during the climb. There were a couple of burbs I didn’t trust but kept my lunch down. As we neared the summit we could hear thunder and see lightning. We saw it strike the summit. This was not fun. Somehow we made it to the summit before the torrential rain came. We sheltered in the crepe café at the top and while there, it would have been rude not to have some crepes. At 5 Euros for twelve, we got stuck in!

We peered out the window



Quick summit photo


The rain eventually stopped and we knew we had to set off now if we were to get the third and final climb of the day in. I hate riding with wet feet and a wet chamois pad. Both were soaked from the road spray within a couple of kilometres. I arrive back in Bagneres wet and miserable however the weather had started to improve so we cracked on with final climb, the Col de Portillon, that would take us to the French/Spanish border.

Average grade: 6.5 %
Length: 10.2 km
Height start: 630 m
Height top: 1293 m
Elevation gain: 663 m

It was a tough climb with some quite steep ramps. Here’s an idea of one hairpin.


And finally, the summit.


We had to descend fairly quickly as the sun was setting and we made it back to the car just as it was getting dark. 88km ridden and 2840m climbed.

As we had driven about an hour and a half to these three mountains by the time we got back to Lourdes all the restaurants were closed. The only place open was a burger/kebab shop next to our apartment. Not ideal fuel for the next day but we were starving and inhaled our burger and chips.

We awoke the following morning still hungry so grabbed a couple of pain au chocolat on the way to the start of the day’s climbing. Our first climb was the Col d’Aspin.

It was a pleasant climb at the start with shallow gradients, it then ramps up and gets harder. We stopped at the top for an energy bar and a photo.


The next climb was the Hourquette d'Ancizan which I didn’t realise was higher than the Aspin. It might explain what happened next.

Average grade: 7.8 %
Length: 10.33 km
Height start: 759 m
Height top: 1564 m
Elevation gain: 805 m

About 2km into the climb I bonked so hard that butterflies could have flown through my wheels unscathed. This was going to be a long climb. It was a pretty climb (apparently) however spent my time doing my Chris Froome impression and staring at my stem so I didn’t take any photographs. I think this sums up how I felt at the end.


We had planned to do Pla d’Adet straight after but I just wanted to eat, eat some more and go to bed… which I did. Today was over. Tomorrow will be a new day.

The next day Henry was flicking through his climbs of the Pyrenees book and found the Col de Tentes. A little known climb that was 30km long and had a summit higher than the Tourmalet and suggest we do that. How nice of him.

Average grade: 5 %
Length: 30 km
Height start: 710 m
Height top: 2207 m
Elevation gain: 1497 m

We started from Luz Saint Sauveur again and the climb starts off with a shallow gradient. We spin along chatting away and enjoy the valley road. It was a very scenic ride that follows a river up the valley.



We ask ourselves if that’s snow on the peaks ahead of us. We’ll find out later.


After 19km we reach a town and decide to stop for an Orangina, ham and cheese baguette and to fill our bidons. I had naively climbed happily for those 19kms ignorant to that a shallow gradient for so long meant a steep one was ahead. Then I noticed the sign that said the summit was in 11km and we have another 850m to climb…


It’s going to be a long afternoon!

The climb up was deserted and stunning oh and steep in places.

http://i37.photobucket.com/albums/e60/penfish4/Pyrenees%202014/6E4DD105-3500-4F1D-9B1E-7E21D64E30E4_zps3cwoxz8o.jpg (http://s37.photobucket.com/user/penfish4/media/Pyrenees%202014/6E4DD105-3500-4F1D-9B1E-7E21D64E30E4_zps3cwoxz8o.jpg.html)



Yes it was snow!



The road stopped here but you can carry on, on foot or MTB, to Spain.


I was too tired to climb any more that day. Henry still has some fuel in the tank and a stone in his jersey pocket. As I head back to Lourdes, Henry heads off up to Luz Ardiden to “get rid of that bloody stone!”.

14-09-2014, 10:05 AM
Part 4

And so we were almost at the end of your trip and with one day remaining, what should we do? We decided on a 100km loop out of Lourdes to the Tourmalet to climb it from the other side, via La Mongie.

Normal people/cyclists would have got up early for this ride to avoid climbing in the heat of the day. Not us. We overslept and instead of leaving straightaway we decided to wander down to the boulangerie for some pain au chocolat and some bread to make ham and cheese baguettes for breakfast (we already had the Orangina in the fridge!).

Suitably filled we climb aboard the bikes and head off at midday. The sun was high in the sky and it was over 30 degrees. We so realised it was going to be a tough day but great tan line cultivation weather. You win some, you lose some. This side is meant to be the easy side although in reality there’s no easy ascent of the Tourmalet.

Average grade: 7.4 %
Length: 17.2 km
Height start: 847 m
Height top: 2115 m
Elevation gain: 1268 m


I’m finding this climb easier than I thought; perhaps it’s that Henry is finding the climb tough for a change due to the heat. It starts off with a shallow gradient and we’re climbing well together. It then ramps up and the Tourmalet starts to bite.


We arrive in La Mongie and decide to have an Orangina and ice cream. We end up chatting to who we assume are a mother and daughter who were driving support for husband/dad. His group arrive and they’re fed and watered. We look longingly on at all their food and back at our ice creams. It just wasn’t the same. They wish us good luck for the remainder of the climb and they head off to the summit.

We head off a few minutes later and start the final leg. La Mongie to the summit is steep, much steeper than I expected. We pick off a couple of that group in the 5km to the summit and get chatting to them. They’re on a ride from Barcelona to Biarritz. Chapeau. We leave them to and go in search of refreshments ourselves.


This time at the summit it’s much quieter and we get some more photographs.


Henry decides that posing in front of the sign is a bit boring


Next is the 50km back to Lourdes which is fortunately all downhill. We get to descend down the same side of the mountain we had done the previous week. This descent was even better. There were cars and vans to chase and pass. Not wishing to go ‘Full Henry’ on the descent but I was full of confidence. The stars aligned and the descent was perfect. I lost count of the vehicles I overtook and everything flowed perfectly. I was comfortable leaning the bike over and cornering at pace. We reached the town of Luz Saint Sauveur at the base, filled our bidons and continued back to Lourdes taping out a good pace knowing this was out last effort.

We arrived back at the apartment and I noticed the epic tan lines I had cultivated that day. Crisp and razor sharp.



That night we treated ourselves to a calzone and many beers in Da Marco’s and they plied us with shots. It had been a brilliant trip. I was so impressed with how Henry embodied Rule #5 and continued riding. And more importantly, nothing had done wrong since the first day…

…until I went to get the car the next morning. Some lowlife had stolen our wing mirrors. To be fair, they did a neat job.


It wasn’t much fun driving through France, Spain and England with no wing mirrors. To compliment Henry’s two dislocated collarbones, he now had a sore neck from all the looking over the shoulder he had to do as my human wing mirrors.

The ferry home was only twenty fours on the way day. Time to relax and enjoy one more Orangina!


And that was that. Two non-stereotypical cyclists, both over 90kg have climbed some iconic Tour climbs in the Pyrenees. The last photograph, that wasn’t taken by either of us. Hants Constabulary were so impressed with our efforts they took a photo of us on the A3. Sorry Dave, you’re getting a car back with less parts than you when you lent it to us and you’re probably getting a photograph of your car in the post.

Some Garmin stats from our trip:

Count: 11 Activities
Distance: 653.28 km
Time: 37:52:38 h:m:s
Elevation Gain: 16,056 m
Calories: 24,767 C

14-09-2014, 11:04 AM
Fantastic write up Mark, quite inspirational. Fair play to Henry for cracking on.

Thanks for taking the time to share it, really enjoyed reading.

14-09-2014, 01:13 PM
Really, really enjoyed reading that!
Props to you guys for riding on real food.

14-09-2014, 01:52 PM
Did you live on Calzone and Orangina :lol:

Great report :thumb: but looks like far too much exercise to me :chin:

14-09-2014, 03:21 PM
Did you live on Calzone and Orangina :lol:

Great report :thumb: but looks like far too much exercise to me :chin:

And Coke and pain au chocolat. Sports nutrition, we piss it :lol:

Dave B
14-09-2014, 03:54 PM
Great write up Mark. Well done..again