Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Riding in France, part deux!

(Part one is here)

Ride 4: 53 miles and 16000!!!! feet of climbing

Col D'Aubisque, Col du Soulor, and Col du Tourmalet.  Pretty crazy day of riding and most epic ride I have ever done.  We drove to the base of the Aubisque from Biarritz, which took about an hour and 1/2 or so.  We started at the base of the Aubisque and the goal was to follow the TDF route, which was coming through soon, to the top of the Tourmalet.  We were riding this the day before the "etape du tour" was riding all five cols. 

The Aubisque is a gorgeous ride to the top and was easier than I expected.  There is quite a bit of climbing and at times it does get steep, but the climb itself is undulating, so 10% grades are followed by quick 4% grades.  This allowed for some quick recovery. The scenery is also so amazing that I spend a lot of the time taking it in and being distracted from the "work" of climbing. It's a much "prettier" climb than the Tourmalet.  More on that later.  The Aubisque also rewarded us an amazing descent.  It was fast, it was twisty, it was on ledges, and we were flying past cars going in the same directions.   At one point we entered a tunnel that was not lit and turned into complete darkness.  You couldn't see the road or the walls or your handle bars.  The ceiling was dripping lots of water, so you knew the road was wet, though could not see it.  The pitch black lasted only a second, and then the end of the tunnel became visible and brought in some light.  That decent was really a total bike orgasm (or death if you miss a turn)!!!   My jaw hurt from smiling too hard.

We had forgotten about the Col du Soulor but it was not a very difficult climb.  Again the descent to the base and the town of Argeles Gazost was a screaming blast.  I almost ran into a camper van when cutting a blind hair pin turn.  I had to go wider than planned as a result and came very close to edge and ledge of the road.  Definitely a HR rising moment!   We stopped in Argeles and had a quick lunch w/ my Dad, who was following us by car for support.  Then it was time for some real pain!  

The Tourmalet is one mean mofo mountain.  First we had to climb out of the valley, which isn't very steep but is a steady climb all the way to Luz Saint Sauver and gains easily over a 1000 feet.  Once you leave the village of Luz Saint Sauver, the climbing starts in earnest.  And I mean earnest!  It starts at 7% with 18K to go to the top of the Tourmalet.  This  is the least steep it gets for many miles.  There are no undulating, less steep sections.  Quite the contrary because it quickly goes from 7% to  9%.  Every Kilometer has a maker that indicates what you are in for, and ticks off the mileage for you (kilometer really).  These would take more and more time to show up as the climb went on.  

Thankfully, 1/2 way up the climb is 1/2 mile at 5% and this the only respite there is (one I needed desperately), as after that, it goes right back up to 7, 8, 9 % all the way to the top. The last kilometer is a nice 10 %.  That is after 18K of non stop climbing!  

Going up the Tourmalet was not what I would call fun. The weather had turned really hot and the climb was in the blazing sun all the way to the top. Whereas I had enough energy to really enjoy and take in the scenery on the Aubisque, here I quickly ended up w/ my head down concentrating on the short strip of pavement in front of my tire, praying for the next mile marker to arrive quickly - with them taking longer and longer to arrive of course.  W/in the first mile of the climb I was already trying to shift into a higher gear, which sadly I did not have. I had brought a compact on the front, but the smallest I had in rear was a 26.  I would have sold my soul to have had one more gear.  I did finally get to the top, but it required in the last few miles a lot of screaming and swearing.  Onee there, I came very close to throwing the bike over a cliff!  I never wanted to see a bike in my life again!  I quickly got over my whining when buying a drink at the bar on the top of the col and looking at an original tdf single speed bike a rider used in 1910 to climb the Tourmalet and SEVEN other cols on a 326+ k etape (see pic below).  Of course, now I can't wait to do it again!

Ride started here and looking up at the climb to come

No comments needed!

And the climbing starts...

My brother about 1/2 way up
Getting Higher; find the water fall!

Markings for the Etape du Tour

Yeah, it's pretty!

Not there yet, maybe around the corner?

Nope, more to go...

NYC reprsenting!

Almost there!

Greeting party at the top of the Aubisque

Aubisque completed, now for a 30km descent! 

Down we go

Starting the Col du Soulor climb

View of the above picture from a Helicopter: don't miss that turn!


Reads: 18km to go and 7% incline

Over the 1/2 way point!

Still going up.

Anytime now.

Digging in very deep!
Done!  and best attempt at smiling!
Actual bike ridden in the TDF and up the Tourmalet!

 Ride 5: Recovery Ride to the Pas de Roland

Here is the history around Roland.  Great ride again.  First rode to the little town of Soulaide and then to Espelette.  Espelette is know for it's Spicy Peppers which are dried by hanging on the side of the town's white washed houses. Once we got past the "Pas de Roland", we took what we thought would be a short climb around.  This however ended up being far from an easy climb, and ended  up being a Cat 2 climb, with some sections at more than 20%.  So much for an easy recovery ride.  In the reverse direction though, it would have been a 1+ mile climb w/ an avg slope of 24%!!!! My rims were starting to heat up and my brakes to fade by the time we got to the bottom. Next time, maybe I'll try to climb that!  This would be the last ride in France for the summer.

Pas the Roland starts behind the church.

Roland was here!

And the Climbing starts....

We only rode the bottom right of the hill.  Next time to the top (an HC I am sure!)

Yeah, it got steep!

Going up.

View of the Valley below and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.

Part 1 is here!


  1. I look at the pix's part laughing and part disbelief. Looked like s serious good ride

  2. Looks totally amazing Syl. Id love to give something like that a go. The Tourmalet is just like nothing else and there aren't many who could ride it without having to walk.

  3. Your portal is a fine place of valuable information! Do you mind if I make a trackback of one of your blog articles on my personal website?