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Cycling adventures of a time trialist in the Pyrenees – Pt 2

Sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. As I sat there eating another delicious meal and inhaling another half-bottle of wine on Wednesday night, the thoughts of the day’s 3,000m of climbing still very fresh in my mind (and legs), my one thought was “maybe a flat day would be nice tomorrow”.

Then Ian, our host, came through to the veranda where we were enjoying the last of the day’s warmth and asked the now-ritual question “what kind of a day do you fancy tomorrow, chaps?”.

I should have said “flat and fast, please!”. But I didn’t.

And so, Thursday’s route was suggested as an ‘easier’ day of just 2,000m climbing that would involve the climbs of Larieu, Aspet and Mente.

Day Four – Larieu, Aspet, Mente

We had another ‘luxury’ flat start with 34km or so until the first climb of the day – the short 4km (7.3%, 295m climbing) Col de Larieu. Of all the climbs we did that week, this is the one I have the least memory of! I think because it was just a pleasant climb, not too steep, not too long. It was a good warm up and I managed (looking back at the Strava stats) to keep my power well in check (for a change).

We descended into Aspet and had a nice coffee in the sun while some friendly local checked out my Giant TCR and then looked at me as if I was mad climbing on those Roval CLX 64 Rapides… I think he was probably right.

We then took a lovely false-flat ride through the valley to the next climb – the Col de Portet d’Aspet – supposedly in the top 20 of Tour de France climbs. A largely shaded and twisty road, Aspet felt very similar to the Coll de sa Batalla climb in Mallorca, albeit a bit longer and steeper (9.2km, 6.1%, 558m of climbing). This was also the busiest climb of the week (maybe due to the TdF claim to fame) and I have to admit it was a bit of an ego boost to be catching and passing so many riders. I can see why it’s ranked so highly.

At the top, the route had us do a u-turn and head back down into the valley (nice enough descent, but some of those corners are even tighter than usual when you meet a motorhome coming the other way!) and then branch off to the third and last of the big climbs for the day: Col de Mente.

Don’t let the Strava segments fool you. Col de Mente is another of those Pyrenean climbs where you’ve done a fair bit of climbing before you actually get to the climb! On Strava, you’ll find the segments for Col de Mente range from about 6.3km to 7.5km. In reality it’s more like 11.3km of near-constant climbing (there’s a short dip about 1/3 of the way up).

Having left Keith behind on Aspet, it was his turn to leave me for dead from about halfway up Mente. I was happily slogging away at my own pace (or I was fed up with yet more climbing, you decide!). Having heard that Peter Sagan was training somewhere in the Pyrenees, I managed to convince myself that the uber stylish rider that blasted past me (heading down, not up!) was the main man himself (it probably wasn’t, but he waved at me). As far as views go, this was up there with Aspin, as you looked out over lush green valleys and over to other Cols. The road surface was largely excellent too. I can imaging that, on a stronger day, this would be a great climb on which to really test yourself.

Having reached the top and found Keith, we grabbed a shaded table at the restaurant and inhaled food as quickly as it could be ordered and delivered. Don’t even ask me what it was, I don’t think it was on the plate long enough to recognise it.

Then it was time to take the 9.25km descent to Saint Beat, which starts with a series of switchbacks but opened out into a faster more-sweeping roads (and more speed wobbles from the CLX wheels).

Then, as with all good routes planned by Ian at Pyrenees Multisport, we were treated to a largely downhill ride home, which somehow made the distance for the day 100km on the nose.

It had turned into a super warm day, over 30c, and so after we got back I took a short walk over the river and cooled down in the fast-flowing water (so fast flowing that I nearly lost my running shorts and was left contemplating the embarrassment of trying to cross a major road with nothing but a t-shirt to cover my modesty…).

Day Four stats

Distance: 100km Climbing: 2,168m Time in saddle: 4h 24m Calories burned: 2,607

Day Five – getting to 10,000m of climbing

Reviewing my last four days’ rides on Thursday night, I realised how close I was to completing 10,000m of climbing. So even though my legs really wanted a nice easy ride on the last day (which was really only a half-day as I needed to be back at Toulouse airport around 2.30pm), we decided to ask Ian to plan us a short 60km-ish ride that would get me the required 1,000m.

Within 5km of starting, I kinda wished we hadn’t! The very first climb came both quickly and aggressively with the short-but-steep Mur de Mont de Galie. Only 2.8km but at 9.1% average, this category three climb was a bit of a wake-up call. It was followed all-too-quickly by the Col de Ares which, at an average of 4.4%, was much more my kind of climb and I steamed ahead, enjoying the super smooth tarmac and shaded road.

6.6km of descending brought us to the foot of Col de Buret and then another nice long descent followed by a lumpy 15km or so to the 1km long 8.6% climb into Barry. A few more lumps along the way and the final climb of the day was a short category four climb (9.8% average!) up Cote de Burs. My legs were toast.

A final dip back down and we were practically home. It was soon time to pack up and head to the airport.

Day Five stats

Distance: 60km Climbing: 1,064m Time in saddle: 2h 21m Calories burned: 1,383

Five days of riding in France (and a little bit of Spain) and I think my legs were quite happy to be heading home! The rest of me could have happily stayed longer. Thank you to the fabulous hosts at Pyrenees Multisport, Ian and Julie. I can highly recommend them if you ever fancy following in my tyre tracks and taking in some of the amazing roads in the Pyrenees. Even if, like me, you're REALLY not a climber, the roads and views are amazing. Just pack your grannie gears!

Five day totals

Distance: 564km Climbing: 11,045m Time in saddle: 23h 5min Calories burned: 13,862


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