Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pyrenees 2012

7/3-5- Pau
For years we have wondered what it would be like to cycle the Pyrenees, so this year we have made it a reality.  Landing in Pau on July 4th we would venture out on a two-week adventure that would take us over many of the famous Tour de France "cols" and dipping us into Spain.  This grand circuit would be destined to tax us but the ultimate reward was the adventure itself.

7/6- Pau to St. Savin
We rolled out from Pau on a cloudy morning and not more than ½ mile down the road our front tire blew up.  Great start.  The entire group had to stop while we changed the tire then off we went.  With testosterone flying high we climbed over 3,000 feet before hitting the base of the famous Col d’Aubisque.  This was a relentless climb that was our toughest ever.  The reward was a fog-laden summit.  The descent was cold and wet but the next climb, the Col d’Soulor brought incredible green valley vistas making it all worthwhile.  The day’s totals were one of the biggest we have ever done with over 7,300 vertical feet of climbing.

                                               The beautiful Parc Beamount in Pau

Do you think the tour went up this climb?

The valley before the Col d'Soulor climb

7/7- St. Savin to Gavarnie
The “tour” was easy on us to day, or so we thought.  A mere 22 miles but over 3,000 feet of climbing up a beautiful gorge to the small ski village of Gavarnie, at over 4,000 feet elevation.  From here we did a short hike to view the famous “Cirque de Gavarine”, a gorgeous semi circular shaped group of mountains with a thousand foot waterfall coming from the top, truly spectacular.  Great meal at our small hotel, roasted veal and the local Bearn wines.

The best Nicoise sandwich we've ever had
Cirque de Gavarine

7/8- Gavarnie to St. Lary-Soulan

This was the day we all had feared yet were ready to suffer through, the climb up the Col d’Tourmalet.  It was 50% longer than the Col d’Aubisque but surprisingly forgiving up until the last kilometer where the Garmin registered grades of 13-16%.  It was clearing as we hit the summit but after a few quick pictures we headed down in treacherous conditions of heavy fog, roads caked with cow manure and “animanux liberte”, freeing ranging animals.  Just before Le Mongie about halfway down out of nowhere appeared a dozen large cows in the middle of the road.  Cold and wet we made it to the village of Campan for a hot beverage.  It had been a long day already and we still had a picnic lunch and the Col d’Hourquette d’Ancizan to climb.  A memorable day and another 7,000+ feet of climbing.

The fruits of our success

Picnic at the base of the Horchette climb

7/9- St. Lary-Soulan to Gesset

After our worst breakfast on the trip we started climbing right out of the gate up the Col d’Azet, another one of this year’s TDF climbs.  While steep, it afforded incredible views of the mountains that we had climbed over the day before and the green velvet covered mountains ahead.  At the summit, it was crystal clear and we could see across the valley to our next climb the famous Col d’Peyresourde.  The Pyresourde started out as our friend but as always it tortured us at the top.  We were rewarded with a tasty omelet of “jambon et fromage” and frites with our favorite French “moutarde”.  The descent down the Peyresourde was FAST and clear for once.  Our final destination would be in Gesset, a small village in the middle of nowhere with a lovely three star hotel with a true gourmet meal, tres bon! 

 Picture perfect day riding up the col d'Azet


Great crepe shop at the top of the Peyresourde

A well deserved omelet and really good

Top of the Col d'Peyresourde looking out to the next range of mountains

7/10- Gesset
A well deserved rest day of doing absolutely NOTHING.  We almost missed breakfast as we slept in until 8:45 am.  As I type this now I’m enjoying a Makers 46 from our trusty flask.  Tomorrow we ride again….

Our hotel in Gesset
One of the nicest dining rooms on our trip

7/11- Col d’Portillon loop ride
It was time to ride after a rest day so we reviewed the map and decided to make a run to Spain through Bossost and then climb the Col d’Portillon back into France to Bagneres d’Luchon.  This ended up being one of the best rides of the trip.  It started with a 15 mile slight descent down a beautiful canyon into Spain.  The Col d’Portillon was taxing but not over the top as we climbed through pine trees to the summit at  a little over 4,000 feet.  It was foggy at the top but not too wet as we sped to our pizza lunch stop in Bagneres de Luchon.  This city is the finish for the TDF stage out of Pau and will be the deciding stage of this year’s tour.

Our first time in Spian

Bossost, Spain, a real change in architecture and feel

A the summit of the Col d'Portillon.  I'm pointing at the 17.8% grade we will be descending

The town of Bagneres de Luchon all dressed up for the tour

We couldn't resist a shot with Mr. Frite!

7/12- Gesset to Lestelle Betharram

Our longest stay at one place came to an end.  Today looked like it would be easy compared to the many cols we had already climbed as we headed west over the Col des Palomieres to Lourdes where we had a magnificent vista of the valley ahead.  Lourdes is the city famous for its healing waters.  The city was filled with people in wheelchairs and a bit depressing, yet to many it brings hope.  The small road through the “Foret de Lourdes” was an adventure in and of itself.  It was one long day and our hotel situated in a lovely agricultural valley was a welcome relief.

On the way to the Col des Palomieres. One green valley after another

Great view of the valley to the west at the top of this col

Fabulous lunch in Bagneres de Bigorre

Maria's omelet- the fluffiest eggs you've ever had with mushrooms

I couldn't resist the taste citron with a hard meringue top
Navigating Lourdes

7/13- Lestelle Betharram to Oloron
Today we would tackle the Col de Marie Blanque.  This climb was unique as it averaged only 5% but most was 8-10% with a beautiful flat section near the top.  Climbing it afforded views of the Aubisque and the other jagged peaks to the south.  Many decided to ride up the Aubisque and Soulor from the other sides, but one Col was enough for us.  The descent was the fastest of the trip at 53 mph.  Unfortunately the road surface was a little rough or we might have set a new top speed record!  Lunch landed us at a great wood fired (feu de bois) pizza place in the village of Asap, then on to Oloron St. Marie for two days.

View to the backside of the Aubisque and Soulor halfway up Marie Blanque

Always a welcome sight

A surprise wood fired pizza restaurant "feu de bois".  Not bad.

7/14- Oloron- rest day

Another welcome day of rest.  We slept in and then walked to LeClerc food store and shopped lunch for 10 of us back at the hotel.  Lots of fun. 

A small part of the fresh fish section at Leclerc

7/15- Oloron to Isaba, Spain

We were very excited to ride into Spain.  But, we didn’t expect what may have been the most difficult climb of the entire trip, the Col de Pierre St. Martin.  This climb had several “triple chevrons” with grades at 15%+.  It was relentless.  At one point about 2K from our lunch stop near the top we stopped and Maria walked and I rode. Tough, tough, tough.  Our lunch stop was great as the hosts bought several rotisserie chickens from a few villages back and we feasted hoping to gain enough strength to finish the climb and blast the 26K decent into Isaba.  Spain’s roads were the best of the trip; perfectly clean and well engineered.  The last 26K went by in a flash as we raced to our hotel ready for a well deserved beer.  Our hotel was quite modern but the food was a let down. We were expecting so much more.
Food loading for the Col de la Pierre St. Martin

We would have one of this guy's rotisserie chickens for lunch at the top

Dramatic green mountain sides up the col
Almost ast the top and our favorite shot of the trip

Nearing the top and a big change in landscape from green to rocky

Hard to believe we were smiling.  This was the toughest climb we've ever done.
Ripping descent for 13 miles.  Beautiful road condition

On the way down to Isaba

Our hotel in Isaba

A delicious plate of olives at our hotel in in Isaba, Spain

Local wines

716- Isaba to St. Jean Pied de Port

We had to start the day climbing back up what we had descended the day before.  The grades today were kind to us.  We topped the first Spanish col at Laza with smiles on our face knowing that this day would be easy compared to the one before.  We decided to make a lunch stop in the village of Auritz for a true Basque lunch, which was memorable on many fronts.  One more climb through Roncesvalles, an important city on the Camino de Santiago, the religious trek across Spain to Santiago de Compostella, then a lovely descent into St. Jean Pied de Port.  We would spend two nights here and enjoy another day of rest.

A very "civil" climb compared to what we had been riding

Great lunch stop for some true Basque food

The Basque version of a chili relleno

Probably the best flan I have ever had.  

The road out from lunch in Auritz

We were surprised to find we were on the famous Camino de Santiago

The nicest hotel of the trip and hands down the best food.

7/17- St. Jean Pied de Port- rest day
Sleeping in was a real luxury today in our most posh hotel of the trip, a Relais & Chateaux hotel, Les Pyrenees.  These were easily four star digs with hands down the most extravagant meals of the trip.  Truly first class.  We walked around the village, shopped and of course had a great lunch of whole Durade fish and a trout ceviche.  Yumm.  Tomorrow would be our last day of riding back to Pau.
Display cases in the hotel. Very cool knives from the area

Incredible collection of Michelin Guides dating back to the early 1900's

Old town one street away from our hotel

Entry into the old town

Interesting spice shop

Coffe three ways for dessert….incredible

Big, big area for fois gras.  Not my fav, but the presentation was exceptional

Local area wine, not bad

Incredible "entree" first course

Trout ceviche

Whole Durade fish

7/18- St. Jean Pied de Port to Pau

Many decided to take the more difficult route, which retraced a road, we had previously ridden in the opposite direction.  We opted for the other flatter route.  As it turned out the more difficult route took the riders up 20% grades and hot road tar.  We made the right call.  The beginning of the day was gorgeous with blue skies and mild temperatures that would shortly heat up to 100 degrees.  We rode a few small cols just savoring this last day of riding.  We rode back through Oloron where we had stayed two days and quickly found a cool, air-conditioned restaurant for lunch.  Recuperating from the heat and watching the Tour on TV, our stomachs were full so we pushed on wanting this hot day to be over.  At 7K outside of Pau we took the side road and were tortured with the unexpected heat and climbing.  What was supposed to be 4,000 feet of climbing ended up being over 5,000.  Not to mentioned getting lost on the way back to the hotel.  We were done.  Trip accomplished.

Our only Col of the day!

And what a view from the top

On the road back to Oloron

Our lunch stop next to the river in Oloron.  100F outside, thank God for the A/C in the restaurant

River below the restaurant.  We wanted to take a dip!

Back in Pau. The Tour de France trucks in front of our hotel for the race start that morning.


What a great trip.  We climbed mountains we have only seen in the tour de France and suffered on others that have never been mentioned.  The pure beauty of the Pyrenees was unmatched by any other mountain riding we’ve done.  Just when you swore at the step grades, you sat up and were in awe of the green velvet mountainsides and the jagged rocky peaks, truly spectacular and memorable.  Tres bon, l’amour Les Pyrenees.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks like it was a great trip. Thanks for sharing the details.

Tom Heemeyer