It’s been a long time coming, and on the way I like to think that in building up to this over the last 10 years I have inspired a few riders to seek out some interesting rides too. At last I have had a road trip. The lasting memory is not the collection of cols that I’ve bagged, nor the mind bending descents but the fact that I rode four days on the trot. I felt like a stage racer. Of course I didn’t perform like one but I can own the gear, ride the ride and talk the talk. And what better a time than just a couple of weeks after the Tour.
I flew to Biarritz and Joe picked me up with my bike already in his boot. We drove to the Hotel Primrose in Argeles Gazost. Philippe, le patron, showed us round, important things first: the cellar bike store with hooks for over 40 bikes all under CCTV, next was the washing area for your kit and then the clothes line. There was washing liquid, pegs, rags for bike cleaning and stores for shoes and finally a relief map for route planning.
You could fore go the cheese course for a pasta starter, I don’t eat much but the vermicelli starter worked a treat form me. I have been hungry and eating loads for the last four days, according to the Garmin down load I’ve used more than 20,000 calories. Oh how some women would love to hear that.
Friday, after unpacking, we headed straight up to do the Soulour, about 21km of up to 8%. The descent was nerve racking as I was suffering more from the fear of death, than road rash after my recent crash. I was shocked at how frightened I was. We looped round came through Lourdes and headed back, about 54miles which was not the easy start that we had planned. That night we saw riders with numbers hacking round the town warming up for a race. Great we could sit outside in a restaurant with a bowl of pasta and watch some others suffer on a 45 lap 1,5km hilly circuit of the town. Two younguns from our local One Life Team were there to race, Bravo!
Next day we’d ride up the Tourmalet, then the Aspin and return via Lourdes again, 81 miles. The totals for the first two days were: 134.87 miles, 14,137 feet climbing, average moving speed approx 12 mph, 10,477 calories. I didn’t reset the Garmin hence the two together.
Sunday we decided to take on the Aubisque, the Dutch group were advised that the Col de Spandelle was an easy start so we’d follow them, drop down the other side, head north to Asso then East to Arody and then down Ossau valley to Laruns. Whose idea was it that the Spandelle was easy? Sure it was “easier” from our side but it was still tough. The ride around was beautiful and fast. I was amazed by the speed, ease and delight of the riding in the valleys. It always seemed to be gently descending and holding 20 – 25 mph seemed a breeze. We had lunch in Laruns and then began the climb. It was tough and I was suddenly very tired. I knew that I wouldn’t stop until the top so a pushed on. In Gourette, a little ski station, we saw: Andy, Sky, Cavendish, Cadel, Thomas, Contador, (some get first names other surnames), and more and more Sky written across the road. There was no choice: dig deeper, go faster. You know that the feeling at the top will be worth it. It was freezing on the Col so arm warmers and gilet on, and let the descent begin. This is one of the most classic and photographed descents on the Tour (too misty for me to bother with the camera and cut into the rock face you really need a helicopter so check out this pic ). I was flying, cars would pull over to let you by and if you came up too quick for them to react you’d whip by in a flash. There were sheep every where and even a pig finishing of a gel on the road side. The curved tunnel cut into the granite was wet and “hairy”, phew!!!. There was a short drag up to the Soulour but the adrenalin had taken over and on the run back to Argeles I was a man possessed. At last I wasn’t following but leading and I was winning the battle to let go of the brakes. Bikes are safer cornering with the brakes off – we all know that but do we dare?
As a cyclist you know the feeling of always being second best on the road. Not so here, the pleasure of bearing down on a car, a few kicks on the pedals and you’ve passed it as if was stationary or better still taking them a bend. The bike is so fast it even out runs the motor bikes, of which there are thousands on the mountains. Temporarily, for 10, 15, even 30 Km you are the king of speed on your bike and wonder of wonders, the drivers know and pull over for you. Down in the valleys bikes are a part of the attraction. There are cyclists on every road, locals and tourist, hotels have bikes bolted to their fascias, there are sculptures and signs for bikes everywhere. Just down from Lourdes, I too had an apparition. I’ve seen a better place!
The final days riding was going to be short and sweet. A fast blast up the gorge to St Sauveur and then the climb up to Luz Ardiden (see last weeks Cycling Weekly for some facts). It was very hot and my legs were very tired and I crossed he line within a few bike lengths of Joe. At one moment he dropped both bottles and in a Jan Ullrich moment I slowed to wait for him the grab his bidons and recommence his assault on me and the hill. We took 68 minutes (I’m crap according to Cycling Weekly), we know as the Dutch group were timing us as part of their time trial. I think that put “us” third, rather Joe third and me fourth. The fastest was 53mins. I’ll climb this again because it deserves to be done fit and strong and the ride back down is probably one of the best things that I have ever done on a bike. Just look at the picture.
What else? Eddy Merckx stayed on the next room to ours in May when 6 Tour de France Champions took part in the local Sportive (Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx, Miguel Induráin, Pedro Delgado, Bernard Thévenet and Roger Walkowiak).
Kit: My usual, Wilier Cento Uno, Schwalbe Ultremo XZ, tyres with Superlite tubes, Pearl Izumi Transferlite base layer, Wilier jersey or Endura FS260 Pro jersey, FS260 Pro shorts or Pearl Izumi Elite shorts, Kask Vertigo helmet, Endura Baa Baa socks, Giro Zero gloves, Northwave Typhoon Evo shoes and, most important my Endura Ultralite gilet and Defeet arm warmers ( we had very hot and very cold on all but the last ride). The best thing of all was the Lizard Skin DSP 1.8mm bar tape (the cheapest bit of the bike but the bit that I noticed the most), on a session like this you can spend a long time thinking about the fit and features of the bike especially the contact points: saddle, pedals and bars. Everything was perfect.
I took 2 gels with me each day (SIS, Zipvit or Torq) but didn’t always have them both. I’d usually eat 2 energy bars (SIS or Mulebar) and would eat normal food for lunch. I’d drink 1.5 litres of Zipvit energy drink then top up with fountain water. In other words about what I’d have for a 3 hour blast back home. Most important, though, was the ZipVit recovery drink. This stuff really works. This ride is clear proof.
One final bit of kit that is a 100% must for both comfort and hygene reasons is a good quality chamois creme. Ride with out at your peril!
In case you’ve ever wondered what its like to spend over an hour and a half riding up hill for 17 km with out break check out this video (this if from the other side to the one I rode and a lot slower than what you’d see in le Tour de France).