Puyarruego to Laruns (back in France)
Yesterday I got a bit carried away with my report I hope you didn't mind. When I saw the profile with five ever decreasing cols I immediately thought of Goldilocks and the three bears. All during the ride my mind kept thinking of ways of setting this in writing and I succumbed to temptation. I must admit that I am also very tired from three days of riding in nearly 40 degree temperatures.
Today we had only three cols to conquer although this time the biggest was left to last. We started the day with a lovely ride through a gorge which has been described as the loveliest in Europe, or is it in Spain or perhaps in the Pyrenees. Nevertheless it was a gorgeous gorge with steep overhanging rock walls that at times blocked the GPS signal to my Garmin. The road itself way only one way so no need to worry about oncoming cars but it was narrow and badly potholed so our speed was low. The sound of water rushing through the gorge bounced off the rock walls and mingled with the chirp of birds in the trees. Altogether a lovely start to the day even if we only managed 15 km in the first hour. We rejoined the main road, which in Spain has a nice wide shoulder for cyclists and began our climb to the first col which turned out to be another tunnel. This time the high point was just outside the entrance. A quick downhill brought us to the sight of Nina who was sobbing a bit as she had just had the first of three punctures for the day. Yesterday she had four; somewhat of a record it appears. The culprit this time was a 'snakebite' puncture probably obtained by hitting a sharp edge of a pothole. However she had been having trouble with the rim tape in her wheel. I used some of my electrical tape to try to mask some of the worst sections of the rim tape with the hope that she would get to lunch. Luckily her dad, Tim, was there to give moral support. We continued on and found later that she had another one and then another. Fortunately one of our cars was at hand and loaded Nina and her bike aboard to the lunch stop where Richard finally fixed the rim tape for good.
Meanwhile we attacked the second col which turned out to be so nondescript that it didn't even rate a name and we weren't sure that we had got to it until we found that the road was definitely going down. At least we had a great downhill run to the lunch stop at an abandoned cafeteria. After lunch we picked up a well laid out road heading for France and the Col du Portalet which lies right on the Franco-Spanish border. The climb was not particularly difficult and the gradients were much less than the 9% and 10% of previous days. The temperature only peaked at 32 degrees a marked improvement on the previous three days. The road itself was wide, well surfaced and had a substantial shoulder which made it easy for us. We were also helped by a stiff breeze blowing up the valley and giving us a push. Son we reached the snowline and were surprised to see the number,quality and obvious newness of the ski resorts and facilities. Is this yet another example of Euro spending gone mad? It looks like a great place to come skiing though. (Mark - perhaps a new location for a ski-patrol conference). Eventually we reached the top where there were no fewer than six supermarches and bars. After a cool drink and a reload of water bottles we started the 30 km downhill to our camp.
Initially the road was well laid out with wide sweeping turns and easy to see switchbacks. The only kicker was the wind which was now blowing up this valley and acting as a head wind. So strong was it that at times I had to pedal hard just to go downhill, at other times it hit me with a crosswind punch right on a corner. The, downhill went on and on and on with the road changing to a narrow rough surface with poor sightlines and blind corners. At one point a car flashed its lights at me so I slowed to find an antelope on the road. It wore a radio collar and had two short horns and yellow flashes behind the ears. Eventually I arrived at camp just before a light drizzle started. I had ridden 118km and climbed 2500m with 6 hours in the saddle. I understand that the TDF started today and I really appreciate the skill and strength of the riders who go twice as far, climbing twice as high in half the time. Tonight after dinner I had the last of my two wash-up duties. Now I can just volunteer when I want to. Tomorrow we have a short leg to climb the famous Col d'Aubisque and finish in Luz St. Sauveur for our last rest day