La Grande Boucle de Pyrenees travel blog

Some of our riders working their way up the Col du Tourmalet.

A view of some of the road up the Tourmalet.

Made it at last. It took just under 2 hours for me....

Near the start of the Col d'Aspin - self explanatory

Me and a friend at the Col d'Aspin.

Looks like the French also use their high country to raise McDonalds...

Third and last col for the day the Peyresourde.

The Queen Stage of our Tour.

Today we ride three of the classic cols of the TDF. In fact on 18 April these cols will feature along with the Col d'Aubisque in one of the big days in the Pyrenees. After breakfast some of us gathered in the town square where there was a carousel and we hopped on the various horses, elephants, ducks and other creatures for a bit of fun. I didn't get a photo but I may be able to get on from Simon. The ride up the Col du Tourmalet(2115m) started in town and it wasn't long before 4% and 5% had changed to 8% or 9% and higher gradients. After the rest day my legs were working better and I got a good run for the first 10km or so but then I started to fade a bit. It became more of a grind but it wasn't too bad. We passed many signs of ski resorts and we could see, up to our left, the Pic du Midi on which is situated a series of astronomical observatories. The Pic is only accessible by cable cars from a ski resort on the other side of the col. On the way up I saw an interesting vehicle. It was a truck with a large rotating brush on the front which came up the road and swept up the gravel and rocks which seem to make their way onto the surface overnight. It was a kind of road groomer akin to snow groomers for the winter. I guess with the Tour coming through they need to keep the crap off the road. However some of the roads between the cols were pretty messy. One assumes that they will all be swept prior to 18 July. It took me about 1 hour and 50 minutes to make summit. After a nice coffee at the summit Simon and I started down heading for the lunch stop on the way to the Col d'Aspin(1490m). This was a fast downhill of about 19 km with only one little scare as I came around a blind corner to find three motorbikes heading up and close to the centre line.

Lunch was half way up to the col just before the steep bits. The early section was nice with 1.5% and 3% grades but after lunch the 7% and 8% grades started. Sometimes a section labelled 8% has a bit of a downhill or a flat section so you know straight away that to make the average grade there will be a 10% or higher. The top of the col felt very Australian. There were lots of cows (although ours don't wear bells) and heaps of flies. It looked quite similar to the Bogong high plains except much greener.

Another fast, long and winding descent led to the start our final climb of the day up to the Col de Peyresourde(1563m. Again it started with some light gradients but soon the truth came out and we were averaging 7% and 8% for the last 8km to the summit. This was a boring col with little to recommend it in terms of visuals. It's saving grace was another fine descent on mostly good roads until we got to the villages. Simon took off his helmet to have his photo taken at the summit and forgot to put it on. Usually I start behind Simon but this time I led off so I didn't notice. About a kilometre from the top another of our riders was taking photos and called out "Where's your helmet". I waited while Simon climber back up to get it. At the top he discovered a rain jacket belonging to Michael who had gone even futher before he realised. Simon carried the jacket down and saved Michael from having to climb all the way back. On the way down we discussed how far we would go before we would not turn back to climb a col for something we had left behind. No actual consensus was reached because it depended on the value of what was left.

We rolled into a lovely campsite at about 3pm after a relatively short 93 km stage with over 3000m of climbing. Ofcourse the TDF guys will travel over 200km and climb an extra col and probably do it in the same time as I did. I will be home by then and will look forward to watching this stage.

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