Thursday 2 September 2010, Filed in: General
This time last year I was sitting outside a fabulous little hotel in Larrau in the Pyrenees drinking a cold, well earned glass of beer.
I’d spent the previous hour cycling on the back of the tandem with my husband, John, climbing one of the many cols in the area. It was the start of one of the best holidays we’ve ever had.
We’d read about the Raid Pyrenean in February’s ‘Cycling Plus’ magazine and decided to spend some time in the area checking out if it would be feasible for us and some of our fellow tandemists to attempt the Raid. The Raid, covers 720km with 11,000m of climbing that has to be completed in less than 100 hours.
Taking the easy option and booking a pre-organised tour was one of the best decisions we made. We were met at Pau-Pyrenees airport and taken to our starting point at Larrau. What I thought was going to be just a recce of the area turned into a delightful, fully supported, gastronomic tour. If we decide to attempt the Raid for real, then French Cycling Holidays will be top of the list to arrange everything for us. Their support was fantastic, all we had to do was turn the pedals!
Our first day was a warm up ride for one of the major challenges of the trip, the route that this year’s L’Etape du Tour will take. Getting an early start from our overnight base, Oloron, was crucial. Even though John and I missed out the flatter sections at the beginning and end, we still had 120km and four climbs to complete.
Our first stop was the local patisserie to stock up on the essential supplies of the day. Even with this sugar-load onboard, we underestimated the massive calorie drain the Pyrenean cols were to present and we had to resort to energy bars and drinks to propel ourselves up the enormous climb of the Aubisque.
The first climb of the day the Col d’Ichere lulled us into a false sense of security, we cruised comfortably to the top to be congratulated by two French soldiers who were training for this year’s etape. Even the infamous Col De Marie Blanque, a 1st category climb on this year’s tour, did nothing to dampen our enthusiasm. We were both looking forward to our first ‘hors’ category climb in the Pyrenees – both of us determined to climb every metre of the Aubisques’ awesome 16km length up to the 1709m summit.
Tandeming often has a strange way of humbling you just 6km into the climb we “hit the wall”. Grit, determination and more food got us back on the tandem and we inched our way up the Aubisque to its massive peak. We were heartened a little by the sight of the French Cycling support vehicle, and John, our guide offering us much-needed moral support and water.
2¾ hours after starting our climb we crested the top. We stopped only for a quick photo before we descended to the start of our last climb of the day, the Col Du Soulor. Relief should have been overwhelming at having conquered the Aubisque, but for me relief was replaced by fear. That stretch was one of the most vertigo inducing descents I have ever done. I hate heights, and this was the sort of descent that I would rather have done on my hands and knees were it not for my stiff British upper lip. Several minutes later – it seemed like hours- we started our ascent of the Col de Soulor a mere lump compared to our previous climb!
The day’s challenges over, we descended to the most enchanting hotel in St. Savin where both fantastic food and accommodation were provided. They even had a locked room for our pride and joy, a titanium Santana tandem.
The following day, was described in the itinerary as a rest day, John and I needed to lay to rest the horror of the climb up the Aubisque, so we climbed up to the Station de Hautacam – a ski station at 1530m which often hosts mountain-top finishes in the Tour de France.
Approaching the Hautacam on a full stomach and riding steadily allowed us to regain some much-needed confidence to tackle the next day’s Col Du Tourmalet an awesome 18km climb to 2,115m, followed by the Aspin another of the Pyrenean giants.
The tour was rounded off by an ascent of the Peyresourde and a stay in yet another gorgeous hotel with exquisite food.
Six days later with 10 cols and 400km under our belts, we drove the 200 miles from London’s Stansted airport up to Yorkshire, and the drive took a similar amount of time as the climb up the massive Col Du Tourmalet!
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