Les Veloistes Gentils 2012 report
I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible, though it might be tricky as there was a fair bit of drama in our five days in the Pyrenees. The very topline details are: Pau to Girona, 605km ridden, something like 12,000m of climbing (I don’t know for sure as my Garmin’s a bit buggered), at least 12 cols, three crashes, one collarbone and three ribs broken, rain, sun, wind and snow.
Day 1: Pau to Argeles-Gazost
Relatively short day at about 85km due to having to get the bikes built first thing in the morning. Still a challenge however as we took in the Col d’Aubisque and the Col du Soulor (though the latter is a little bump on the way down from the former). The weather was fairly overcast all day and really closed in as we got to the top of the Aubisque – very windy, chilly and in the clouds. Rather annoyed the owner of the cafe due to the sheer volume of hot chocolate we ordered. Quick run down to Argeles-Gazost and the fantastic Hotel de l’Arrieulat. If you’re ever need to stay in the town a visit to Cecile and Stefane’s place is highly recommended. Not only is there a sauna and hot tub, the food in the restaurant is utterly brilliant.
Day 2: Argeles-Gazost to Bagneres-de-Luchon
‘Only’ 115km, but when you’re climbing more than 3,000m over the mighty Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde, it’s no walk in the park. Add into that high winds, freezing cold and snow on the Tourmalet and you know it’s going to be a tough day. So tough, in fact, that we had people shivering so uncontrollably after dropping the few kilometres from the col to the La Mongie ski station that they were unable to pick up a much-needed bowl of chocolat chaud. To be honest, it was pretty dangerous – I’ve certainly never been as cold and uncomfortable on a bike. After that drama, things settled down a bit. The weather improved for the climbs over the lower and more straightforward Aspin and Peyresourde, though the rain did arrive once again for the blindingly fast descent into Luchon. Warming brandies at the hotel were very welcome indeed. A truly legendary day over three quarters of the Circle of Death.
Day 3: Bagneres-de-Luchon to Tarascon sur Ariege
Something of a spiky day, and not too short either at 130km or so. Kicked off with the testing Col de Mente which averages a 9.1% gradient over 9km. Mind you, that gradient didn’t seem so bad when we almost immediately started up the Col de Portet d’Aspet, which features a short stretch that ramps up to 20% at one point. After a quick run down to lunch we cut up the pretty and very quiet Col de Portech, which is well worth a diversion if you’re in the area. And then, disaster. Another quick descent to the relatively flat road between St Giron and Massat, three of us were rolling along pretty steadily when top man Beev lost concentration and drifted off the orad. His front wheel dug into some soft stuff, he literally somersaulted off his bike and landed directly on his shoulder. A fairly innocuous accident but which ended in a collarbone smashed into multiple places and three broken ribs.
Not enough praise can be heaped onto the locals who immediately stopped to help with calls to the emergency services and foil blankets and also to the French health service which quickly assessed the seriousness of the situation, gave Beev great advice, made him entirely comfortable and had him back to the UK by midnight. The long but fairly steady Col de Port and a run down to Tarascon closed off a rather sobering day, though spirits were lifted by Beev’s astonishingly positive text messages throughout the evening. What a hero.
Day 4: Tarascon-sur-Ariege to Puigcerda
The day we crossed into Spain. Just. Quick run first thing down to Ax Les Thermes and then up the Col de Pailheres. It’s a long old beast (at 18km from Ax pretty much as long as the Tourmalet) and deceptively pleasant at first – you ride in a forest along the side of a fast-flowing stream and it’s all very shady and pretty. But then the woods end and you’re on the side of a pretty steep hill, and while the far views are stunning, the ones closer aren’t that great. It seems to last forever. As soon as you get to the top though you can see the series of switchbacks which you’re soon to fly down and it all seems a bit better. The rest of the day was spent on undulating terrain through the very pretty Parc Naturel Regional des Pyrenees Catalanes, mostly into a stiff headwind, before we popped over the border before reaching our hotel in Puigcerda. We’d reached a 1,000m above sea level after 30km of the 120km day, and wouldn’t drop below it again until a third of the way through the following day – so around 130km ridden at high altitude. Interesting.
Day 5: Puigcerda to Girona
The final day! Always slightly mixed feelings: relief that the efforts will soon be over and a touch of sadness that our little adventure will have finished for another year. First up the long but really steady and extremely pretty climb up to the Collada de Toses. The descent down to Ribes de Freser and an excellent coffee stop was one of the best I’ve ever ridden. And then we took an unplanned diversion along the Cami de la Vall del Bac which pretty much equalled it. If you ever get the chance, do. You’ve got to love days when you spend the first 25km climbing to 1,800m and then the rest of the day riding 125km which drop down to almost sea level. Girona came along pretty swiftly and another LVG ride was complete. Ups and downs, emotionally, physically and geographically, certainly, but fantastic nonetheless. All that was left was for us to celebrate Howie‘s 40th birthday…
A load of pictures from the trip can be found on Flickr, here.