Up the Soulour and the Aubisque first, which takes some time, given it’s 29.1 km. Descended with a time trial sportive around us (they went quickly).
Then the Col de Marie Blanque, which was pretty but strange.
And into the cheese country of Ossau Iraty..:
Then another Col that I will look up the name of another time. Col de Bastard, peut-etre. It started at 15%, and never really got any friendlier. It hurt. Then after 7kms or so it dumped us into a cow poo-ridden valley for a lot of false flat and uphill into buffeting winds until we finally arrived at a non-summit in what looked like one of those really crap parts of Wales. Then the descent was mostly gravelled. We overbrimmed with joy.
Anyway, more to come on this one another time, and more pictures I’m sure. But we’re not staying in pretty (and pretty Basque) St Jean Pied de Port ahead of a 60km roll (no hills, por favor) into Biarritz tomorrow.
A demain, gracias.
It threatened to be a washout
It threatened to be a wash-ing.
But the first ever #LVG *big cough* ‘rest day’ succeeded in being both. And that worked well.
For the first time, we had a day in the same place, meaning a two-night stay in the fantastic Aurrieulat hotel in Argeles Gazost.
The options were: no climbs, one climb (the Col de Spandelles, basically a sh&t goat track by the sounds of it, but manly), two climbs (the aforementioned, plus up to the Soulour), or three climbs (including the Hautacam).
It was also billed as a day when, for once, there was an opportunity to launder filthy kit properly. In the sauna.
Everyone but me set out of the Spandau Ballet and Sue Lawley climbs. I rested, bought overpriced souvenirs then (was feeling sick, have been all week, my mitigation) had a crack at the Hautacam. The Haughty Cam (Hauta-Can’t) is not my favourite climb. It’s a bloody nuisance, and bloody steep in places, being 16kms up from the valley floor. Thankfully though, at the top, there was a sign leading to another Col 1.2kms up, so I bagged two in one climb sort of, scoffed a crepe, descended in horrific hail then lost lunch at the bottom. Plus ca change.
The others, meanwhile, did some cycling somewhere, in some rain. Then went to a bar to watch the football. Apart from JL and Typo who (*bigger bloody cough*) manfully followed in my tyre tracks up the Hautacam.
Bell to David Gladwell for excessive strength. Sash to Brian for something. Horn of shame somewhere.
Basically this post is a day late due to tiredness and illness. And laundry.
One day, less distance than the previous one but still three mountains to tackle. Bagneres de Luchon to Argeles Gazost, via the Col du Peyresourde, Horquette d’Aniczan and, naturally, the Col du Tourmalet – Le Geant of the Pyrenees, the hallowed hill.
The Peyresourde is no tiddler though. 16km from Bagneres, pretty constant all the way, and we were thankful for the sunshine and clear skies.
A quick coffee stop at the top, descent and then on to the Horquette d’Aniczan. In short, this thing is only 10.6km but starts like beast – 11% average but surely knocking on 20% through the village then not dropping below 10% for 3.5km.
Thank God, I thought, it’ll even off soon. Not much. Apart from one 5% section it was 7.5 to 9.5% all the way to the top. Much panting and pespiration. Then, a pretty yet pretty shitty descent: gravelled corners (does France have a gravel surplus currently?) and then an uphill section again after about 3km just to really wind me up. It eventually met the Aspin descent after lunch. But if the Tourmalet is Le Geant of the Pyrenees, the Horquette is L’Arse.
And so to the Tourmalet. 18km from Ste Marie de Campan, but to my mind the tougher side, as it was easy for 5km and then kicked in like. After that, no lower than 8% all the way to the top, with lots of 9.5% and 10%. And rain, and cloud, and hail, and vomitting, and sheep, and horned cattle, and not much joy.
Until the summit. Le Geant tamed, barely.
Descending, for those of us slow or kind enough to wait for the weather to clear, looked like this:
Then a wet run in through the Gorge du Luz to the hotel. To find Vaidas going for a spin up the Geant and back before dinner, in the rain, the nutter.
Tomorrow: optional day/rest day/ride up hills in torrential rain day.
The first day is often a bit of a big day. And so it transpired.
144.8km from Foix to that backwater cycling mecca of Bagneres du Luchon, via the Col du P-Something, Portet d’Aspet and the Col de Mente.
All was going well (well, as well as it can be for a long ride through mountains. Sleds had nearly killed us all via a bout of high-speed shoulder jousting, Tom had nearly been hit by a car but the weather – that threatened abject misery – had held.
Even the steep descent of the Portet d’Aspet, past the Casartelli memorial that marks the spot where he fell tragically, was done in the dry, with greater safety.
And then at the bottom, as we turned onto the Col de Mente, there they were. Stone chippings, all over the bastard road; like riding through a pebbled beach. 3-4km later and we were till on chippings, grinding away.And then the heavens opened.
By the time we (well, I) got to the summit some 10km later, visibility was down to very little and we faced a piss-wet descent. And so it was – cold, filthy, dodgy, little to recommend it.
After that, a showery 16km into Bagneres that left everyone, well, rinsed.
Bell to Tom – not per previous allegation. Horn of shame and the safety sash to Sleds, to our collective shock.
Next: mountains, and rain.
And so it’s over for another year.
Legs may be tired, undercarriages may have taken a beating and some may be thankful that they can find their own way to a destination with relying on the input of others, gathered at a dusty roadside, staring into a small bleeping screen in brilliant sunshine.
But it’s still over. Back today to normality, where getting up means going to work, not smearing cream, pulling on lycra and heading for a breakfast regime of stuffing hotel food down throats that lead to stomachs which have long since lost their appetite.
Yesterday was the final run in from Feltre to Venice. The route profile looked bumpy initially, then pan flat. After a trundle out along main roads, we turned south for the Passo San Baldo, our final climb-proper of the trip. We’d seen the pictures, but few had bothered with the words – not many can adequately describe this theme park ride of a hill. Here’s one – ridiculous:
A pass that tops itself out with a single-track section consisting of tunnelled corners, with tight hairpins, short straights and traffic lights. Fantasy roadbuilding.
The thing is, it never seemed to come. As we approached, the road banked up, then down a bit, then around, then up a bit more. We were all in ‘where’s this bloody hill then?’ mode.
Until it dawned that we were already at the top. The tunnels bit was the south side – we were going down it.
I could wax lyrical about that for more space than is duly permitted here. Suffice to say I was laughing most of the way down, not quite believing what we were doing. The stuff of legend.
Befitting then, that the last day of a legendary trip, the first joint outing of LVG and Blackheath Velo, should end with such a legendary hill.
The rest of the ride was less legendary, but still a great and fast run in to Venice. Flat, increasingly hot (particularly if you’re wearing a pink morph suit, pics to follow I’m sure) and with the smell of the sea (well, swampy lagoons) in the air.
And then it was over. Time though for one last legendary lunch. Surrounded by innumerable restaurant options in a beautiful town off the lagoon, there was just time for one last baguette’n’van luncheon par excellence. To depict the full scene, only a picture montage can really do justice:
Another legendary week of summer cycling, legendary for being a dual-society ride. It worked well.
Thanks everyone who put so much time and effort into organising this year’s Italian job, in particular:
-Matteo Oweniani for the research into hotels and general getting-togetheredness of the arrangements
-Gianni Stradale for the route mastery and adjustments, and quick-thinking in the form of lagoon bridge gymnastics
-Tomaso Doncani for being the third and oft-vocal part of the triangle, and never minding too much when being nominated (despite maintaining the look of a guilty man each evening)
-And the support crew, Howardini, Vaidasimmo and Ericetti, who kept us all safe and sane.
One question remains though: why did I risk not just life but limb by doing this on a broken ankle (well, a healing ankle, three weeks in, which is obviously not so sensible)? Why would anyone want to do that, given the mountains, the distances and the need to chomp painkillers constantly while riding around with a cycling shoe so fat it couldn’t be closed?
The answer is in the stars. It’s because you’re a long time dead, mate.
A week that was the stuff of legend. And for me, also the stuff of leg-end.
Well they only let us store them in the VIP Club, the hotel’s own nightclub. First time I’ve tethered the windsurfer next to a grand piano I can tell you.
A stormy evening turned to a sunny morning. There were lofty granite (correct me if I’m wrong, geologists) peaks all around.
Amidst the beauty, the scene was soiled only by this early-morning image of The Beast hanging out his wet kit to dry on the balcony. A classic cyclist trip scene at least.
We were off. Via a climb up to Pocol, then the northern ascent of the Passo Giau. It’s sublime at the top, but dues are paid getting there. 10k at an average of just over 8 per cent it says, but the first 2k are practically flat and there are other practically level parts, so the ramps are not unsteep. It’s a grind of a climb.
But then there’s this at the top. Ed was so moved he found time to Facetime..
Coffee, chocolate, tea (yes, proper tea) and we were down again, to descend further into a long valley with jagged peaks (more of them, they’re everywhere in this part of the world) as we went downhill at pace to lunch, then on past a lake and then into another valley before turning towards Feltre, our night stop. Or in Lee Rhino’s case, missing the turn altogether because of his exceptional speed.
I took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up taking the less scenic route in. But great scenery it was, Feltre included. We got there between 3.30 and 4pm, surely an LVG record? A few beers and shandies in the old town and then dinner. And then nominations – short version is Ben is going to be weighed down with a lot of holy adornments tomorrow.
Tomorrow, on to Venice.