Monday 23 August 2010

A Herd of Tin Donkeys: My 1981 Masi Gran Criterium

Breaking Away--look at that crankset!
Having become interested in classic lightweight steel racing bicycles, I have described my first purchase, a c. 1983 Raleigh Team Professional, built in the company’s Special Bicycle Development Unit in Ilkeston, England.  I started with a slightly ratty frame and built up the bike to as-new condition.  That project over, I thought I would find another bike and on my short list was a Colnago Mexico ( in Saronni Red, of course) or a California Masi. 

As luck would have it, a very nice 1981 Masi in original condition appeared on E-Bay and I could not resist.  The seller, a professor of French literature, was relocating and thinning his bike collection.  He said that the bike had only been ridden five times in the last five years or so and he doubted that the person he bought it from in Brooklyn had ridden much more than that either.

Since we were planning a weekend in New York (to see, among other things, the bike exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design), it was easy to pop down to Philadelphia and pick up the bicycle and not have to worry about shipping issues.

My newest Tin Donkey is the oldest
Bob Hovey has a website dedicated to Masi bicycles and for further information about the marque, you can check this link.  Faliero Masi, based at the Vigorelli Velodrome in Milan, was one of a legendary group of Italian racing frame builders.  After a so-so career as a racer, he moved to Milan and began building in 1940.  He was noted for his impeccable, albeit conservative, frames and things would have continued except for an unusual move.  Mr. Masi, recognizing that the market for fine bicycles was no longer to be found in Italy, worked a business deal with an American entrepreneur and moved his shop, along with three trusted employees, to Southern California in 1973.  He oversaw the production of new California Masis before returning to Italy.  One of the trusted employees was Mario Confente, who went on to become a noted builder in his own right before his early death due to heart failure.

Stylish 29 year old
The rights to the Masi name in the United States passed through several hands but the bicycles continued to be produced in small volumes.  The framebuilders at Masi included a number who subsequently became luminaries on the American custom bicycle scene, including Albert Eisentraut and Brian Bayliss.

In the 1970s, North America experienced a “bicycle boom,” and huge numbers of bicycles were sold.  Although Mr. Masi was astute enough to realize this, he would have not been aware that the Masi brand would get another boost in 1979.  The unexpected hit film “Breaking Away” featured an orange Masi Gran Criterium as the ride of the hero, Dave Stoller, and of course this did not harm sales at all.

But all things come to an end.  By 1981 the bike boom was long over and the celebrated Dave Moulton, a British framebuilder in charge of making the frames for Masi in San Marcos, California, built enough frames to work himself out of a job.  He has confirmed that my Masi was built by him in early 1981.  He also said that 1982 Masis are very rare since the firm spend the next year trying to work down the inventory!

Since purchasing my bicycle, I have changed the bar tape and added Campy Super Record pedals with toe clips and yellow straps.  The bicycle is almost identical to the Stoller bike, although my cables are orange rather than yellow.  The bike came with a set of Mavic GP4 tubular wheels but I also purchased as set of Open Pro clinchers from the seller and think they look better.

I have ridden the bicycle several times.  It is a bit smaller than my Raleigh but still fits me quite well.  It is very responsive and smooth in acceleration.  Interestingly, Mr. Masi was not hung up on Italian parts: the bicycle is made from Reynolds 531 steel tubing.  It does feature a Campagnolo Super Record groupset, a matching Silca frame pump and an original Masi California waterbottle.  The seat is a French Ideale one, and is surprisingly comfortable.  It was apparently softened using a technique thought up by the famous illustrator Daniel Rebour.

As Bob Hovey's website indicates, Masis have a cult following.  Faliero's son Alberto continues to build in Italy, but the Masi brand is now applied to bicycles from the Far East that have no connection whatsoever to "Breaking Away."

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Day 7 of the 2010 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: Le Mauvais Détour

June 18, 2010: The Day of the Incorrectly Counted Six Cols

The Lost Boys (and Girl), ready to leave with No Faffing!
Leaving Prades early in the morning, we celebrated what would be the final day of Hammer Week and wore our nifty team jerseys as we rolled out into the cool morning air.  Today would be another challenging ride: no fewer than six cols over more than 150 kms!

The first climb, the Col de Roque-Jalère, was probably the hardest.  It took us up to a high plateau overlooking Prades and the surrounding countryside, altitude 925 m ASL.  We zipped downwards, passing through Sournia and stopped for a coffee in St-Paul-de-Fenouillet.

Next we rode into the absolutely spectacular Gorges de Galamus, stopped to look at the tiny refuge of St-Antoine-de-Galamus hanging off of the rocky cliff.  The gorge has attracted hermits since the 7th Century, and in the 15th Century the Franciscans set up the current structure.   The road was very narrow, cleft into the rock and wound alongside the River Agly.  At one point a signed warned about the dangers of high wind but we were in luck and merely had a terrific ride.

Pressing on, we came to our next climb, the Col d'Enguilhame, a fairly short, steepish one on a totally deserted road, where we soon pulled off for our daily picnic lunch.  Everyone was in a jovial mood and I decided that my legs were feeling good enough that I would join four of the faster riders on the climb up the next col, which was only about 2 kms away.  Although I managed to press onwards and get a gap, the Duck chased me down and was the first of the Lost Boys over the Col de Redoulade.  At least I held onto my second place on the podium.

The countryside was very quiet and quite wild-looking, with only a few farmhouses and no villages to speak of, although we did pass another ruined Cathar castle.  I was riding more with the Thin Man now, and our track took us on a long gradual climb on the D129 to the top of the Col d'Homme Mort: yes, Dead Man's Pass.  Of course, I think the Thin Man and I were the only two Lost Boys who did not have photos taken in front of the col sign while posing as if we were dead...
Downward again, and a few tricky turns through Villardebelle and towards Clermont-sur-Lauquet and the climb up the Col de Garoulliere.  It was starting to get pretty hot and some of the group were starting to look a bit tired on their bikes.  I rode with Martin to the top and met one of the vans.  A number of Lost Boys had apparently decided enough was enough and we were now split into two groups: the Hammerheads and the Photographers, with the middle group pretty much gone.  Somebody thought that Dr. Chef had also quite, but I was adamant that as one of the original Lost Boys and riding on the last day of Hammer Week, hell would freeze over before he would DNF, even if we had to wait in Carcassonne until midnight.

The roads all looked pretty much like this.
We filled our water bottles and set out for the Col de Taurize.  I set out at a decent pace and soon caught up with Terry, who was looking tired.  At this point I was not only hot but my feet were killing me so even though the Col de Taurize was not all that hard, I was coming to the end as well.  It was encouraging to ride with someone else, though, since you can never let on as to how much you are suffering.

There was a lovely 9 km descent to Ladern-sur-Lauquet and then—oh no!--yet more climbing, something that Chris had not discussed in his briefing in the morning.  It was now blazing hot, the road was dusty and turning the pedals was quite difficult.  We managed to drag ourselves towards Cazilhac, where the faster Lost Boys were waiting.  They cheered us on and told us to ride down the hill while they waited for the last riders.  Terry and I scooted downwards and as soon as we found the local pizzeria, we sat on the terrace, had big beers and took off our shoes.  And a World Cup game was on the television!  Some of the other guys and girls crossed the street to a supermarket and brought back some junk food.  Ah, to be in France on a sunny day, drinking a beer and relaxing after an amazing bike bad about the sore feet!

After a short time everyone was back together and after a recovery beer or two, we rode to our modern hotel just outside the old centre of Carcassonne.  A hot shower was very welcome and after a while I felt my old self again.  We walked the short distance to the Cite, as the old town inside the walls is called, and enjoyed the sights of the UNESCO World Heritage Site by evening light.  Helen and Chris had arranged a nice dinner at an old restaurant and with this the first part of the 2010 Lost Boys Tour of Europe, Hammer Week, came to a close.

Daniel, feeling a bit tired at dinner...
Tomorrow would bring a new destination, new scenery and even some new Lost Boys/Girls.  But today we revelled in our accomplishment: 156.5 kms, with 3547 m of climbing!  This gave me a week's total of 17,500 m of climbing over 650 km.  And I will go back for the Tourmalet yet...

Friday 13 August 2010

Come & Gone: My Latest Book Review at

US bike racer Joe Parkin, whose entertaining "A Dog in a Hat" I reviewed a while back, has come out with a second book through the estimable VeloPress.  "Come & Gone" is about his subsequent career of racing back home in the United States.  My review of the book was put up today at and you can find it right here.

Thursday 12 August 2010

Day 6 of the 2010 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: Le Mauvais Détour

June 17, 2010: Taking the Low Road

We had done well yesterday and today our Pyractif guides offered to split the group into two.  The hammerheads would go with Chris as support and ride the Col de Marmore and the very difficult Col de Pailheres, while the Rest of Us would go with Helen and after the Marmore we would do the Col de Jau, which runs through a canyon but is not as extreme as the Pailheres.  This suited me well enough and with the majority of the group we rode out of Tarascon-sur-Arieges to the first climb, or actually non-climb of the day.

Terry climbing to the Corniche
This was the Corniche Road, which required us do to some pretty steady climbing but did not reward us with a pass sign.  No matter.  It was a delightfully scenic road cut into the side of the mountains and gave us a commanding view.  Along the way we saw the first of what were to be innumerable Cathar castles, all in ruins and commanding the heights.

Once we reached Luzenac the fun really began as we ascended the Col de Marmore.  It was another beautiful climb, fairly long at 12 kms but very enjoyable.  There was a very long and really lovely descent and we saw some high speeds register on the GPS as we flew downhill.  I stopped to take some photos and soon found myself riding along through the empty countryside.  I was a bit concerned that I might take a wrong turn (our maps for today did not actually show most of our Low Road route) but I thought: “The weather is great, the roads amazing, the scenery superb and I am in France on holidays.”  So getting lost was not much of a concern to this Lost Boy.

After crossing a little col, the Sept Freres, I sped downhill and soon in a village (perhaps Quillan, but I am not sure now) I was all the other bikes up against a fence surrounding a little park.  Time for another al fresco lunch and it was very welcome indeed.

After lunch, we kept riding, only stopping for a coffee shortly before entering the gorge that would take us up the Col de Jau.  Although our route was called “the Low Road” today, the Col de Jau actually was  quite challenging.  It is 13.5 kms long but near the start are two brutally steep sections.  Helen was parked in the van and she told Dr. Chef and me that there was a “cheeky steep bit ahead.”  This was probably an underestimation as it was surely close to 11% in gradient.  It had been a fairly long day already and my legs were complaining but after a while I found I could maintain a nice rhythm and I wound my way up to the top.

Then there was to be an amazingly fast run in all the way to Prades and our hotel, passing the unexpected luxury spa of Moltig-les-Bains on the way.  There was a great deal of Spanish, or perhaps more accurately, Catalan influence to be felt.  The signs were bilingual and there were unfamiliar flags flying.  We came roaring into Prades and our modern hotel.  We were hot, tired, thirsty and hungry and even if the hammerheads did get to ride with some pros from Team Sky on the Pailheres, I was very satisfied with my day's tally of 134 km and 3472 meters of climbing.

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Day 5 of the 2010 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: Le Mauvais Détour

Lost Boys on the Col de Mente

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright -

After what seemed a week of endless overcast days at best, or pouring rain at worst, we finally awoke to bright sunshine and puffy cumulus clouds.  Time to go for a bike ride!

Leaving Bertren, we rode south again along the N125/D825 until we reached the village of Saint-Béat, which was nestled in a little river valley.  We had already begun to climb but now as we turned up the D681, things got pretty steep as we began our first climb for the day, the Col de Menté.  This is a very beautiful climb but it is not without its challenges as you rise nearly 1000 m in 9.1 kms.  But the weather was glorious and I rejoiced that I finally could stop to take photos and actually get something interesting.

The Col de  Menté has featured in the Tour 14 times since first used in 1966 but is most famous for the incident in 1971 when Spaniard Luis Ocaña, wearing the yellow jersey and with a seven minute lead over Eddy Merckx, crashed and was struck by a following rider.  He was taken to hospital by helicopter and that was the end of his Tour de France dream.  Merckx refused to wear the yellow jersey when starting the following day out of respect for the injured cyclist.  There was a plaque marking the spot where Ocaña went down which, as usual, I somehow rode right by.

After a swift descent of the  Menté, we soon found ourselves on the second climb of the day, the Portet d'Aspet.  This is a considerably longer climb (14.31 kms) and had dense foliage around it.  It begins gently enough but soon there are perfectly poisonous sections that hit nearly 13% grade.  I was riding with the Badger, enjoying the scenery, and we stopped to take photos of the Fabio Casartelli monument, for it was on this pass, but coming from the other direction, where the Olympic gold medallist crashed fatally during the Tour de France in 1995.  It is a very narrow road and I can imagine that the peleton came off the descent at a high speed.  Hitting a stone barrier on the edge, and not wearing a helmet, would have brought a terrible impact.  There are small artifacts left behind on the monument, which is just up the road from where the impact point was, and which is marked with a plaque.

After another enjoyable picnic lunch when we regrouped next to the river in Saint-Girons, we rolled out of town in a group.  I chased after the van and was able to draft it for a good distance, planning to take a photo of everyone else as they passed by, but nobody would slow down for my camera so I ended up with a nice shot of the group from behind, alas.

We were riding through a heavily-forested area, and, as we had seen in numerous places in the Pyrenees, the locals had painted the roads not with the names of Tour riders but with slogans denouncing the re-introduction of bears into the region.  This has been the subject of great controversy, unsurprising in a region that has a lot of domestic goats and sheep grazing on the hillsides.  I saw a monument by the side of the road and pulled over.  It was not the usual war memorial, found in every town and village in France, but a parody of one.  It was an anti-bear monument, with plaques commemorating deceased sheep (by name) as having  ggiven their lives for France. Considerable effort and expense went into this.

A bit futher along the road and we were onto our last major climb of the day.  This was the Col de Port.

The name of this pass is a tautology: "Col" means "Pass" in French, and "Port" means pass in Occitan, the regional language, so we were riding over the Pass of the Pass.  And it looked like a pretty easy go, at least compared to what else we had been riding in the Pyrenees. Included in the 1910 Tour, it has been used 10 times since 1947, and was last in the stage won by Sandy Casar in 2008. It is generally considered a Category 2 climb.  It is 17 km in length, with an average gradient of 4.6%, and a maximum of 9.2%.  It is an amazingly regular ride and you can establish a nice rhythm and just keep on motoring.  To the right was a forest open valley, and occasionally we heard bells, either on cows or goats, as we rode upwards.
At this point I was riding by myself when I came up to an old lady standing in the road.  I said:  gBonjour! h but she looked at me as if I had come from space.  I then realized that Martin and another in our group was standing with her.  He told me that she had been wandering around on the road and seemed disoriented and could not say where she was going.  I said I would go for assistance and rode on up ahead, although as usual all the houses in the vicinity showed no sign of life.  Luckily, a kilometer up the road I came upon a man and a boy with a small truck who were collecting wood.

I carefully explained in French that we were a group of cyclists who had come across an old lady further back on the road when the man looked at me and said, in British English,  "You don't speak French, do you?", which took me aback a bit.  Not wanting to point out that I was considered officially bilingual, I explained the situation.  He asked:  "Is she wearing a red jumper?" and when confirmed this he said he would look after things and got in the truck with the boy.

Riding out through the last bit of forest, I came to the clearing where the col sign was.  A very large brown cow was standing next to it but I did not ask her to take my photo.  Instead I went to the restaurant just down the pass and dragged out one of the Lost Boys to get the shot.  Unfortunately the cow moved out of the way before we got back.  Anyway, it was time for a hot chocolate and time to get the gear on for the final descent of the day.

We blasted down through a series of hairpins and then some excellent straights.  Our arrival in Tarascon was exhilarating, even though the last bit saw, unsurprisingly, yet another rain shower.  But nothing would slow us down or trouble our high spirits at this point.

Our hotel in Tarascon had a special bike storage area and we put our bikes away.  Then I went for a short walk to take some photos, admiring the rapid river and the fine old buildings.  I really enjoyed the ride today: three cols, 131 kms and 3300 m of climbing with no cramps or exhaustion.  The Lost Boys Hammer Week was finally coming together for me and I knew there would be more great riding ahead.

(Note:  I have reconstructed the routes at but they are not always 100% accurate!  My Garmin Edge will only hold 12 hours of data, and as I did not have a laptop to download it, I lost the maps for most of Hammer Week, but not the raw data of distance.)

Sunday 8 August 2010

Day 4 of the 2010 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: Le Mauvais Détour

Our So-Called “Rest Day”

June 15, 2010: The Pyractif farmhouse in Bertren is very comfortable and I was fortunate again to have a single room, the Charly Gaul Room—perhaps a sign that my climbing would improve for the remainder of our time in the Pyrenees! It was also a chance to get laundry done, look after our dirty bikes and finally get our shoes dried out. There were great piles of cycling magazines and beer in the fridge and World Cup games on the big screen television, but I was determined to get out on the bike again as the previous day's 33 kms of riding was simply not enough.

Dan, aka Mr. Clean
The weather looked fair enough, although overcast, so with a small intrepid group of seven (Martin, Terry, Greg, Brett, Dr. Chef, Daniel and myself), we headed out on our nice clean bikes southwards along the D125 towards Bagnères-de-Luchon. The road was a bit more heavily-travelled than we had been used to on the trip, but there was a bike lane marked alongside the road for a good part of the ride. We rode in a paceline and I was surprised at how good my legs felt. I was getting used to the everyday hard riding—it was just too bad that I could not have ridden the Tourmalet towards the end of the week!

We reached Luchon in good time, and stopped at an intersection where large banners marked where the 2010 Tour de France would come through. The Col de Peyresourde would once again play an important role in the contest and the profiles shown on the banner were pretty daunting. But our goal was a single pass today, and crepes on top!

Turning right onto the D618, we gradually began our climb. At this point it began to rain very lightly, and Terry had had enough of being soaked this week, understandably, so he turned back towards Luchon. The rest of us rolled upwards, past Trébons-de-Luchon, the intersection that would have taken us towards the Port de Balès. The hammerheads in the group had decided to try and do that pass today and then continue onwards to the ski resort of Superbagnères, but our little group thought that the Peyresourde was plenty for a rest day!

We continued onwards in light rain, past charming ancient dark stone villages. Eventually the villages were no more to be seen. The Peyresourde was one of the climbs included when the Tour came to the Pyrenees in 1910. It is almost 10 km long, with an average grade of 6.6%, with some nasty bits pushing nearly 12%. I was careful to ride without putting too much pressure on my inner thigh muscles and enjoyed the hairpins and the views of the surrounding green countryside.

At the top there was the obligatory col photo, and then in we went to the little café for our crepes. They were a dozen for 4.50 Euros, so we immediately order 60 crepes. The place was not nearly as full as it had been the day before and we were soon sitting in comfort and enjoying our well-earned treat. The crepes were eaten with your fingers, and one of our group bought a jar of fruit jam to add to the crepes. I was joined by a golden retriever, who put his head on my knee, hoping for some food. (The French owner of the dog said to another French guest that the dog was a “Gulden retreevair.”)

As we were finishing our crepes, we were joined by Mr. & Mrs. Badger, who were looking pretty wet. Of course, while we were eating, the rain had increased and now it was pouring. Nothing to do but head out and downhill.

The first third of the ride back to Luchon was not very nice, although not nearly as cold as the Aspin descent had been. I was the first one down and waited for everyone at the intersection, where, sure enough, I began to shake with cold again. This was getting tiresome, but soon we found a caféand were recovering with hot drinks. We found our hammerheads, who told us that the Port de Balèhad been pretty hard to ride, as the road surface was poor and covered with cow or sheep manure. It would have been no fun in the rain.

There was a bike shop next to the café, and I was happy to go in and get my Peyresourde borne, the replica miniature kilometer marker, to add to my small collection. Well, “collection” is an overstatement as I only have one from the Col du Granon. Anyway, task completed, I rode out back towards Bertren, accompanied by Duck.

The weather now improved and we rode back in mild sunshine, stopping for a few photos in front of a very old church. By the time we got back, our clothing was dry (except for the shoes of course). It had been a good day, with 80 kms on the road, and 1500 vertical meters, and the weather forecast for the coming days was indicating a big improvement.

Day 3 of the 2010 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: Le Mauvais Détour

Holy Relics: Bernard Hinault was here!
June 14, 2010: After spending a restful night in Beaudean in the special Bernard Hinault room, where the Great One actually stayed and where he signed the poster on the door, I awoke hoping that the rain was over.  It did not look too bad, although there was still some light precipitation.  Our room was festooned with drying clothing and while most of it was okay, the shoes—always the shoes—were still pretty damp.  But for Cycling Gods, this is a small thing compared to the adventures ahead.

The plan was to do two cols today, the Col d'Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde, and everyone would meet up in Bagnéres-de-Luchon.  From there, Lost Boys could either ride up a straight route back to the Pyractif farmhouse in Bertren, or take the opportunity to ride another col, the massive Col de Balès, and make a detour.

Here is the planned route to Luchon:

We left Beaudean in light rain but I was optimistic as our little paceline headed south.  The weather did not seem as if it would get worse as we followed the rather busy D935 to Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, where the road forked and we rejoined our friendly old D918 again.  Sainte-Marie-de-Campan is famous/notorious as the village where Tour history was made at the forge:

This is one of the high places of the Tour de France. The famous cyclist, Eugène Christophe, known as 'le Vieux Gaulois' (the Old Gaul), repaired the fork of his bicycle there after being struck by a car during the descent of the Tourmalet in the 1913 race. The rules of the race prevented him from obtaining assistance and he had to walk 15 km to do the repairs himself. This gave the leading pack an advance of four hours and Christophe's dreams of victory evaporated. A plaque recalls the event.

We did not have any fork issues but instead enjoyed a leisurely climb up the Col d'Aspin.  I rode with the Badger, Terry, Martin and Dr. Chef and we were in a relaxed mood.  My legs seemed to be much happier with this steady gradient, although it was cool and misty on the climb. 

Another of the great climbs first included in the Tour de France in 1910, the Aspin has appeared no fewer than 66 times as it serves to connect two more difficult climbs, the Tourmalet and the Peyresourde. Its reputation for difficulty appears to be somewhat exaggerated . The last Tour winner on this climb was the annoying Ricardo Ricco, who won in 2008.

It was on the Aspin during the 1950 Tour where Gino Bartali was threatened and assaulted by French spectators after he fell on the descent, bringing down French star (and strange guy) Jean Robic. Although Fiorenzo Magni was in possession of the Yellow Jersey, the Italian team decided to throw in the towel and go home.

With my "borrowed" Pinarello--and two helmets!
It was soon apparent that we could use a towel ourselves, as the rain continued to intensify.  The climb is 12.8 km, with an average gradient of only 5%, and a maximum of 9%.  When we reached to top, there was fog all around and Helen was waiting with the van.  I grabbed Martin's bike for a photo rather than faff around with my own and freeze and then we headed downhill.

The descent was very unpleasant.  It was much colder on this side of the mountain and the rain was streaming down.  There were lots of sharp turns, but luckily no traffic to speak of.  I was getting colder and colder and wetter and wetter and my hands hurt from gripping the brakes.  Is this what I signed up for?

I passed the van (I found out later that Terry was actually giving up on the descent, something he had never ever done before, and had boarded the van) and then shortly afterwards it passed me.  At the next intersection, Helen pointed the way to town where we would all meet for coffee.  I was starting to shake a bit and when I got into the village of Arreau and saw all the other bikes leaning against a cafe window, I was a bit relieved.  Everyone was already inside, downing hot chocolate or coffee, but after I took off my rain jacket I started to shake like mad and my teeth began to chatter.  Ah, the first stages of hypothermia!

As we desperately tried to warm up, Chris was cheerily telling us about the next climb but it was soon obvious that the number of takers for Col No. 2 would be within bounds.  In the end, only three brave riders took to the road: Zeezou, Young Brian and the Thin Man.  We piled into the vans to cheer them on as they climbed the Col de Peyresourde in the pouring rain.  I seemed to be turning more into Van Man than Bicycle Hero myself but I was on holiday, after all.

The Peyresourde is a wonderful pass and I was very disappointed, albeit much more comfortable, watching it from indoors.  At the top of the pass is a little restaurant that is famous for crepes and the place was full, mainly with wet cyclists.  We looked around for a bit, and after the intrepid trio had passed by, headed downhill to Luchon, where even they had enough.  We headed north, up the D125 and D826 back to Bertren and the Pyractif farmhouse, where we would be based for the next two nights.

The Thin Man, with his well-earned Peyresourde bornes, as kilometer stones are called.
It may not sound like much, but most of us rode 33 km, and climbed 1,069 meters.  But I was so enchanted by the Peyresourde, and the opportunity to eat crepes, that I was determined to ride that pass on our rest day, riding out of Bertren tomorrow.

The road we travelled:

Saturday 7 August 2010

Day 2 of the 2010 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: Le Mauvais Détour

June 13, 2010: The route that we were taking was the Grand Pyrenees tour that Pyractif offers, but since we wanted to end in Carcassonne the route this time was run in reverse.  While getting to Carcassonne was a Good Idea, the resulting second day was Perhaps Not Quite Such a Good Idea.  The plan called for us to ride three climbs: the Marie-Blanque, the Aubisque and the Tourmalet.  The first of these is rated Category 1 by the Tour de France, while the latter two are HC, or Beyond Category.  There was nearly 150 km of riding, and nearly 6,000 m of climbing.  I was a bit apprehensive, as I think the most I have ever done in one day previously was 4,500.  But no excuses.  Here is the planned route:

Looking at the profile again, it really is insane.

Anyway, we rolled out of  Gurmencon into decent weather and at Escot made our turn for today's first col, the Marie-Blanque.  This climb, featured in a recent issue of Cycle Sport magazine, was introduced into the Tour de France only in 1978.  Pros don't like it much because it is very steep and quite irregular and is a tough way to start riding the Pyrenees.  It was featured in this year's Etape du Tour, and everyone's advice is to take it slow and keep something in the tank for the rest of the day.

Things went fairly well for me on the climb.  At 9 kms in length, it was not long enough to exhaust you but after the climb lulls you with some easy gradients, it pitches up brutally towards the end.  It is at a fairly low level and there is a great deal of greenery, so it feels almost tropical.  It was very humid as we rode but the legs seemed okay.  In addition to our group, there were a great number of other cyclists but very little traffic.

First big climb of the day completed

After a rather strange descent which begins quite flat and then plunges downwards, we came to the town of Bielle, where we turned south on the D934, continuing through Laruns and then turning eastwards to rejoin the D918.  The road began to climb and this was the beginning of our second col for the day, the Aubisque.

One of the legendary climbs of the Tour de France, the Col de l'Aubsique was first included in the race in 1910 and has been a regular feature ever since.  It is the location where, in 1951, Yellow Jersey holder Wim van Est, fell over the side and was rescued when his team tied together tubular tires to pull him back up.  Of course, that was the end of the race for them because they had no spare tires left!  There is a plaque marking the location which, as usual, I rode right by, but I would prefer not to emulate poor Wim's excursion.

From Laruns, the Aubisque is 16.6km and rises 1,190m, an average of 7.2 per cent. The first kilometers, to the spa resort of Eaux-Bonnes, are fairly easy. After the Cascade de Valentin comes a section at 13 per cent. From there to the top, the climb is 8km at eight per cent average, passing the ski resort of Gourette at 1,400m.  I got to Eaux-Bonne feeling alright but then things started to go wrong.  My cassette, which I had changed before the trip to an 11-29, was making strange noises.  More alarming, my rear tire, also changed just before the trip, was feeling a bit soft.  And my legs were not 100 percent for sure.

At just this moment, Chris drove up in his van and I used the big floor pump, but to no avail.  Tubeless tires are devilish to put on and I must have damaged the bead as air was leaking audibly.  Luckily Chris had a spare wheel with a Shimano cassette, so we did a quick change and I was on my way again.

The road continued upwards and I was taking my time when, without warning, I was seized by violent cramps in my right leg.  The adductors are the muscles in the inner thigh that keep your legs apart and mine were having no part of the Aubisque.  I slowed down some more and then the left adductors decided to go on strike with their counterparts.  Time to get off the bike, which was actually a bit difficult and try to walk it off.

I was walking along the very empty road trying to feel optimistic when I came upon Mr. and Mrs. Badger of our group.  Mrs. was also struggling somewhat and there is no doubt in my mind that the Aubisque, as lovely as it is, is truly Beyond Category.  I managed to get back on and ride up to the summit but I was not feeling terrific on the way down again.  In fact, I did not have the energy to get a photo the col sign, which is saying something.

I recovered somewhat on the descent and was admiring the views as we approach the Col de Soulor, which is kind of a non col as you approach it going downhill.  There were cows to look at, and even a field with some big draft horses.  But at this point my legs decided that enough was enough and seized up so badly I almost fell off the bike.  A moment later one of the vans came by and I said that I was finished for today.

This was a big disappointment since riding the Tourmalet has been one of my big cycling dreams, but with cramps this bad there was no way to do it.  The difficulty is that I have no comparable mountains to train on and this hard day was at the beginning of the week.  Chris drove the van into Argeles-Gazost and everybody was together again for a fine picnic lunch.

I felt better after food, and Chris suggested that those of us who had come by van might consider trying the Tourmalet from Luz Saint Saveur, at the base of the climb.  We got into the van and headed down the D921 until we reached the junction with the D918.  The weather was good and I felt much better, so onto the bike and off I went.  But after three kilometers, on the first bit of the ascent, the cramps came back.  The Tourmalet is a long, long climb and the highest pass road in the Pyrenees.  No sense pushing my luck if I was in such pain at the bottom already.

I rode back to the van, and stood by the road and cheered on the others as they went past.  Then I went in Helen's van and we positioned ourselves strategically to provide drinks/food/clothing to the Lost Boys as they went by.  The scenery was impressive and I am sworn to try again and ride this great pass.

The Tourmalet is the climb of all climbs from the Tour de France: more Tours have been won on the Tourmalet alone than on any other Pyrenees climb. Although its name alone is legendary, the challenge of the actual climb is as real as the scenery is spectacular. The western climb from Luz runs first through a deep shaded valley and then up at a constant grade of more than 7%. Half-way up it opens onto wide meadows and verdant pastures that give a glimpse of the top—and the much steeper final kilometers to the summit.

As we climbed higher, the clouds got heavier and then we had a report that in the last kilometer before the summit there was pouring rain.  When we arrived at the top it was freezing cold, and the rain was coming down in buckets.  Some of the group quit at this point but a few brave/crazy souls elected to continue towards the really ugly ski resort of La Mongie and then down, down, down, through Campan to our hotel just beyond.
the Duck on the Roof of the Pyrenees

The drive was terrible.  In the van there was nothing to see ahead but impenetrable fog after we passed La Mongie.  As we drove down through Sainte-Marie-de-Campan and Campan, the rain came down in buckets, like a monsoon.  It even leaked in through the side door of the van.  We arrived at the little hotel in Beaudean, got our rooms and waited for the others.

Looking like drowned rats and edging into hypothermia, they eventually rolled in.  Duck was shaking so much we did not wait for him to get assigned to a room but just stuffed him into my shower.  The hotel was a bit eccentric, and he discovered that the hot water was only good for about 1 minute!  The Thin Man put on his duvet since his clothing was in the van that was yet to come.  It made for an entertaining evening as the rain continued.

 Although I did not manage the Tourmalet, I did manage 75 kms and two climbs, which gave me 3430 vertical meters.  Here is what I actually accomplished: