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.
|First big climb of the day completed|
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.
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 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.
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|
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: