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:

1 comment:

Groover said...

What an adventure! Well done on the climbing you did and sorry to read about the cramps. They have been foes of mine lately, too, and it was probably wise to not push on and damage those muscle fibres even more.