Sunday 8 August 2010

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:

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