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.

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