99km, 4:59:55, 3,163m ascent, 5 cols, 96 total
Ian and Julie had to leave early as the Col D’Aubisque was closed from 8am. We had to drop bags by 6:40am and they were off by 6:50. The rest of us had breakfast at 7:15 and even though it was a shorter day we had nothing better to do than get going.
So at 8am in the lovely early morning clear skies 10 of us set of up The Col D’Aubisque. It’s a lovely easy gradient which allowed a perfect conversational pace. The valley is so deep it’s in the shade in the early morning so it was cool. We chatted our way up with a brief pause when we heard this howling and we all bunched up in case it was something dangerous. There was also a lot of banter as Baz and packed all his socks in his bags which had headed up the mountain an hour before left so he was sickles. If you don’t know the significance of this to a ‘roadie” let me tell you it’s the ulimate rule breaker. Towards the top we broke in the sun and the views of the rocky lumps of mountains all around were superb.
At the top there was a real buzz and we got a few group photos. Some tourists kindly took some shorts for us after Micks excellent self timer photo taken balancing an iPhone on the saddle of a bike that was balanced by it’s pedal on the curb. He can not only ride but he can do balancing tricks as well. Then the tourists wanted a photo and next thing I know Matt is debating the lighting and angle he needs for the perfect shot – so not only an ex pro athlete and surgeon but also a photographer.
We then headed on the fantastic descent toward the Col De Souler. The road was closed but Ian had called the Gendarme the night before and spoken to the workmen as he passed in the morning and he was assured that it would be OK for cyclists. So we were a little concerned when a van driver having nearly taken out Rich and Mick stops and tells us we can’t go through. Ultimately we just played English and ignored him. We flew down the descent on closed roads and when we finally got to the works the guys were totally cool, waving us through with a smile.
We saw Julie at the top of Col Du Souler feeding a horse whilst handing out pain ou chocolate to us. We were a little gutted that the cafes weren’t open so we belted down the fantastic descent to the next town where we waited for a cafe to open at 10am which actually was closed all of Tuesday (today!). Give the short day we’d been planned a very sociable ride so this was rather the kibosh on that idea. We set off towards the next ascent and immediately found a lovely cafe. It became a two coffee stop stop.
Next up Col Des Borderes – again a lovely social ascent in the company of Rich, Mick, Scott, Baz and Marc. Then a blistering descent at the start of which Scott, Rich and Baz had a pee break. Mick whispered to Marc and I we should get round the corner then absolutely gun it. This we did hanging on to Micks wheel. After about 15 minutes I couldn’t believe when Scott had caught up and completely oblivious to what we’d done apologised that they’d had a pee stop. I have no idea how he caught us so quickly. We eased up and soon Baz and Rich got on.
Next was the long drag up to Luz St Saveur. I’ve ridden up this section numerous times and every time I’ve been sat on the bunch the whole way. This time I had strong riders that could help. So I sat on the front and set a strong pace and then dropped off with each of Scott, Rich and Mick doing strong turns getting us to the cafe in no time. I’d not realised till then we’d dropped Baz who wasn’t feeling that great. The other Coyotes loved this but I felt a little guilty as he’s done some many selfless pulls over the last two weeks. Hoping he doesn’t take it out on me tomorrow.
We had a quick drink before heading up the Tourmalet. I was planning on giving it a good go and was pretty sure most of our group would. We set off and after the initial climb there’s a slight flat / descent and the guys were going a bit easy so I surged through wanting to keep the pressure on. Then Mick surged by and shouted “jump on” – this is 500m in to a 19km climb! I said no way and pretty soon I saw Rich, Mick and Steve ahead. I was working hard and keeping them in sight even closing in occasionally. Mick and Rich were taking it in turns to surge and let Steve claw them back. I was purely focussed on keeping within sight not only to keep them honest but also in the back of my mind thinking they might mis pace it. If I paced right and one of them blew I may gain a place.
It was fun and a sign I was finally close to my old self that I could push hard and feel I could hold it. Slowly they drifted out of sight and I reach the top in 1:24 – very pleased with that and not too far off my best.
We cheered everyone else up and tried to get a beer in the cafe but he was grumpy and slow so decided to ride to Col Des Iris (about 400m away up a rough track) for our final col of the day and a brilliant cafe. This is where you should go. The view is better and the staff looked like they wanted us there.
There must have been a dozen of us for lunch with 5 of us chasing the 3 course set menu for EUR20. The others had finished their meal after our first course and left. We enjoyed an extended lunch which was superb value. Even better when Peter and Rebecca got their mutton main course and hadn’t realised how tough it was – so I got an extra massive mutton steak. It was all rounded off with a cornetto for dessert. Marc paced us superbly down the 16km descent to the hotel. It was great fun in part due to his pacing and in part my increased confidence descending.
Last time I stayed in this hotel it was quite a drunken evening and this evening was no different – several beers in the bar opposite followed by more in the hotel and then wine over dinner. What a fantastic day and it’s such a great group to be hanging out with. I’ll certainly miss them after we all leave in a couple of days.