Monday, 22 August 2016

Along for the Ride

Bianca and Denis had decided to go up Luz Ardiden in the morning, and then to head to Cauterets after lunch to try the Pont d'Espagne and Cambasque. They invited me along, and after yesterday's disappointment in being barred from Luz Ardiden, it was an opportunity not to be missed. Angela brought the team car along, which turned out to be fortuitous.

The Gorge

Terrie, Ron and Greg were going to do the Tourmalet, which meant that all six of us would be heading up the gorge towards Luz-Saint-Sauveur. Bianca decided that we'd need a head start, realising that my pace would be moderate, and having ridden with the others before! Brock and Irish Greg had already headed out for Luz Ardiden. It was their last day, and they had to be back by lunchtime.

The gorge was much quieter than yesterday, and we made steady progress. As Bianca had predicted, it wasn't too long before Ron and Greg swept by, encouraging us to pick up the pace! Thankfully, Bianca resisted, and Terrie joined our group. So the six of us worked our way up to the point where the road to Luz Ardiden bears off right, at which point farewells were exchanged, and we went our separate ways. Our route took us through Sassis who's church has a bell that sounded loudly as we passed, and which frightened the life out of me!

Luz Ardiden

The climb to Luz Ardiden proper starts at the western edge of Luz-Saint-Sauveur. At the bottom, Bianca stopped to do some stretches, and invited me to carry on, safe in the knowledge that she'd easily catch me later. Of this there was no doubt. She regularly competes in triathlons and has done an Iron Man (why not Iron Woman?).

Even I could remember the climb from yesterday. It's a pleasant enough route up through the villages of Sasos and Grust. The gradients are steep, but not punishing, with frequent respite. Unlike some others, of which more later. Bianca caught me well before Grust, and went on ahead to take photos. In fact, she spent much of the climb forging on ahead and then stopping for photography. And to be fair, there could have been few better days for it. The sky was clear and blue, and the sunshine continuous.

Occasionally I found myself out front, but only because the others had stopped. It did give me a chance to capture them in action.

Denis making Luz Ardiden look easy...
with Bianca catching him fast!
Bianca even managed to make me look like a cyclist!
Above Grust, the terrain gradually changes to Alpine meadow, and the hairpins, which are a feature right from the bottom, become more apparent. The scenery is stunning.

Luz Ardiden. It's hairpins all the way down!
Angela had passed us by this point and, picking up her role as wildlife photographer from yesterday, managed to spot and photograph Marmots. Chapeau!

Marmot on Luz Ardiden
Our wildlife photographer at Luz Ardiden
While the ride is magnificent, and the views superb, there is nothing much at the top at this time of year. It's very much a ski station. The only activity, when we arrived, seemed to be maintenance work on the ski lifts. There are huge car parks here, and indications of a lively place in winter. But there is not even a cafe open in summer. So after the obligatory picture at the top...

Three happy riders at the top
we headed back to Pierrefitte for lunch. At this point, I made the first of several errors. I should have changed the battery in my video camera. Because I didn't, I have no record of an epic descent. Twit!
It's fast and sweeping, and because there was little traffic and the sight lines are good, we were frequently able to use all of the road. Still didn't stop me missing some apexes by epic amounts though!

The route up to Luz Ardiden, and back to Pierrefitte is available on Garmin Connect.


There were few places open in Pierrefitte, but the cafe that Denis and Bianca found was superb. Pizzas, sandwiches soft drinks and water were consumed, and we were ready for the afternoon challenge from Cauterets.


The plan was to skip up to Cauterets, glide up to Cambasque, then return to Cauterets and finally saunter up to Pont d'Espagne. Yeah, right!

The temperature had been climbing all morning, and was into the low thirtys celsius as we set off. The road up to Cauterets has precious little shade, and although the gradients are not the worst, they are unrelenting. It was hard work, and was about to get harder.

Angela had already passed us on her way up with the car, so after a brief discussion in Cauterets we headed on up, with me at the rear. Error number two today was in paying too much attention to a pair of mountain bikers at a junction. They seemed distracted, and I was worried they might pull out at any moment and hit me. As a result, I sailed straight through the junction, not realising I should have turned right. Happily, this time, it took only a few hundred metres to realise my mistake, not like yesterday.

The climb up to Cambasque from Cauterets is just like the lower section, but harder. There is still very little, if any, shade, and the gradient is a pretty unrelenting 10%, and often more. Pay little attention to the kilometre markers on this climb. When they promise 4%, it's typically 11% up followed by a short descent. It feels as though it's never less than 9%.
Bianca powering up the climb to Cambasque

 We all made it to the top, and shared a single opinion. We never want to do that again!

Glad that's over!

Lantern Rouge
Where did they go?
Mistake number three for me today, was forgetting that we should do a group photo at the top. I think we were all anxious to get down out of the blazing sun. Fortunately, Angela had her wits about her, and at least got a picture of the sign!

The route up to the Cambasque is available on Garmin Connect.

Mistake number four, was, once again, forgetting to change the video battery, and missing this descent too. Which was a real shame, as it's much better than the climb. There was traffic, which held us up a little, but I for one was very relieved to be going down.

Crevasion - Merde!

The day had one final surprise in store for us. As we regrouped at the bottom of the climb and headed into Cauterets again, Denis suffered a rear wheel puncture. We pulled over, happy in the knowledge that Angela was still behind us in the team car.

Denis the mechanic in action
Denis set to work to change the tube, and I flagged Angela down as she arrived. We had a track pump on board! All was going really well until Denis stood the bike up after refitting the wheel, when it deflated again. Later we discovered that the tube was faulty and had split.

So, we loaded his bike into the car, and Angela drove him back, while Bianca and I rode the last few kilometres to end what had been a truly epic day.

Thanks everyone, that was brilliant!

The route back from the Cambasque is available on Garmin Connect.

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