Friday, 26 August 2016

Hat Trick

Today was our final day in the Pyrenees. Tomorrow we head for the Massif Central. As befits a final ride, this was to be a big one. It involved climbing and descending both the Col d'Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet.

We loaded the bike onto the car and set out for Arreau, the town at the far side of the Col d'Aspin. We had to drive over the Tourmalet, and then over the Aspin to get there. Doing that gives a great opportunity to see climbs and descents before actually riding them. Oddly, for me, driving down a descent gives me a sense of the climb to come being more difficult than it actually is. As a result, by the time we got to Arreau, I had major misgivings about whether I'd be able to do this. And, more importantly, whether I'd be able to get back to Saint-Savin in time for dinner!

It was gone midday by the time I rolled into the lunchtime traffic in Arreau. It's a very pretty town, but a couple of cars and a truck can easily cause mayhem. Leaving town, I took the road to the Aspin and started up. The first few kilometers were very gentle, with gradients of only a couple of percent. Reaching a hairpin bend over a bridge, the climb finally starts properly.

Arreau is chocolate-box pretty
If there is such a thing as an easy Pyreneean climb, then this is it. The gradient rarely gets above 7% and its easy to get into a rythm for decent stretches. There is shade, and on the day I rode it, the temperature was in the mid 20s celsius. There are some great views back down the valley, and no villages or towns to get in the way. It's a very pleasant prelude to the Tourmalet.

Looking back towards Arreau from high on the Aspin
I'd grossly overestimated how long it would take me to get to the top, so I made it ahead of Angela, who'd found a spot by the river in Arreau to relax and rest before driving up. There are superb views across to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, the main peak above the Tourmalet, from the Aspin. It's just a lovely spot.

Pic du Midi de Bigorre from the top of the Aspin

At the top of the Aspin
The route up the Aspin from Arreau is available on Garmin Connect.

The descent to Sainte-Marie-de Campan was no less delightful. Modest gradients and a good road surface made for a fast ride as far as Payolle. Further down, the headwind demanded some work to get over the flatter sections before the final descent to the town.

The route down from the Aspin to Sainte Marie de Campan is available on Garmin Connect.

After removing my jacket, and eating some more mint cake, I set off for the climb to the Tourmalet. The first part was in the full glare of the afternoon sun. There was little shade working up the first part of the Vallee de Gripp. Further up there is more shade, especially when the route makes a big loop to the south east before resuming its mainly south westerly course. While much more testing than the Aspin, this part of the climb is fine.

Looking back down the Vallee de Gripp
It's only as la Mongie, the ski resort, is approached that the gradients kick up towards double digits. This section was the most unpleasant for me. Angela caught me at the ideal spot for topping up a bottle, the perfect soigneuse again!

I don't like climbing through resorts at the best of times. The roads always seem to be at 10%. And with the time moving on and still several kilometres to go, I was glad to leave the town.

La Mongie - Blot on the Landscape!
At this point, the top was in sight, and a lot of the route was visible. As on the other side of the summit, the landscape resembles the higher reaches of the Galibier, but there is far more skiing hardware up here. The cable car to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre is also very much in evidence

Completing the final push to the top, Angela was on hand to provide a cold can of drink, and to take the final picture of me at the top.

The route up the Tourmalet from Sainte Marie de Campan is available on Garmin Connect.

Then it was just a question of the descent to Luz Saint-Sauver, and the trek down the gorge to Pierrefitte. The final climb to Saint-Savin seemed interminable, and I arrived back as the church clock was striking 6. That was a long day.

The route down from the Tourmalet is available on Garmin Connect.

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