Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Double Double. And Lunch

Stage 14 of this year's Vuelta a España finishes at the top of the Col d'Aubisque. The race approaches it from Laruns, which is on the the other side of the mountain from Argeles-Gazost. Bianca had suggested that it would be fun to ride up from that side to experience what the competitors will face.

Of course, to ride up the far side of the Aubisque, first we had to ride up it from this side. Bianca, Denis and I decided to give that a try, and Steve and Diane, recently arrived here, joined us to ride to the Aubisque. Gary and Michael, two more from Melbourne, also joined us at the start, but eventually headed off, as they had another climb planned after the Aubisque. We set off early. The forecast was for very high temperatures again in the afternoon.

Below the Soulor
Most of the ride was identical to the one I did last Friday. Traffic was fairly light. However, roadworks had moved into the area around Saint-Savin. First, there had been a lot of patching of the road surface around Arcizans-Avant. There were quite a few areas of 'gravillons', what we in the UK call loose chippings. For cyclists, the emphasis is on the word loose! Caution required, especially on the way down. Second, there was a gang cutting back verges and hedges. Not only do they sometimes block the road, they leave debris that also needs to be avoided. Sigh.

We made pretty good progress, slowing occasionally at junctions to make sure Diane and Steve didn't get lost. In the end, Diane succumbed to the building heat, having made it to within a few kilometres of the top.

I had one fright on the way up. With about 4 kilometres to go, there is a short, steep section of tarmac that hits about 17% at the top. I was standing on the pedals nearing the top of this when a car passed so close that I felt the need to sit down, to ensure control. I immediately did a wheely, which rather spoiled the whole control thing. Peter Sagan I ain't!

We regrouped at top of the Soulor, where Steve caught up, and we made our way across to the Aubisque together. There were the usual sheep and cattle on the mountainside, sometimes wandering into the road. Today's added attraction were two huge pigs, one covered in mud. They do this to cool down and as a kind of natural sun screen. I had the video camera running, and managed to capture one of them grunting heartily. GruntCam is born!

Also on the way across, there was a car, parked by the longer of the tunnels. One of its rear wheels was at least a foot off the ground, and it looked as though it was trying to make its escape off the side of the mountain.

Not the best place to park

It wasn't there when we rode back, but we had seen a rescue truck going up, so presumably it was successfully recovered. If not, and you need some car spares, I can tell you where to look....

The first time at the Aubisque today
The ride up the Aubisque is available on Garmin Connect.

While Steve eventually headed back, the rest of us continued west down the other side of the Aubisque. The first town on the way down is Gourette. It's about 5 kilometres from the top, and was just too inviting to ignore.

Gourette from the Aubisque

The descent from the Aubisque to Gourette is available on Garmin Connect.

Angela arrived, with the team car, while we were filling bottles, and avoiding what seemed to be acres of broken glass in front of the tourist information building. Figuring that the climb back to the Aubisque from here would be quite enough for a hot afternoon, we did the sensible thing, and had lunch! By the way, Angela has gone native. When she arrived, she left the car in a convenient space clearly outside any marked bays, reasoning that the lack of any instruction not to park there made it fair game. Good girl!

Gourette, with added moon
Gourette is clearly a tourist town, but quite pretty all the same.

After lunch, which for Angela and me meant fruit ice cream with lots of cream, we set out to climb back to the Aubisque. On the way down, we'd seen a number of riders coming up, including two girls on heavily laden bikes, obviously touring. It had looked like hard work. The gradients leaving Gourette are steep, but soon settle down to 9% or less. I don't know if it was the ice cream, or the piece of mint cake I had before setting out, but I really enjoyed the climb. There is some shade for a while, there was a pleasant light breeze blowing and the views are spectacular all the way up. This will be a very scenic end to Vuelta stage 14. Just hope the spectators are sensible about where they stand. It's a long drop!

There is a large cafe a couple of kilometers from the top, and we stopped there to get some photos. Just as I was about to head up, lantern rouge style, a Spanish lady started to ask me something. We quickly concluded that we didn't share any common language, so in a halting combination of English and French, with the occasional 'si' thrown in, I tried to assure her that the road was indeed tarmac all the way to the top. At least, I think that's what she was asking...

Once again, Bianca managed to make me look like a cyclist!
The return to the Aubisque from Gourette is available on Garmin Connect.

At the top, we took a few minutes to be pictured in front of the massive bike sculptures. Thank you Angela. The horses at the top were fairly active today, causing us concern lest a bike get trampled. A couple of them were lying down, not normally a good sign, especially given the heat.

Back at the Aubisque from Gourette
Then it was back across to the Soulor, and the long descent home. The section back to the Soulor was fast and flowing, though Bianca did scare herself on one corner and sensibly backed off. I wondered why I was catching her! From the Soulor down, we were held up a bit by a large camper van. And then it was the turn off to Bun, and the road back to Saint-Savin.

Thanks again to everyone for a superb day.

The descent from the Aubisque is available on Garmin Connect.

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