Stage 17 – 143.5km from Bagneres-du-Luchon to Peyragudes (2012, stage 17)
Well after a big pizza and frites last night, plus a final check of the weather forecast, I decided that I’d postpone the rest day by another day and take on my final day in the Pyrenees. At 142km, the stage wasn’t long by Tour de France standards, but it was a very difficult stage with lots of steep climbs and total ascent of around 4,000 metres.
The day started with the Col de Mente which turned out to be really tough, in part due to the 9.1% average gradient, but also due to lactic acid in my legs as I didn’t warm down properly after yesterdays ride. On the way up I passed the very pretty town of Saint-Beat which ran alongside the Garonne river, it had a very pretty chateau/church nestled into the rocky landscape. Myself and Brian both noticed that in the centre of the town there was a statue of Mary Magdalene which attracted loads of visitors, although it was situated directly outside a Credit Agricole bank which sort of undermined it slightly. You can really tell this part of the world is a religious area, there are loads of towns with religious names, crosses are everywhere and Lourdes is also just a few kilometres away.
Having made it the top of Col De Mente, I was happy that my legs had sorted themselves out, but due to the fresh air I needed a wee. The van toilet consists of a 2 litre bottle and it was still 30% full from yesterday, upon opening the lid, it actually fizzed a little and after one day of fermenting had more life than a can of Carling (doesn’t take much), so could we make our own brew? On route to the next climb, I came up with the formula and name if we added a little chlorinated water we could name it Chateau Swimming Pool (sorry that’s a really lame joke from the teenage years).
Both myself and Brian had problems with our navigational devices in the next section, meaning we had to resort to manual methods, at times both our devices had us floating over the Pyrenees – hence todays blog title.
The majority of the route to my next big climb, Port de Bales, was either downhill or flat. This enabled me to prepare for the big climb to come, but in the distance I could see that storm clouds were brewing so I knew the chances of getting wet were really high. Getting wet didn’t both me to much, but I knew in advance that the Port de Bales is both a very technical climb and even more so on the descent. The roads are very narrow (about 1-1.5 cars width), bendy and have sheer drops with no barriers.
The climb itself was 19km long, but was relatively light for the first 9km, following which the gradients then average around 9-10% for the remainder of the climb. With about 8km to go the heavens opened, with very intense rain and thunder all around. At one point a herd of cows made there way onto the road. Myself and cars, coming in the opposite direction, had to swerve between them and I was very close to getting a cows horn stuck up my derrière after one turned its head.
Now these cows have bells attached to them and throughout the Alps and Pyrenees you can hear them ding donging away for miles around. Each bell seems to have a different pitch, at times it can be tuneful but normally it just makes a horrendous racket, I’d really pity any cow that actually did have natural musical abilty and had to put up with that racket day after day.
I finally made it to the top of Port de Bales and the weather had settled, but a change into warmer and drier clothes was needed to prevent me from freezing on the descent. The descent was exhilarating, but my concentration levels had to be really high due to the wet roads and technical nature of the descent. Again I had animals on the road, this time sheep so I needed to take those sections carefully.
Having reached the bottom of the climb, my feet were frozen and I again had to change clothes, this time donning lighter gear as I was immediately ascending to my final 2 climbs of the day, Col du Peyresourde and Peyragudes.
It’s the second day running that I’ve climbed the Peyresourde, today I tackled it from the opposite direction. It’s not that difficult a climb, just a slow leg turner and fortunately French roads signs again gave me something to mull over on the way up. I spotted a sign in the town of Cazeaux-de-Larboust pointing to the Centre d’Exploitation (I subsequently found out that in French this means Farming). All I could envisage on the way up was what I would walk out with if I went there:
- A time share in Los Cristianos which I could access for 2 weeks of the year – so long as it is between October and November.
- A subscription to Deagostini’s build you own Eiffel Tower magazine first week 99p, each week (for one year) you get a new magazine with another component – future retail price £5.99
- 1 less kidney
Although it doesn’t seem like much, it took my mind off the mountains. Therefore the final 2 climbs didn’t register with me and as I rolled into the desolate Peyragudes ski resort, I thought where did that last 45 minutes go.
Here’s todays stats:
- Distance: 143 km
- Time: 7 hours 12 minutes
- Average Moving speed 20 kmph
- Total Ascent: 3,959 metres
After another 8 solid days in the saddle, it’s time for a very well earned rest day.