Today was to be a the most iconic day of the camp with a long point-to-point long route from Argeles Gazoste so that we could climb up over the Tourmalet from the far side. This may be the more difficult side to climb from, certainly in terms of logistics -but is by far the most stunning. it also enables us to recreate a large part of one of last year’s tour routes which takes us over two more passes ( including our KOM time trial) to Luchon and then home. Ian and Julie had spoken to the owner of the cafe at the top who assured us it was open as they’re installing the Statue, and cyclists have been up. We knew that the van would not get through, so having dropped us off, Julie would have to drive around the mountain where we would meet her again.
The initial ride up to Luz Saint Sauveur was really about keeping the pace at a level so that the group was able to ride together. There was certainly a quite atmosphere as we all contemplated the enormous climb ahead. We reached the start of the climb and then naturally split up as everyone went at their own pace for the 19km long road up 1400m of ascent. Up through the valley the mountains slowly revealed themselves with a serious amount of snow on top. Looking left there were river valleys that looked like glaciers. We passed “Route Barre” across the road with 4km to go, and then rode through the single track that had been cut through 3m deep snow… still hopeful we’d get through. Then with about 3km left to go we came across a snow plough filling the road. We could see ahead that the road was completely blocked. This presented us with a logistical dilemma – since we’d have to go back on ourselves and wind up on the wrong side of the mountain for our planned route. With a bit of quick thinking we reckoned that we could ride all of the way back through Lourdes to Bagners de Bigore, picking up our original route at St Marie, on to Payolle and finish the ride by getting back into the van at the top of the Aspin, after out handicap hill climb. This would be along ride in itself, but with the option of riding home from Col d’ Aspen fro those who wanted a 180km.
We whizzed back down to the awesome cafe at the bottom for “Bear Claw” pastries. Sitting in the sun, enjoying the relaxed (well, aside form a near punch up with a crazed English cycle tourist!) consumption of French Patisseries and waiting for Julie to return with the van and our gear for the next section of ride, Ian received a phone call that made him look a bit pale. Julie had a problem with the van…requiring mechanical assistance and a stressful day spent with road side rescue and in the garage for her and Ian.
We needed a new back up plan…which was to do the whole ride home unsupported. Unfortunately, the only possible way to shorten the ride was a train from Lourdes …a bit of a mission in itself, but which Andy and Mark took. This gave them a 90km ride and a few tales that got a laugh over dinner this evening.
The ride back down the valley was super quick and great fun. Then we picked up the cycle path and enjoyed chatting in the building heat and away from the traffic en route to Lourdes. The pace was decent, a necessity in order to get the remaining distance covered! Since we were only carrying what we had packed in our pockets for the ride over the Tourmalet, a lunch stop was required. We ate in a car park outside Lidl – as it was a convenient spot in the shade. The huge haul of food fuelled us for the ascent up the valley to Payolle…in stifling heat and we could see the thunder clouds amassing ahead. Large drops of rain falling signalled the onset of a thunder storm, which broke just as we arrived in Payolle. We sheltered under the awning of a store there as we set everyone off on their handicap start times up Col D’Aspin. Andreas requests an adjustment to his time, since his start was accompanied by an enormous crack of thunder and extremely heavy burst of rain. Pretty funny to watch as he nearly fell off his bike!
It was atmospheric to race in such a storm and it was great that we all finished at the top within 2 and a half minutes of each other. Paul had his game on today, getting to the top first and earning his way back into the Jersey. We split the remaining position points between Andy and Mark, as they were unable to do the TT due to cicumastnces outside of their control.
Then we had the horrible descent in cold torrential rain – we al had great water-proof gear…in the van! But, it was only 40k to go after that, and it was done at pace hard enough for everyone to keep warm, with Mark and Paul aided by pizza boxes fished out of a bin and stuffed down their jerseys! It was fun in a “this will be over soon” sort of a way. Luckily spirits were high and we were able to have a laugh about it as we desperatly pedalled back…joking about “what more could go wrong today?”. With 30k to go we had a puncture – the first on camp. Steven stopped to help Andreas with it, whilst the rest of us carried on. We all came together to finish the ride together, and Andreas made Steven’s day when, having said how much he fancied some chocolate, Andreas pulled out some Ritter Sport for his Bento box.
There was no time to run ( it was also raining rather heavily) so Mark thanked his room-mate Paul for getting him up at 5;30am to run before breakfast…still on for camp completion!
In all, it was quite an Epic, for riders and support vehicles alike – but certainly one that we’ll remember.
Tomorrow’s finalle in the KOM competition is worth a big ol’ 6 points…