Velo Pyrenees

Recently I headed out for my first experience of Europe’s big mountains. I flew in to Toulouse from Heathrow – my bike in a box – and picked up a hire car before driving in the direction of Tarbes. I’d booked 3 nights at Velo Pyrenees (see map), located near Crechets in the foothills of Hautes Pyrenees. Lee and Julie – both former top level triathletes – specifically cater for cyclists, runners, triathletes and sports tourists, and Lee is also a bike mechanic (very useful when breaking a spoke on day 1). They are  great company, being more than happy to provide maps, routes and local knowledge, or to spend an evening over home-cooked dinner discussing triathlon, pro cycling, photography, architecture, or any other subject for that matter.

My first afternoon was a nice easy spin, taking in 42 miles and the Cols de Buret and des Ares. After the London Triathlon and a flight + car journey, stretching my legs was very welcome. Day 2 started bright and early, filling my boots with bread, croissants, cereal, fruit, juice and coffee, before setting out for 72 miles and two huge mountains. First up was the Port de Bales – hors category and almost 20k in length; the first 9k is comfortable, but the middle section really kicks up and the following 8k to the summit changes gradient frequently making finding a rhythm difficult. The ascent is very picturesque and meets all expectations; 1h30, and I was happy. Descending into Luchon I then proceeded to Superbagneres: steep early on, and energy sapping in the 30-degree heat, this climb was tough. But – as tiring as it was – the views at the summit, and the dare-devil descending were, possibly, the highlight of the holiday. It’s a must if you’re in the area. All up 4,308m of ascending – sleep and food were required.

Superbagneres_profile

Day 3 started with a long ride from Crechet to Arreau, before hitting the 13k Col d’Aspin. I caught fellow guest Irene mid-climb – her partner Rob being illusively out of sight. I felt great and caught some more riders before the top. From the summit we descended together to the cafes in the valley, before hanging a left up the Hourquette. Having hit the Aspin hard, I struggled on the comparatively shallow gradients; the lush greenery and scenic views helped nullify the screaming lower back pain. Back down in Arreau we supped a couple of beers whilst waiting for the Tour des Pyrenees peleton to arrive. The beers nulled the aches during the hour long stint back to Crechets. 83 miles and 3,665 of ascending.

Col d'Aspin_profile

Waking up – frankly – knackered, I didn’t feel like tackling any more Cols. But then I remembered this was a one-off opportunity to immerse myself in the Pyrenean adventure. Col de Mente is a brilliant climb, and one not to be missed. Constant switch backs, lots of shade, steep gradients, and thoughts of Pantani’s record held court as I relentlessly turned the pedals over. The descent was magical, especially passing the foot of the Portet d’Aspet with Fabio Casertelli in mind.

Col de Mente_profile

I can’t wait to test myself on a European sportive. I would strongly recommend Velo Pyrenees as a base – ideally located, terrific hospitality, great company. Despite the – arguably – greater acclaim bestowed on the Alpes, the Pyrenees lived up to the promise and would challenge any rider of any level. What an experience. Check out the pics!

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Pyrenean Cols

Here’s where I’ll be cycling next week.

Pyrenees area map

I just need to decide which Cols I’m going to climb during my 4-day stay. Will it be the Tourmalet, the Portet d’Aspet, the Peyresourde, the Port de Bales, the Col de Mente? The names conjure up the myth and mystique of cycling and – of course – the Tour de France. It will be great experience, and a terrific mid-year training break ahead of the half iron. Can’t wait!

Col de Mente