Wednesday 19 September 2007

Pyrenean Adventure - Part 4

St Beat - Col de Mente - Ger be Boutx - Col de Portet d'Aspet - St Lary - Audressein - St Girons - Lacourt - Buleix - Massat = 100km
Lodging : Hotel Le Globe


I slept really well at L'Abri d'Arlos, but not enough. Breakfast was a really trying affair. Especially as it was happening a good 2 hours too soon. All I wanted was my bed - but I had to be on the bike by 9am, ready to start the climb up the col de Mente, and later ride the steepest climb of the official Raid Pyrenean - col de Portet d'Aspet. I just ate my food in silence, while trying to find in my mind the motivation to ride. The sun was already up and the weather was warming up. Why couldn't we have just stayed at the Centre de Vacances and had a leisurely day.

We hit the road at just after 9am. About a mile down the road we did a right hand turn and were immediately at the foot of the col de Mente.


The first kilometre was quite steep - about 11% - not really want you want when your legs aren't warmed up. My back was still aching from my exertions of the first day of the trip. The climb soon levelled off, and became easier to ride at around 7%. I still wanted to take things easily though. Stan, feeling that he hadn't really been challenged on any of the climbs during the cycling tour, had decided to take some of my load. He was now carrying about 15kg, where I had 9kg to carry. But he was still able to dance up the slopes while I plodded heavily along.

The ride up the col de Mente was pleasant, as it was through a wooded section. The summit was quite picturesque. It formed the crossroads of a few cols - notably the col d'Artigascou.

So many cyclists congregated at the forested picnic site area. As well as a cafe, there were some mini kennels, keeping mountain dogs. They looked like huskies but I think conditions would have been too hot for them.

We also bumped into other cyclists that we had seen on the other cols. One guy that we'd met on the Tourmalet was unfortunately unable to continue his ride up the cols as he had broken his crank. It's not just your body that suffers on these climbs !

Stan and I pressed on down the hill. I was now in better spirits, but still felt a certain anxiety about going up the Portet d'Aspet.

At the bottom of the descent we did a right turn and suddenly we were on the climb. And didn't I know it !


Straight into a 12% gradient. I heaved my way up in the most unelegant way I could find. I really wanted to do all of this without the having the nightmare I'd had on the col de Marie-Blanque. At the first corner I stopped and had a breather - an apt place to stop as it was also the site of the Fabio Casartelli memomorial.

I stopped to get my breath back and also to take a few photos of this beautiful memorial before continuing up to the summit. This climb was very short - just 4km, but it was very steep - Stan got a reading of 21% on a couple of sections. It was a real quad-buster. The only saving grace was that the climb was in the shade. Fortunately I had gotten used to getting out of the saddle on my pannier-laden bike so it wasn't quite as excruciating as riding up the col de Marie-Blanque.

Once at the summit I wanted to celebrate the fact that I'd got the horribly tough climbs out of the way. I celebrated with a cup of Ice Tea. The local riders (who we'd also spotted on the Tourmalet) told us how it had been just 5 degrees celsius the previous week, and there had been light snow ! We'd definitely been lucky.
We then took the descent towards St Girons. The run-in to St Girons was a demoralising road - a head wind that consisted of very warm air, along a straight boring road. At St Girons Stan got his bike checked as his wheel rim was dented. After assurances from the mechanic that he'd been fine, we then made our way to Massat.


Funnily enough the Londoners we'd met were stayining in the same town as us - just a mile up the road at the Hosterllerie des Trois Seigneurs. We ended up having dinner there as all the restaurants in the village were closed.

The nice lady at Les Trois Seigneurs had opened up her restaurant specially to accommodate us. I was glad she did so as the meal was absolutely delicious. Marie Angela, the proprietor had won various awards for her cuisine, and she took alot of pride in the service she provided us. She was so pleased to have had our company that she gave us a bottle of wine and a jar of honey.

We'd had a great day of a good bike ride, good wine, good company, and for the first time I went to bed without feeling completely KO'd. I was looking forward to the following day.

(pictures by Stan and 2Wheelchick)

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