Tuesday, September 9, 2008
July 17 Luz-Ardiden, Col du Tourmalet,Col d'Aspin, Luz-St Sauveur to Pailhac(Arreau) 93K
Three BIG climbs in one day. Where do I begin? I started the day planning to do two climbs, the Luz Ardiden without my panniers, then the famous and very difficult Col du Tourmalet. The weather had been great, sunny and warm, but it didn't hold true for my day to climb the Tourmalet. The Luz Ardiden was pretty difficult. The middle 3K was 9% gradient. Half way up I entered the clouds. By the top I was in thick wet fog. Visibility was maybe 20 meters/yards. I took photos and threw on my rain gear and took off down the mountain. I know I missed out on some beautiful views, but that goes with touring through high mountains. But it's still an amazing experience. I did manage two photos on the way down; the village of Grust and a look down on Luz-St Sauveur. Back in Luz-St Sauveur I packed my bike and was off and going up the Col du Tourmalet. The Town and my campground are/were at the base of the Tourmalet. The climb up the Col du Tourmalet is 18K/11.2 Miles and has mythical status in the Tour de France. It is now a part of Cycling Simmons' mythical tours. This was my first of the big and famous climbs that I would be riding my fully-loaded bike, and it would just have to be the biggest, baddest climb of the Pyrenees. I was intent on making it all the way to the top without stopping. As I cycled up I questioned whether this was really necessary. "But of course it is.", I said to myself. There's no walking your bike in cycling!!!! I knew the Tourmalet was advertised as a 7.5% average climb, but that belies the difficulty of most of the climb. Every Kilometer is a sign posting the % gradient, the elevation, and how far to go. Each K was 7%, 8%, and 9% for the first 9 kilometers. Then, thankfully there is a kilometer at 5%, then right back to 8% and 9 %. About with 5K to go I was in the clouds, then thick clouds, almost zero visibility. IT WAS AWESOME! Climbing the Tourmalet was an exercise in mental toughness with a little fitness added in. You know you are climbing big mountains when you are looking forward to the 5K mark so you only have 3 Miles to go. I anxiously waited to see the 1K sign. Surely it would reveal an easy % for the last push, greet me with kindness for my efforts. But after 17 Kilometers the sign read 10%. It is a creul mountain. At the top there is a restaurant to take cover in. I took photos of the inside which I'll post later at a faster computer. The photos outdoors are in thick fog, but they say it all I think. I descended off the Tourmalet in full cold-weather gear in cold rain. I couldn't see much except the names of Tour de France competitors scrawled on the road. At the bottom, in St Marie-de-Campan, I met two Spanish cyclists out touring for a week. We'd meet up later that night at the campground in Pailhac, but first I had to climb the Col D'Aspin. Though it is not known as one of the tougher climbs in the TDF it is still a category 1 climb I believe. Four of the final 5 K are at 7.5% - 9%. So it was difficult after all the climbing I had done. Going over the top it was fog and wind. What an incredible descent. I made it to the first campground I saw a sign for. Wouldn't you know it, only 1K away - all up hill.
Posted by Mike Simmons at 8:38 AM