Tour de France vacation 2012
Now there are cycling tours and there are French cycling tours - this was the latter and it was top-end - cr鑝e de la cr鑝e so to speak. It was as though I got to ride the Tour de France. Here is a day by day account of my adventure.
Day 1: Riding in the Pyrenees - pure bliss
After we arrived at the Hotel and got ready we did a picturesque ride to some lakes, 23km of climbing (1393m), 15km averaging around 8%. I have since discovered is a HC Climb (uncategorised as it is too steep and long) called Lac-du-Cap-Du-Long and hits 18% gradient in several spots. My legs hurt especially the last 5kms and I was last up the climb but the lake and views from the top of the climb were phenomenal. The descent back to Saint Lary Soulan was awesome!
I have discovered that my fellow five riders are all very fit. One is an Iron-man/Triathlon competitor, a Boulder Colorado rider, a professional fitness trainer and Iron-man competitor, an ex-rugby player and avid Canberra Cyclist and a rider who did cycling holiday in the Pyrenees last year. They are a great bunch.
Marion Clignet, our ride leader and 6 times world champion track rider (nine times French national champion), was very happy one of her riders who she used to coach won the days Tour de France stage so we called and congratulated him on the win. What better way to get an insight into what riding the Tour de France is all about!
We had a French style BBQ on the river which runs past Saint Lary Soulan with duck breast and Toulouse Sausages which was put on by Simon. He also showed us a great trick which was Camembert cheese melted on the BBQ with baguette (French bread is the best).
I am not sure I could ever ride the Tour de France but if they were picking a team based on food appreciation, I feel I would be in contention.
Day 2: More biking in the Pyrenees
This cycle tour in the Pyrenees is seeing me sleep like a baby and wake up with a voracious appetite - despite the huge volume of calories I'm taking in each night!
The first ride of the day was up Col d'Aspin and then across to the le Hourquette d'Anzican. Both were great rides and the Anzican is the most picturesque climb in the Pyrenees (I think so anyway). The ride was 3 hours long, 56km and over 1500m of climbing - an easy day by distance.
Col d'Aspin will feature in Wednesday's Tour de France stage, so the caravans and spectators were out in force getting a good spot to watch the stage. Descending through the bikes, cars, caravans and people was a challenge and you have to keep your concentration. A crash would certainly detract from one's cycling holiday in France.
My climbing legs were better up the Col d'Aspin than Day 1. I maintained my front running position in the descents and on the flat. Marion and R閙i (our local club racing domestique and all around helper) both time trialled back to Saint Lary Soulan and I kept up with their pace. This earned me a respectful nod and a "you did good" which is big for R閙i, who incidentally, had spent the day riding up and down the climbs checking on everyone. It was then back to the hotel for lunch and a relaxing afternoon - or so I had planned.
Having not done Pla d'Adet on Day 1 a couple from the group had spoken to Marion who was happy to take us up the infamous climb which was only 2km from our Hotel. I had decided not to ride, my legs felt a little stiff from the morning, the sun was hot and I had a very nice 3 course lunch and some local rose. Three hours later I was suited up for an assault on one of the classic climbs of the Pyrenees. Four of the group rolled out with Marion towards the base of the climb. The first part is a ramp of over 10% gradient.
One hour and twenty minutes of riding later I was at the top. The decent was quick, 12 minutes and I hit 76kph sitting behind Marion. Brutal is the only way to describe the climb. All who completed the ride agreed and each contemplated turning around at some point. Dinner and wine was that evening was well earned and once again I slept like a baby. I am getting used to this biking in France experience!
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