Tom’s looking for something ‘proper’ – we like his style.
What better way to take comfort from these cold winter nights, than to take a fond look at some of our favourite summer adventures? Tom, the ‘Gecko‘, takes us on a breathtaking endeavour through ‘la Vuelta’ to remind us that there is a glowing light in sight:
“Having ridden in Mallorca and watched the TdF in the Alps, I wanted to try my hand at some proper, famous, mountain climbs. Two mates and I were a little late in organising a trip, so we missed the TdF this year, but were able to make the Vuelta, which also has the attraction of a great cast of pros.
We planned our itinerary around the Vuelta schedule and a book I had received the following year: ‘Mountain High‘. Giving its proximity to the action we stayed in the Pyrenean town of Argeles-Gazost, which feels a bit like Le Bourg-d’Oisans in France. We flew into Toulouse, rented a van and stayed in a chalet on a hill just outside of town (an Airbnb bargain).
Whilst there it was dry, sunny and just under 30 degrees in the valleys, perfect, especially considering the unpredictability of the Pyrenean climate.
It’s not always sunny up here. Bring some back home, please.
Day 1 – Col du Tourmalet
Check out the route – https://www.strava.com/activities/701889752
Unsurprisingly, the Tourmalet is great. Climbing from Luz-Saint-Sauveur you pass through a couple of ski stations and small villages before the scenery opens up. The gradient is fairly constant throughout, so you can get into a good rhythm. Except for the last couple of hundred metres that is, where the road ramps up at 10%+ and a local photographer is primed to take your photo. The climb was pretty popular, with several other groups out, including some beat-at-all-costs electric bikes. Of the big climbs we did, I found this is the easiest.
Data: Col du Tourmalet (Luz-Saint-Sauveur) climb time (Strava moving time): 1:23:07
Day 2 – Col d’Aubisque
Day 2 saw us ride down and out of the valley, through Lourdes to Laruns to climb the Col d’Aubisque. Today was race day, with the Vuelta coming through in the afternoon the climb was a lot busier than the Tourmalet had been. There were a fair few people parked up along the side of the climb, but nothing like Alpe d’Huez when the TdF rolls through. Riding alongside lots of other cyclists was a great distraction, constantly moving between groups and having someone to aim for. This was a really enjoyable climb and was a bit harder than the Tourmalet.
At the top the view was stunning, there are three oversized bikes overlooking the climb, yellow, green and polka dots. We waited, baking, at the top for several hours before the race came through. We had a spot after the final hairpin, a couple of hundred metres from the finish, although no race commentary! When the race arrived, we didn’t recognise the top 3 who had broken away; Robert Gesink won, with Froome and Quintana having marked each other out.
Garish arm warmers and a flash of B at the top (where’s Wally?):
Afterwards we descended back down to Argeles, over the Col du Solour, which was as dramatic a road as I have ever ridden.
Data: Aubisque (Laruns) climb time (stopwatch): 1:14:55
Day 3 – Cirque du Gavernie, Hautacam
Check out the route – https://www.strava.com/activities/701889996
Riding out towards Luz-Saint-Saveur, this time we didn’t turn off for the Tourmalet. Instead we headed up the valley to Cirque du Gavernie; a UNESCO site, a recommendation from the book but never used by a grand tour. The climb itself arguable starts in Luz-Saint-Saveur, making it 30km in length, although really it doesn’t kick up until you reach Gavernie itself. Leaving town you first reach a section of switchbacks which look back over Gavernie, once you reach a small ski town (deserted) you’re amongst the cows and an easier gradient. The climb feels very isolated with very few cyclists or cars making the trip to the top. At the top all there is, is a small car park and a dirt track to Spain (the nearest we got to Spain in our Vuelta trip!).
From where Tom rides
Having flown back down and lunched in Gavernie, I then set off alone to tackle the climb up to the ski station at Hautacam. I found this the hardest climb of all, 12km at 8%, but rarely at the average, there are ramps all over the place. This makes it very difficult to find a rhythm and makes it important to find a distraction! Going later in the day meant I was alone again as well as being hot and thirsty. The salvation at the top is a fairly rubbish ski station.
Data: Hautacam climb time (Strava segment) – 1:04:55
Go to the Pyrenees, it’s great. Next year, the Alps?”