On the 15th of June 2019 a group of 10 Reservoir Cogs journeyed to cycling utopia, the Pyrenees for a trans-Pyrenees trip; Atlantic Ocean to the Med; over 710 KMs with 11,000 meters of climbing. This short commentary might give people a taste of what was involved. Verdict: Just Do It!
Bike Boxes: The starting point of all of our trips. Getting better at it but none the less always a nervous time…. will it fit and will it be in one piece on the other side? Thankfully no issues this trip! Even Ray’s bike worked first time.
Airport: Time for a pint though it was noticeable how many of the lads have gone all sensible on us….. Turning point? Old and sensible? Apprehensive? Fearful? Boring?
Meeting our tour company: Pyrenees Multisport (www.pyreneesmultisport.com)… Ian and Julie. Top folk. One of the lads remarked it was like going on holidays with your Mam and Dad. They looked after everything leaving us to think only about our bikes and our cycling. Everything else was taken care of by these two gems of people. Highly recommend to anyone thinking of taking this on…Get to France, out of the airport, short trip to hotel and straight away build the bikes. Usual mayhem. Few attempts at putting saddles on backwards, pedals on the wrong way and handlebars sticking backwards… but eventually we all got sorted. Bike boxes packed away not to be seen again for a week.
Day 1: We’re all going on a summer holiday, no more working for a week or so!
Down to the beach for the west coast shot at the Atlantic Ocean in Hendaye. 10 Cogs and 4 friends from the UK. Sam, Pete, Theresa and Josie Tassie->UK immigrant! Check out the jerseys… trés cool! Declan is already looking across to the Pyrenees… come on lads, it’s this way. “That mountain over there is the bla bla… has a nice coffee stop at the bottom, few potholes half way up and mind the sheep sh1t on the way down just past a bad left-hander …. 17 years ago me and Mick were coming down there and hit 100kmh…..! Declan “Jimmy Magee” Roe… the resident Cogs memory man and Routemeister!
And so Day 1 cycling begins with some nice rollers along the coast before heading inland to begin the Pyreneen traverse. A handy day of cycling. 136 KM spin with a mere 2,298m of climbing.
Col de St Ignace: Cat 4: 169m
Col de Pinodieta: Cat 5: 176m
Col d’Iparlatze: Cat 3: 328m
Col d’Osquich: Cat 2: 501m
Handy ones… to put into context, the Wicklow gap stands at 475m so still in that kind of territory. I think we all managed fairly well but the thing that caught some of us was the heat. We were sweating buckets and drinking litres of fluids….
And of course (purists please skip to Day 2) we had fantastic coffee stops and lunch stops…
And poor Tom… frequently engaged in a mobile bike repair and advice clinic… oooh Tom my bike is making a funny noise… oooh Tom my saddle is too high/low/off centre… oooh Tom my pedals are squeaking …. oooh Tom my bum is sore can you rub it for me… actually that last one I just made up…. though as the week wore on so too did the delicate undercarriages of a number of the intrepid explorers and so conversations about cures and potions and pads and creams were oft-heard on the wind…..
Not that Tom spent all his time looking after our most intimate needs… Tom can be cool too you know…
Our English buddies… so English… only drink from China cups don’t you know… Sam and Pete…. pure gold.
We were all in good spirits at the end of Day 1 to be honest…. The Col d’Osquich was pretty tough… wicklow gap-esq… but we have proof that at least the bikes made it all the way up….
But at this stage we were thinking about Day 2… the Queen stage… and 3 little cols… Marie Blanque, d’Aubisque and the Tourmalet… and what a day that would be…. As I write I can see Pinot breaking clear on Le Tour…. 10-11%… 23Km/hr…. while yours truly sat on his limit at 8-9Km/hr for most of the climb…. Mental.
Day 2: The Queen Stage
145km long but with 3,761m of climbing… it was going to be epic! We were into the serious stuff now….
We all remember this day as one of epic non-stop hard climbing. Starting in a town called Arette, along some rolling hills to warm up. As we left the village of Escot we started our first category 1 climb, the Col de Marie Blanque, which tops out at 1,035m. That’s two Wicklow gaps and then some. About 9 KMs of really steep and tough climbing it was a baptism of what was to come. What goes up must (eventually) come down and descending these beauts is just mega. We swooped and swung, cut the hairpins, leaned left and right… 15-20 KMs at a time. It was such a buzz. We were frequently heard saying to each other “would you want to be anywhere else right now?”… apart from the top of the next Col perhaps.
The Col d’Aubisque was our first HC or Hors Categorie… or AB climb (Absolute B*****d). For the Paddys and friends on tour it was just monumental to take on a HC climb. This epic, steep and bloody long climb stretches for 17KM with an average gradient of 7% +. It is relentless.
Next up the Cat 2 Col du Soulor at 1464m (on the 2019 Tour) before the master of them all, the Col du Tourmalet. People will know this beast as the one with the cycling statue on the wall at top. See photos. We all agreed that we got emotional at the top. It reaches a height of 2,115m and is almost 20KM in length with an average gradient of 7.5%. It is magnificent. It is cruel. It is hot and sweaty. Over 30°C Hot! It is never-ending. It requires huge mental strength to keep pedaling pedaling pedaling… It is unforgettable.
Our reward was a massive descent to our hotel. A cool beer or two and countless tales of the epic nature of the day.
Note: Mountains Classifications
Category 4:The easiest climbs. Usually needs to be at least 4km and 4% gradient (or a steeper gradient and shorter distance)
Category 3:Getting a little tougher here. As a rule, around a 6% gradient for 4km or so. Sometimes shorter distances at around 8% gradient.
Longer climbs that are sometimes steeper. Generally more than 5km at 7% gradient or longer than 10km at around 5%.
Roughly 5-10km at 8% gradient or 15km+ at 6%.
HC or “Hors Category”:
This is a slick French term that means the climb is above categorization. Long climbs. 15km, 20km, 30km. Steep, long, brutal. At least 15km above 7-8%.
Day 3: Recovery Day!
A mere 85KM long but with two right buggers of climbs, both Cat 1 the Col d’Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde… both regular features on the Tour de France. Another hot day. But we made it all in one piece… well almost. At this stage we had unfortunately lost Theresa who fell ill from the heat of the previous day and returned home. Hi Theresa if you ever read this wee essay, pleasure to meet and travel with you. Hope you got home OK and you are back on the bike.
And so we came to Ian and Julie’s base camp. Wow! Frickin wow! What a place. Mammy Julie washed all our gear for us, laid on a dinner fit for a king. We lounged about drinking a few ultra cheap beers and chillaxed big time. Unfortunately one of our stalwarts, Davy boy, was feeling the heat of closing in on his big 50 and was looking the worse for wear. He had a tough day but battled through without complaint. If it was any of the rest of us we would have been on the moan-phone all evening. Had to sit out Day 4 in the van and again took it on the chin only to join back up for Days 5 and 6. Josie meanwhile was feeling dodgy and took a day or so off. A tough cookie but didn’t get the training in for this one… look forward to her ironman efforts in the Autumn. No bother to her!
Day 4: Back on the bike
… can’t lie… hurt a little… delicate little bums back on hard narrow saddles! 132 KM and 2,603m of climbing. This shot is taken outside Ian&Julie’s house…
A nice mix of Cat 1, 2, 3 and 4 climbs (Col de Port (1249m), Col de Portet Aspet (1069m), Col dur Buret (599m) and Col des Ares (797m). Looks like Eoin was just hanging on at this stage (far from it!)
This day was memorable in that we passed the monument to Fabio Casartelli who died on the descent of the Col de Portet in the Tour in 1995. Can’t imagine the speeds the pros do it at… it’s really frightening… Fabio Casartelli 1970-1995 RIP.
Some sneaky power napping going on too…. Routemeister, are you really that tall?
Day 5: Last day of the Heavy Climbing
Day 5 and we had 133KM and just under 3,000m of climbing. The Col de Mamare was out of action due to roadworks so we took on an alternative absolute stinker, then the Col de Sept Freres (1253m) and finally an absolute monster, Col de Jau at a whopping 1,506m. A tough tough day out. Legs feeling it now….
Climbing up the Col de Jau the temperature dropped to 9°C and we saw our first drop of rain in a week… and whilst it was kinda nice going up, it was mental coming down.
Lightening sparked above our heads and I don’t think that even Forest Gump had an adjective to describe the rain… it lashed us out of it making the decent pretty tricky… but luckily all made it to the town of Prades in one piece.
Day 6: Head to the Med
And so our adventure was almost over as we took on the last 87KM to the town of Cerbére. Ah sure it was only a hop skip and a jump… though there were a few rollers in there that sucked a few watts from the legs… The picture tells it all.
One final test. A night of beerio cheerio to celebrate Dave’s big birthday. Some laugh. There were moves made that would make you cry if it wasn’t so damm funny. Murph showed us all how to dance the night away. Legendary stuff. Not sure how we got home but all made it in one piece.
And so it was all done. 710KM. 11,000m of Climbing. A memorable trip to be sure. Great bunch of fellow cyclists. Thanks lads.
Trip of a lifetime… pass the chamois cream.
Bernard Higgins (June 2019)