Col du Soulor, Col des Borderes & Lac d’Estaing

Pyrenees Peaks – Day Six, Lourdes (8th September 2017).

 

 

Somehow today was the final day of cycling in The Pyrenees, where has the last 6 days gone? I spent 30 minutes last night looking for a replacement ride for today, as we used up our planned ride when we extended our day out to Col des Tentes yesterday.

 

 

I eventually came up with a plan to explore some quiet back lanes, tackle a couple of climbs & then loop back to Lourdes – all in all, about 55 miles of riding with 5,500 feet of climbing. The ride started outside the hotel door & as our way out of town took us past the Sanctuary, we stopped to admire the view & take a few photos.

 

 

As soon as we left town, we found ourselves on quiet roads with views of the large mountains in the far distance. At one point, we took a wrong turn & found ourselves on a small gravel lane that took us past some unusual wooden sculptures, before ending abruptly at a tiny convent – Lourdes, as you might expect is home to many convents, monasteries, churches & religious orders. It’s a strange mix of peace & tranquillity, offset by chaotic parties of pilgrims.

 

 

Once we were back on the right road, a fast flowing river guided us down the valley, as we passed miles of maize fields, where the corn on the cob looked like it was ready to be harvested. These were the quietest roads we’d cycled all week & it was one of the few occasions where we were on relatively flat roads – it made for very relaxed riding.

 

 

At Lestelle-Betharrem, we saw signs for Notre Dame de Betharrem, so pulled in to find out a little more – it’s a church that is set right next to the river & it has a large plot of hilly land, where 19 chapels have been built over time & it was an incredibly peaceful & tranquil place.

 

 

We turned off the main road & headed along remote country lanes towards the lower slopes of Col de Soulor, which begins in earnest at Farrieres – I had it in my mind that this would be a great place to stop for coffee….. except it was a far smaller place than I expected & it was only a small village!!

 

 

From here, the Soulor climbs 2,950 feet in 7.5 miles, at an average gradient of 7.4% – this was the first climb of the week where the gradient was fairly constant for the entire climb & it made such a difference! I chose a gear & then spent the next hour & a half enjoying the views & stopping every now & again to capture the stunning scenery & get out the way of the local wildlife

 

 

At the summit, we stopped for a lunch of waffle with Nutella & a coffee, before descending back towards Argeles-Gazost. We took a right turn after about 5 miles & headed up the climb of the Col des Borderes that we descended on Sunday. As we reached the Col, we made an impromptu decision to take a side road up to Lac d’Estaing – we had no idea what to expect on the climb, but the point of exploring is to find out what’s there! I was a little nervous of what lay ahead, as I was having problems with my gearing, the cables have stretched slightly as the week’s worn on & I could no longer use 1st gear – not the ideal situation for a weak climber like me. However, I didn’t want the ride to end yet, so we set off for Lac d’Estaing.

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As we climbed, the surrounding forest protected us from the sun. After about 5 miles, we crested a rise & there before us was the lake & we weren’t disappointed! It’s a beautiful expanse of open meadow, with a lake at its centre. There are strict rules & regulations for using the area & as a result it’s in pristine condition. They were people fishing on one side of the lake, while at one end there were wild horses frolicking in the shallows – before today, I’d never seen a horse in a large expanse of water. This is a place that’s well worth a visit & I’m sure I’ll be back again at some point in the future.

 

 

Although we were still more than 20 miles from our hotel, the first 10 was downhill, so in next to no time we were in Argeles-Gazost for a well-deserved fruit tart & coffee. From here we took the same route back to Lourdes as Sunday, again it was slightly downhill, but into a headwind – for every ying there’s a yang!

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In the end today’s ride was just over 68 miles long & had 7,000 feet of climbing – both numbers were bigger than planned, but it was our last day of riding, the sun was out & we were keen to make our adventure last as long as possible!

As it was our final evening, we popped into town to watch the sun set over the Sanctuary, then raised a glass to celebrate a glorious week of riding. I’m sure I’ll be visiting The Pyrenees again in the not too distant future.

 

 

Col des Borderes, Col du Soulor & Col d’Aubisque

Pyrenees Peaks – Day One, Lourdes (3rd September 2017).

Before I start my review, let me introduce my new heartthrob – Domino. She’s a brand new Trek Domane SL 2018 model & what a beauty she is! The short story is my original bike had a crack in the carbon fibre frame & it was replaced under Trek’s Lifetime Warranty. I want to say a huge THANK YOU to Ryan from Mud Dock Cycleworks & Cafe for working incredibly hard to ensure was Domino ready for the trip & to Dan at Trek Bicycle UK for sorting out the warranty claim quickly. Without their help, I wouldn’t have had a bike to ride.

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The first task of the day was to check out the breakfast facilities, so we turned up at 7.30am & were impressed to find that everyone has designated tables & that coffee, croissants, fresh French sticks & OJ were delivered directly to us!! All we had to do was choose our own cereals & jam / honey / marmalade! I’m delighted to report that our hotel is everything I’d hoped for & more – in addition to the excellent breakfast facilities, I have an enormous ‘single’ room, luxury shower, room to store everything & decent wifi.

We arrived in Lourdes at 10pm last night, so we needed to build our bikes before we could start today’s adventure. As a result, we set off at about 9.15am under bruised grey skies – it was still cool enough to need arm warmers & a gilet as we took the cycle path out of town & followed the river upstream towards Argeles-Gazost. We stayed on the path a bit too long, but as a result we were able to see a time trial race at very close quarters, as proper athletes on expensive machines whooshed past us as we pootled along the road!

The detour only added a couple of flat miles & we were soon on the right road up the early slopes of Col du Soulor, as we got our first view of the Midi-Pyrenees. We took a left turn onto a quiet back road, to take in an additional ascent of Col des Borderes to warm up the legs. By the time we were 5 miles into the climb, we were ready for a coffee stop & although we were on a fairly deserted road, we stumbled across a camp site with a café that was open – although there was no cake, the coffee was very welcome after 20 miles of riding. The final part of the climb went up in ramps, ranging from a very enjoyable 5%, up to a lactic acid building 16% in one instance – certainly not expected! My introductory photo of Domino was taken at the summit of the first climb.

After a brief descent, we made our way back onto the Col du Soulor, for the final 11km of the climb – this was first used in the 1910 Tour de France, at the end of a 300+ km stage! It’s a steady gradient all the way to the summit & with pretty views in every direction, the miles quickly passed. At the summit, we had our first experience of animals in the road, as a herd of cows strolled across the road without a care in the world – we also learned that they have right of way, as they had no intention of stopping!

After a quick ham & cheese baguette, we were on our way to Col d’Aubisque (all day I had Chris Rea’s Auberge in my head – not the best ear-worm to have!). The first couple of miles were downhill, before the road gradually started climbing again towards the heavens. There were huge drops down to the valley floor on the right hand side, so with a howling crosswind, we rode on the English side of the road where possible!

Before we knew it, we’d made it to the summit of our third Col of the day. Being a regular Tour de France route, there was a display of massive yellow, green & polka dot bikes, to represent the Tours major jerseys.

At this point, the hard riding was over for the day, we just had to negotiate the wild horses on the road during the descent (& brief climb) to Soulor, before a fun 12 mile swoop back to Argeles-Gazost for a quick refreshment stop. We then jumped on the cycle path for a gentle 10 mile ride back to Lourdes.

We were back in Lourdes before 4pm, so took the opportunity to explore a bit of the town on bike – we found the incredible Sanctuary, where pilgrims were queuing to up to enter the church. All in we were in the saddle for just over 5 hours & we clocked up 64 miles, with 7,000 feet of climbing. The perfect start to our Peaky Pyrenees adventure.