Pyrenees Peaks – Day Four, Lourdes (6th September 2017).
I make no secret of the fact that I use a website called http://www.cycling-challenge.com for the majority of my research into where to ride on my Alpine Adventures (& now my Pyrenees Peaks too). Today’s ride is one that Will has called ‘the best road-bike climb that I have done in The Pyrenees’ – as soon as I read that, I wanted to do this ride!!!
St Lary Soulan is just under an 80 minute drive in the car, so it was another early start to the day. When we arrived the skies were leaden & the big mountain peaks were hidden from view, but we’re on a cycling holiday & will make the best of any conditions – it was dry & the winds were light, so it was a great day to be riding!
The early slopes out of Saint Lary Soulan are on a steadily rising main road (never that busy in spite of being an artery into Spain via a tunnel) that after 9 miles took us to La Plan, which is the start of the climb proper to Piau Engaly (the first of today’s 3 ascents), although by then we’d already clocked up about 1,600 feet of ascent. The clouds were low in the sky & even as I started the climb it was obvious that views would be restricted higher up, so we decided to simply enjoy the climb for what it was – a very consistent 7-8% gradient over almost 4 miles with plenty of switchbacks to make it fun.
As expected, the ski station was closed (we’d experienced the same at Superbagneres on Monday) & we were above the base of the clouds, however, we did see some eagles soaring on the thermals. We stopped just long enough to get a photo or two, ride around the resort & wolf down a banana, then we descended back to the main road & retraced out pedals towards St Lary. When we reached Fabian, we took a left up what looked to be little more than a single track road – in fact it was exactly that! This was the start of a truly awesome day in the saddle & whatever I write simply won’t do the ride justice, but here goes anyway!
Straight from the get go, the road kicked up to about 9% & it was a real effort to keep climbing – in truth, this is probably more to do with fatigue after 4 days of riding. We made our way up a narrow valley, with the constant babbling of the river helping to take my mind off the pain of pushing the pedals. After about 3 miles, we hit a stunning stretch of switchbacks, which meant that the slope eased slightly & also provided great views back down the valley.
As we reached a fork in the road we were met by the sight of a huge dam (Lac de Cap de Long) high up in the far distance & Lac d’Oredon directly in front of us where the Route des Lacs continued up to Lac d’Aumar & Lac d’Aubert . We chose to tackle Cap de Long first – approximately 3 miles in length it climbed around the lake below until eventually we were looking back towards the fork in the road some 1,500 feet below us!!! By now it was gone 2.30pm, so we had a quick snack of Blueberry Tart & coffee, took some photos to help me remember this cycling paradise, then headed back to the fork in the road.
The final climb took us around the back of Lac d’Oredon & ever higher on a vehicle free road – cycling heaven! As we climbed, we passed goats that were either laid in the road or grazing on grass in the shadows of the pine trees. As we ascended, we got views across the lake to where were we riding only 30 minutes previously. After a few final switchbacks, we reached a plateau with a couple of smallish lakes below us & the much larger & prettier Lac d’Aumar in front of us.
As we cycled along the edge of the lake, we passed ramblers on their way to Lac d’Aubert which marked the end of the metaphorical & physical road – in total the climb was only about 4 miles. I took the opportunity to dip my feet in the pristine water & cool off as I took in the beauty of the surrounding scenery.
From here it was all downhill – we stopped briefly at the café on Lac d’Oredon for a quick espresso, then we retraced our way down the single track – the descent was very technical with lots of blind corners & steep stretches, so it required full concentration the whole way back to the main road – from there it was an easy 5 miles back to the car.
This has been by far my favourite day in The Pyrenees this week – what an amazing ride! I can’t sign off without saying a huge ‘Thank You’ to Will for sharing his epic cycling adventures.