I had a spare week’s holiday to use up, the dates worked for me, and Marmot Tours had space due to a cancellation for one rider on their late September Raid Pyrenean trip.
And so, I found myself flying out from Stansted to Biarritz to meet up with the rest of a group of 19 individuals of varying abilities (18 Brits and 1 Australian), on what was to be a fully supported ride through the Pyrenees to meet the requirements of the CC Bearnais, ie Hendaye to Cerbere, 720km over 18 Cols, within 100 hours.
Normally, I have no hesitation tackling such trips myself, but the practicalities of starting and finishing at opposite ends of the Pyrenees and applying for the necessary registration card (“tampon”) meant I was more than happy to go with an organised group.
Fitness wise, I was relying more on early season miles and hills, as training and resolve had fallen off since July, and Harrow Hill was the biggest climb I had been over in 2 months.
It was nice to get back to the warm weather of the south-west France, and after putting the bike together in the afternoon, it was time for a quick spin over the border into Irun, the heart of the Basque Country.
Next day, it was up early for a 9am start and a beautiful ride through the foothills of the Pyrenees. 117 miles with only really one major hill, the Col d’Osquich. But it got hot in the middle of the day, and this, coupled with rolling roads and the distance made it a long day in the saddle for all.
Day two of the ride was to be a classic, 75 miles with two legendary Tour de France climbs, the Col d’Aubisque and the Col du Tourmalet. It started with a 10km warm-up to Laruns before tackling theAubisque. Cool, crisp and clear, it was a great day to be out on the bike. Everyone re-grouped at the top before alovely descent down to Argeles Gazost for lunch. A hot daythus far and still the Tourmalet to tackle! Fortunately, the two vans were always near to hand for bottles. A tough last 2 km on the Tourmalet was followed by a super fast descent down to Campan.
Another early start on Day 3 started out with the Col d’Aspin quickly followed by the Peyresourde. I endeavoured to do this part of the day without stopping to get the hard climbing out of the way early on. Lunch at the cafe on the top of the Peyresourde was followed by the fastest descent of the trip to Bagneres du Luchon. We all tackled the long valley road together as a group and cruised along to the Col d’Ares. This was now entering the part of the Pyrenees I like most where there are numerous passes on really quiet roads. One more small Col, then it was the steepest climb of the Raid, the Col d’Portet d’Aspet. Even on a 34x27, it was a tough climb. At the top, we still had c.50 miles to do that day, with the last half of it being gradually uphill through a river valley to Massat. As everyone’s confidence grew, this ended up as a good wheel about over the last 15 miles.
Day 4 dawned damp and after a slightly later start, it was 12 km of climbing straight up the Col de Port. A wet descent, then the busiest part of the route taking us to Ax les Thermes, before tackling the 18 mile climb up the Col du Puymorens. The last 5km were more like being back on the Scottish moors with the mist and drizzle, but the descent cleared slightly and it was a nice but cool run down to Bourg Madame. One final climb, the Col de la Perche, and it was 25 miles of descending to Pardes to finish out another day of over 100 miles. This was a great descent, fast corners and in the 12 sprocket most of the way.
The final day was a easy 60 mile run to the coast which we rode as a group, with a couple of climbs at the end, before finally dropping down to the border town of Cerbere and jumping in the sea. A quick turnaround at the hotel and I was on the flight back to Stansted.
Having now completed the event, I can only complement James, Cathy and Tez from Marmot Tours. For all round value, the trip was great. Add to that, the encouragment, camaraderie and support from everyone on the trip and it really made it a great holiday.