On the last day of my trip to the Pyrenees I woke up and looked at the sky. I couldn’t see it. Soft rain was blocking it out. Perhaps we’ll let it clear and go out a bit later, after all, today’s plan was to tie up one loose end rather than go off on some big jaunt. All we intended for today was to roll down to Luz St Sauveur, turn around and ride up to the top of the Tourmalet, and then turn round again and head back to the hotel. A 36km round trip that should take a little under three hours.
“It looks like it’s going to be like this all day,” said Rob, “so we may as well get going as planned.” Well, almost as planned. Rob’s first small, but noticeable, change was that he wouldn’t be riding. Instead he was going to follow me in the van; my very own support vehicle. I would feel like one of the professionals that are occasionally spotted on reconnaissance with a team car following behind. Except I’d be slower and colder and wetter.
The second change was that because it would be cold, and because he’d be with the van, I’d get a lift down to the start, and from the top back to the hotel. So it would now be an 18km ride but still take a little under three hours.
Oh well, it had to be done. Rule #9, and it did mean that I would have ascended this monster from both sides.
I don’t know if it’s the same for mountaineers but with cycling there’s a bit of a thing about going up a mountain using all available roads, so climbing the Tourmalet from Luz St Sauveur was something of a requirement, particularly as I had spent the past week staying half way up that side of it.
Having the support van meant I could shed various things that (psychologically) weighed me down. I only needed one bottle, dumped my tool bag and pump and left my jacket in the van. Such a pro.
But that didn’t make the ride much more pleasant. In fact it didn’t make it any more pleasant at all.
So why am I doing this if it’s not pleasant? I don’t have to, after all, and it’s not a climb that will enable me to prove anything to myself. I’ve ridden up several more difficult, and I’ve ridden in worse weather.
The reason, I think, is simply that I said to myself that I would do it, and seeing that personal commitment through is really what a lot of this sort of endeavour is about for me. Every time I put myself through a challenge when I don’t need to, it feels a little bit special.
Doing something painful when we’re not forced to is, a wise man once said, more virtuous than enduring that same pain when we have no choice in the matter. Not that I’m claiming to be virtuous about all this, but personal satisfaction can only really be derived if it’s done out of choice. If it were under duress I could only feel resent.
This valley, through which runs Le Bastan, was subject to torrential flooding in 2013. Houses and property were washed away as the stream became a fast river and burst its banks. Thankfully there was no loss of life or any serious injuries sustained. The road was washed away in several sections and the scars of the damage are very much visible today, although the rebuilding of the road and bridges was completed within just three years.
As a result the new road is silky-smooth but it lacks personality, so I was happy to take a detour just a little way beyond Bareges by going for three kilometres up the old, rather poor quality road, known as the Voie Laurent Fignon after the late cyclist who lived locally for a time. Here I was able to enjoy wonderful views down into the valley and traffic-free cycling (not that there was much on the main road to contend with), but not sheep-free cycling.
This brought me back onto the main road with about four kilometres remaining. By now the misty-damp air had dried out, but not warmed up, and the wind was gradually increasing in intensity. I ploughed on but the gradient had the last laugh by leaving its steepest kilometre to the very end.
Rob met me at the top, camera to hand, but we didn’t hang about for long. It was just too cold. I was, of course, tired after 18km of climbing in those conditions, but pleased and relieved. It had been a very tough week, and ultimately very rewarding. Now it was time to take my bike to pieces and pack it up.
But first, a Coke and a great big pizza.
A big thank you
I don’t typically use this blog to publicise or promote things but I wanted to on this occasion.
Rob and Rachel Williamson, owners of Les Sorbiers guest house in Bareges were my hosts for the week and it was an absolute pleasure to stay with them.
Along with their two daughters (and Pepper the dog) they made me feel very comfortable sharing their home and meals (excellent meals too – both Rachel and Rob are professionally trained chefs).
As well as my being host, Rob was my guide for the week and I doubt I would have managed anything like the amount and variety of riding without his encouragement and knowledge of the area. You don’t have to stay at Les Sorbiers to book Rob as a guide.
Bareges is the perfect location for cyclists, nestled as it is within easy reach of most of the major Pyrenees climbs and passes, and for skiers, with 240km of piste within the Tourmalet area. It’s also fabulous for walkers and has a sulphur spa that probably got me through the second half of the week.
I can’t recommend the place highly enough.
And by the way, I wasn’t paid for this. The branded phone case Rob gave me was a gift before I even thought about writing it.
Wait! Maybe something subliminal was going on?