Coasts and Cols Tour - Day 5 - 'The Longest Kilometre'
It started early, and chilly. I had a good night's sleep in my little campsite in Luz; although I woke up to a pile of still slightly damp kit, after my enthusiastic washing in the campsite showers the evening before. No matter; I pulled on my down jacket, and the one pair of dry bibs that I had, and began my ascent of the Tourmalet.
I did this climb back in 2011, so I knew what I was letting myself in for: 18 kilometres of varying gradients, and a good chill at the top (there was snow on the peaks). I began clicking through the K's with relative ease though. All the time the sun was threatening to break from the cloud cover, but the temperature was also rapidly falling with the altitude gain. I shouldn't have worried about the varying gradients; I was stuck firmly in the lowest gear on my single chainring drivetrain.
I've developed a cunning system for drying my slightly damp kit at the start of the day... as I warm up, I gradually put it on underneath my snug down jacket - letting my body heat then evaporate the moisture. It was working well on this first climb, although by kilometre 10, I was in every but of kit I had... it was getting cold!
By the time I reached the summit, two hours after leaving camp, it was 5 degrees and lightly snowing. I didn't hang around long, before descending as fast as I could. I welcomed the relative warmth of the valley.
In a small cafe, at the bottom of the descent, I stopped to warm my frozen hands and legs (my gloves and leg warmers weren't fully dry yet). From here, I plotted my ascent of the next two Cols - the Col d'Aspin and Col de Peyresourde.
The Aspin was fairly uneventful, and felt like a molehill after the Tourmalet. The descent was stunning though, and I was beginning to get into the swing of things.
The Peyresourde loomed on the horizon as I rolled out of the town at the end if the Luchon valley. I clicked back down into my smallest gear, and pedalled my way onto the long and empty road.
Halfway from the top, my legs decided they didn't want to play ball. Perhaps it was the cumulative fatigue, perhaps I hadn't eaten enough; either way it was that feeling of slight helplessness, as my speed tumbled, and my cadence slid into a grind.
I eventually reached the top of the pass, having shovelled almost a whole pack of Haribo and trail mix into me. I wasn't sure how many more kilometres I could handle though; despite still being well short of my day's target.
Descent. Long valley floor. Next up, the Col de Mente: Relatively unknown, I had kidded myself that this would be an easier climb, and probably my last of the day. I had made an unfair assumption...
Weaving onto the singletrack road, I did a double-take at the sign at the bottom: it read 850 metres elevation gain ahead. I actually had to stop, and read it again.
The Col de Mente was where I developed my patent pending 'Apple Technique': In essence, I stuff three apples into my jersey pockets at the bottom, then eat them as rewards at various milestones on the climb. Eating also helps to take my mind off the pain. On the Col de Mente, by the time I had finished my third apple, I was shot... completely. It was getting dark, and I had barely seen a single car on the whole of the climb. It was, an isolated pain cave.
I reached the summit, eventually. Then I began my descent: looking for a camping spot, in full realisation that I was properly done for the day.
I still hadn't found a good place by the time I reached the valley floor. Unfortunately, I then rolled straight into the next Col... the Port d'Aspet. It was now dark. Properly dark... I was desperately searching as I climb back out of the valley.
After doing almost the whole of the Aspet, and walking sections in the process, I eventually found a little camp off the road. I cooked my back-up freeze dried meal (I hadn't had a chance to get anything in town), and crawled into my sleeping bag. The Pyrenees has broken me - those last few K's were some of the longest I have ever ridden.
Tomorrow, I head out of the mountains. 200 kilometres to ride, to reach my rest day base in the Corbieres. I'll be grateful of the downhills...