Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Col d' Aspin and Col du Tourmalet


Today was a great day. We began by rolling out of the hotel for seven miles then began an absolutely gorgeous climb up the Col d' Aspin. It was quite chilly at the start and many riders wore arm warmers and or jackets.

100 Years of the Pyrenees

The climb was 7.5 miles long but not as steep as the climb yesterday up the Pla d' Adet. When it is a steep climb like yesterday's up Pla d' Adet, I do not want to stop for any reason but keep the heart rate elevated. This is training for Mount Washington, after all.

The view climbing up Col d'Aspin

But on this climb the scenery was spectacular and the grades, at times, not that difficult so I pulled over 2-3 times to take photos. It was also like a Reston Bike Lane Group ride where I am often called the Ambassador for Cycling by calling out "Morning!" to everyone we pass. This was no exception. "Bon jour!" "Bon jour!" And I was usually greeted with "Bon jour!" until one young man was beside me and spoke English.

Adrian Register (L) and Barry Sherry (R)

We started talking and I found out (1) he is from England (2) his dad is from the U.S., (3) his mother is from France; and (4) his grandparents have a summer place in St. Lary which is where he, and we, are staying. Actually, Adrian Register, has dual citizenship, U.S. and French. Mostly me, but much of the group adopted him on our ride today. He rode with us up both climbs and we were able to get him to join our viewing. And he returned home with us as well. Meeting him will be one of my highlights of this Tour. One of our group even asked me if he was my son.

On top of Col d' Aspin

The descent down the west side of the Col d' Aspin was great but there were no signs warning the sharpness of the blind curves ahead. They could be sweeping curves or hairpins. The roads were hard to read and, like yesterday, I came away with an appreciation for how fast the pros descend and the risks they take.

Climbing Tourmalet

We continued our descent until we reached the village of Saint-Marie-de-Campman at which point we began the climb up the Col du Tourmalet. This was longer and about the same steepness. Much like the Aspin, stopping shouldn't have been an option except the scenery demanded photos.

Dennis McDonald wading in our drinking water

At a bridge overlooking a waterfall and crystal clear stream, we stopped for pictures and met a newlywed couple from Cincinnati. Dennis McDonald went down to the white water stream to fill his water bottles. And he filled the bottle of our guide, Dave Edwards, who in turned, filled my bottle.

Better than water from the Laurel Mountains in Rolling Rock Beer, we were told we can drink from any stream pouring down off the mountains. Having contracted an E.Coli infection last year, I probably should have known better than to drink the water, but I did. And it was great!
Snow shed leading to the summit on Tourmalet

Ignoring my climbing instincts of never looking up, I enjoyed looking for the summit which seemed so far away. It was far away. Adrian and I discussed what we were seeing and eventually decided we could see a snow shed with a number of campers lined up. And we were right.

Looking down at the valley road we had just climbed

Just before the snow shed the view to the valley jumped out and demanded that we stop and take a picture. It was both beautiful and intimidating realizing that we had just climbed so far up the Tourmalet.

Restaurant in LaMongie

We continued the climb to the village of LaMongie. There, Trek Travel had rented out a restaurant which would be our viewing location. We could choose either the rooftop view or street level. Or both.

Road closed at the summit

We were still four kilometers from the summit and it looked so close so Adrian and I slowly tried to make our way through the hordes of people in the street. We had gone about 500 meters when we were met with barricades across the road and manned by Gendarmeries. The race route had been closed and we had to turn back. But that was OK.

We ate lunch and waited with excitement as the race caravan came through. It's a carnival on wheels as sponsors come by and throw newspapers, candy, caps, and even jerseys, to the crowd. What fun.


Some team cars rolled through, one by one, not speeding but not real slow either. When the Astana team car came by, it was met with a chorus of boos that followed it all the way up the mountain.

Lance leading the Breakaway

This would be most unusual in cycling but clearly the crowd wasn't impressed that Alberto Contador attacked yesterday to get the Yellow Jersey when Andy Schleck had his chain come off.

George Hincapie in the Stars and Strips
(and Levi Leipheimer #25)

We had been told that Damiano Cunego and Sandy Casar were in the lead group. When they finally came up the climb, there was Chris Horner and Lance Armstrong. I wasn't even ready to photograph. Lance? You go!

Fan Favorite, Jens Voigt who crashed hard on Peyresourde

When it was time to descend everyone had to ride down the Tourmalet. This was a friggin' blast. Cars and campers lined the road on the way down and hundreds of cyclists went down in the left lane, which was open to oncoming traffic. Sometimes it meant passing 2-3 cars then cutting in while others meant passing 10-20 cars even while entering a blind curve. If cyclists ahead of you go through it one assumes there's not a camper coming up the road. One can be wrong.

Traffic was backed up solid the last two miles. Advantage: cyclists.

At the bottom there was a bus waiting that Trek Travel had chartered. Anyone who didn't want to climb the Col d' Aspin from the west side could take the bus back. Many did. I didn't. And neither did Adrian although that offer probably didn't apply to him but I bet our guides would have permitted it.

At the top of the Aspin, someone got a race report that Lance was only a few minutes back of the lead. We knew we had time to see the race if we hammered the descent on the Aspin. We did. At the base of the mountain in the village of Arreau, we stopped in a bar and watched the end on their big screen. Lance didn't win although he was at the front with about 100 meters to go.

Town of Arreau

Another lasting memory I will take from this trip is that of my grandfather's cowbell. Many mountain top climbs have people ringing cowbells and Trek Travel handed out very small tiny baby cowbells. I gave mine to Adrian. I either didn't hear the directions well enough or follow them exactly but we were to pack what we wanted on top of the mountain yesterday for transport ahead of time since it would be closed to traffic and some point. As I was getting ready to go this morning I found the cowbell.

My grandfather, William T. Lowmaster, had been a farmer and before his estate sale, I was able to get a very old cowbell from his barn. This hand made (I think) bell had a wooden clapper. The sound was absolutely super. It was heavy and the sound was solid. When I rang my cowbell, people listened, even the cows on the hillside. I was told some people thought I went and stole the bell from the cows. Not true.

One of our guides, Nicole Kimborowicz, transported the bell to the summit so I had it when I was there. Thanks Nicole!!! For a brief time this afternoon, I felt a connection to my grandfather just ringing that bell. And all the Trek Travel bell holders were jealous.

Lovely town of Saint Lary

Our day ended with a ride back to St. Lary, saying goodbye to Adrian, and then exploring St. Lary for dinner. It's not quite Gatlinburg but think mountain village with open shops on the street. It was a GREAT day in the saddle.

Map and Stats (on Ride with GPS.com)

1 comment:

  1. Barry: I've talked to your family members that you left behind, and they are worried that they cannot find your last will and testament. I'm thinking they are thinking you may never return! Pedal safe. Ron