Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Col d' Azet and Col d' Peyresourde


We woke up to a chilly overcast day. A pretty loud thunderstorm visited in the middle of the night and the low cloud cover was here to stay. Our Trek Travel group met and discussed riding options for the day. At breakfast a number of people were already discussing taking a day off from riding. And why not? Because the Tour de France is having a rest day there was no viewing location to bike to.

Why not? Because you paid a million freekin' dollars to come to France to ride a bicycle. I'm in!

We could climb the Col d' Azet and Col d' Peyresourde, eat lunch in Luchon, then return over the Peyresourde. Or there was a valley road leading right to the Peyresourde so only one climb would be needed. And Trek Travel would shuttle people back.

People discussed their options. Some were staying back at the hotel and visiting St. Lary to go shopping. Some were staying back but riding locally. Some were going out to the Peyresourde to Luchon. And only a handful, perhaps five, were going to the entire route. Yea, that would be me.

Because groups formed in the parking lot and I was unsure who was in which group, I just sort of jumped in and started asking where they were going. I joined Rich McCrea and James Hartzberg and we went flying down the road - in the wrong direction. But the time we realized we weren't supposed to be following the other groups, we had to turn around and go back to St. Lary to start our climb from there. These are called bonus miles. I love them! We added 14 bonus miles returning to St. Lary before beginning the climb up the Azet.

The mountains had a low cloud cover. The climb up the Col d' Azet was almost seven miles. We went through a couple old and small villages past farms. We passed some big dogs and no dog yet has shown us any attention. No barking. No growling. No chasing.

Rich McCrea (L) and James Hartzberg (R)
At the summit of Col d' Azet

At the summit the cover moved rapidly. When I arrived it was covered and I could barely see the sign at the summit 25 meters away. In seconds then entire mountain had cleared. And then it disappeared again.

The descent, while obviously steep, was pretty cold. For each climb it was strip down to as little as possible and sweat your ass off, even though the temperature was around 15C (59 F), and then stop at the summit to put on as much gear as possible before the descent. Then freeze.

The top of the Azet is a pastoral grazing area and being France, I'm not sure if that means a number of monks are walking around or -- yes, judging from the number of cow patties -- it is a free roaming area for cattle. We had to stop and pass carefully by two huge cows on our descent off Azet.

No sooner than one comes off the Azet that the climb to Peyresourde begins. This climb was used yesterday in the Tour de France. It was hot, while cold, ascending. At the top was a Trek Travel van where I pulled over to refill my two bottles -- both empty. Ate some pretzels, energy bars, and found the super secret stash of Snickers. Mmm, Snickers.

Actually, the van had been to the top of Azet earlier but because of our bonus miles, we had missed it. But not now.

One rider from another group had already abandoned and lent his rain slicker to James for the descent. James had only a jersey and arm warmers. I had a jacket with removable sleeves which made it a vest. It rocked.

Dave and Donna Thackrey, Peter Pellicano

The descent off the Peyresourde to Luchon could have been great in good weather conditions. But the cloud cover was so thick we were getting soaked descending and were on the verge of hypothermia. This side of the mountain had straight roads but visibility was so bad, plus the roads were wet, one could not let go of the brakes. It was a shame. When you could see the line in the road change slightly you weren't sure if it was merely a subtle change in the road or a nasty 180 hairpin curve. And I have yet to see a single sign in the Pyrenees warning of a curve ahead and a recommended safe speed to use.

We reached Luchon about the time most of our group was getting ready to roll out. They had just finished a big lunch and some had already called it quits for the day. The van was taking them back. I met our tour guide, Nicole Kimborowicz, plus Matt McDonald and Peter Pellicano who were going back over the Peyresourde. I didn't want to abandon Rich and James but Rich had basically declared that, after lunch, he was taking a shuttle and James was unsure.

Luchon, Fr.

I didn't want to eat lunch then have no one to bike back with and I was biking back. So I skipped lunch and jumped in with the Nicole group. That was an excellent idea. The worse thing I could have done was to sit down, get something heavy in my stomach, get cold in my wet clothes, stiffen up, then attack the Peyresourde -- the same HC climb the Tour used yesterday.

The same recipe followed -- climb the Peyresourde, put on as many warm clothes for the descent, then let 'er rip. Although not let it go too fast. It was just yesterday off the descent of the Peyresourde that Jens Voigt had his front tire blow out and he crashed hard. Although the broom wagon offered to pick him up, and thereby would end his race, he requested a new bike. A car was in the caravan that had been supporting a children's race and they delivered him a bike -- a child's bike which he rode 15-20 kilometers until his team car could get him a full size bike again.

Jens Voigt - Gotta love the toe clips

After our safe descent of the Peyresourde, my group didn't want to return the route we came -- up and over the Azet again. So we took some valley roads back to St. Lary. On our way into town I went ahead solo through town and climbed partially back up the Azet to take pictures.

St. Lary from the base of Azet

I returned home with probably the most miles (74) and vertical feet of climbing (9600) of anyone in the group today. It was a great day on the bike.

Pretty crazy profile. The peaks are Azet, Peyresourde, and
Peyresourde a second time with a partial climb up the Azet again.

Map and Stats displayed in Ride With

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