Today was the day that we had saved for our biggest effort yet, tackling two category HC climbs; Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin. With the Pyrenees visible first thing this morning, rising above the valley mist, we knew that today would be hot and hard.
Logistics played a key part to tackling these titans as from our base it meant a drive of 90 minutes to a lay by just outside of Luz-Saint-Sauveur, ride up Tourmalet, descend back down, drive up Tourmalet, descend the other side, drive for an hour to the base of Aspin, drive over it to descend the other side, park up in Arreau, ride back up the descent we made in the car and then ride back down. Just reading it back leaves me gasping for breath!!
First titan to overcome; Col du Tourmalet. Our longest and highest climb to date being 19k and scaling 1,404m. What I liked about this climb was the first 5k or so riding up a 6% gradient, passing through a couple of typical French villages admiring the rustic way life exists - care free. The valley was spectacular with water cascading off the mountainside to our left. This surely can’t continue? Certainly not; with a kick up to 9% and numerous switch backs we knew we had taken on a Goliath and only time would tell if we could overcome the challenge. Settling into a metronomic cadence you slowly start to realise that you could do with several more gears to keep your heart rate under control. Not having the luxury to click it down you have to grind out the turns until you find some respite at 7.5%.
Ironically the monster was playing with us as when we felt we were going downhill momentarily, a check of our garmin showed we had only dropped to a 5% gradient, still climbing! Psychologically our minds were all over the place as we could see exactly where we were heading and it was a Jack and the Giant Beanstalk moment, heading to the very top where the cable car could go no more. The constant switchbacks and climbing was slowly coming to an end and on the turn of the very last switch back we were greeted with an almighty wall; 12% and shear drops off to the left. With a last effort, pushing up those final meters, we summited - Goliath had in fact been slain.
Riding up a breath taking meandering pass is one thing but to do it in a car is something else. Apart from the fact it is quicker, obviously, you get a real sense of the gearing you need to use to climb it -putting our effort clearly into perspective.
Titan 2; Col d’Aspin. Whilst driving down to the bottom of this Col, Tim and I were very quiet up to the point when we both spoke at the same time, ooohhh this is a bit steep!! I know exactly what I was thinking and from speaking to Tim after the ride we had identical thoughts - how are we going to get up this after our efforts an hour or so earlier. Leaving Arreau - very pretty town - we set off slowly to the base. Both our minds were already playing games on us as having come down Aspin we knew what lay ahead. A huge error of judgement however we had little choice given the location and our aim to climb as many famous Col’s as possible in the four
days. In all fairness once we got into a rhythm we had our own ways of dealing with the pain. The road was rougher and narrower as it gave a feel of riding somewhere in the lakes but without the element of the height. Like Tourmalet, a Col that you could see exactly where you were heading and at one point the shear vertical distance that was visible could have broken either of us were we not so pig headed. Blowing hard the top was in our sights and the views were - well awesome!!!! So peaceful being on top of the world with the sun shining on us confirmed we had beaten Aspin as well.
Titans 0 : ECTC 2…………
Total distance covered: 72.3km. Height gained: 2,210m