France From Inside Cycling and Wine Tours France

Cycling, Wine and Cultural Tours in the Dordogne, Pyrenees and Southwest of France.

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View, looking north over France, from the Col de la Pierre Saint Martin, at the ridge line and border of France and Spain. The 2015 Tour de France had a stage finish up here. Somewhere, way down there, is the village of Arette where you started the day's ride. Yeah baby!!

Stage 11 of the Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge is another stout day in the high mountains, and sadly the second to last day of the tour. At this point we've all entered a dream state, day in and day out for the past 10 days we've ridden our bikes 6/7 hours everyday, across endless fabulous landscapes. Its almost as though we know of no other existence, living the dream and exactly where we want to be; none of us wants it to end. Though our thoughts might drift gently to the eventual end of the tour, stage 11 snaps us back to attention with 3 gnarly climbs. Regardless of our proximity to the Atlantic ocean, the Basque Pyrenees mountains do not show us any mercy. In fact Stage 11 will call upon a level of focus and effort as intense as anything yet in the tour. Best to snap out of the "dream state" for this ride ... or go deeper in.

Stage 11 Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

Each and every stage is just right. Believe me, I think I can make the claim, after 9 years of running this trip and riding these mountains, that no one will say they wished the day's ride was longer or harder. Some might look at the map and the stats and think they want more, but they know not what lies ahead. As you can see there is an option today to skip a pass, climb number 3, the col d'Apanice, and the thought will cross your mind when you summit the col du Bagargui - trust me it will - but don't give in. Remember, no regrets, get it done!

Stage 11 profile Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

At the top of the col du Bagargui we have lunch, and every year the topic of the lunchtime conversation is whether or not the col du Bargargui is the hardest climb of the entire tour. The sub-topic is a friendly expression of disbelief and cursing at me for another day of wonderful bike riding.

Yeah, it's a hard day on the bike. Damn those Basque engineers for building roads with such steep grades.

Stage 11 map Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

So close to the Atlantic and yet so far away.

This is the run up the canyon up to the town of Larreau after the col de Soudet descent (climb #1). Over the years you get use to these local traffic jams, a free-for-all. Nothing you can do but go with the flow and let it pass. A nice little distraction before a wicked 3 km climb up to Larreau, that's the bump on the profile map that starts at about mile 30. Come do the ride and you'll find out what I am talking about.

The western road off the Col du Bagargui that leads up to the village of Larreau. On the tour we'll be traveling from east to west on this section, so this will be a short descent before the onslaught of the Col du Bagargui. Enjoy it, because the Bagargui is suffering, true punishment.

The village of Larreau is nestled up on the hillside, steep roads to the west and east are the only to access ways, except if you come from Spain over the top of the Pyrenees. As you can see here, compared to the climate and dry landscape of the eastern Pyrenees (les Pyrenees Orientals), the landscape is lush and green. This is French Basque country, the eastern most part.

The view looking east from near the summit of the col du Bagargui.

To give you a little perspective. This image is taken near the top of the Col du Bagargui. I have indicted the town of Larreau, and also, just in case you didn't see it, the lower part of the road that climbs the Bagargui. 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 % pitches for at least half of the climb ... oh, and lunch at the top, of course.

Stage 11 Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge

The discoloration of the road are stains from sheep and cow droppings.

Take a moment to study this picture of the road that climbs up the Bagargui, specifically the pitch. Can you see how steep it is? You know that old saying, the picture never does the real thing justice. The year 2001 was my first time up this climb, I was horribly unprepared, riding a bike geared with a 53/39 and 11-23. Suffice to say I zigzagged my way up. I remember that day because a 1970's VW bus was climbing in 1st gear, under powered and unable to keep it in 2nd gear. Today I climb it with a 50/34 and 12/27.

stage 11 Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge

The beginning of the descent off the Col d'Iraty, 20 or so kms of downhill on a very nicely paved road.

The only way for you to understand the sensations of the Pyrenees is to come ride your bike in these mountains. A common sight are the livestock animals, in this case sheep. What's missing from the photo are the sounds of the bells that they wear around their necks ... clink-clink-clink. There is definitely a poetic charm.

A long and fast descent off the Col d'Iraty. I could say that it is one of the more spectacular downhills of the entire trip, a perfectly paved road and nicely banked turns, but its not true because there are countless other epic descents and climbs in the Pyrenees.

Across the way is the road nearing the summit of the Col d'Apanice, which will go around that large granite ridge and descend down the other side. This is a climb that attracts a very few cyclists or other tourists, as it is quite rustic and off the beaten path, with a sensation that you have gone back in time to another era. This is also the optional climb of the day, but you'll miss something special if you don't go.

Perfect pavement! It's everywhere, yeah! Here Jeff and Richard in 2014 work together to keep the pace. Their bellies are full from lunch and now it's time for the Col d'Apanice. After you bottom out of the descent off the Col d'Iraty there is a short fast run to the beginning of the Col d'Apanice; careful because it is easy to miss the turn off.

About 2/3 of the way up the Col d'Apanice. It's almost comical that the road has a painted center line, usually roads of this size in France are too small to consider dividing it in two. If two opposing vehicles come across one another, one of them has to back up and find a place to pull over so the other can pass. I don't drive the sag-wagon up here for that very reason. The riders top off on any supplies before heading up the climb and the van waits at the other end of the climb to rejoin and support the riders. If you check out the map again you'll see that the climb is literally a loop.

Waiting for the riders to complete the Col d'Apanice loop, Steve and I enjoy a coffee break. It's called stopping to smell the roses! Strava be damned. And to finish this short inspirational article, a recent comment from Charles, a 4 time finisher and attendee of the Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge, "Bottom line, it's a hell a trip. Any man or woman who does will remember it as one of the great highlights and accomplishments of their life. The mountains made it a worthy challenge, but the group of riders made it fun."

Trip dates: Aug 27th to Sept 11. Cost $4200. More details here.