The view of the Valley d'Ossau and the Col d'Aubisque in the background. Stage 2 will begin in the valley and take us up and over the Col d'Aubisque.
In 2015 I made some adjustments to some of the stages for the Pyrenees challenge. As you may know there are 12 stages necessary to cover the 1000 mile and 100,000 feet route across the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and back. Of course everyone is always eager to ride the big climbs in the Pyrenees, but the first 4 stages (the traverse to the Atlantic-to-Mediterranean), totaling 428 miles and 32,390 ft, are in the foothills since it is too demanding to traverse through the high mountains in just 4 stages. The return leg of the tour (Mediterranean-to-Atlantic) is all in the high mountains, 8 stages, and that is when you will get to ride all the classic cols, 24 in all.
Ha! But I plead guilty to the temptations of the high mountains. Even though the foothills are commanding in their own right, I found it lacking not to expose my riders to a major climb within the first 4 days of the trip. Therefore, stage 2 now includes the Col d'Aubisque, classified as an "out of category climb" in the cycling world. It took some shuffling on my part to create a feasible route, one in which the Aubisque was featured in the beginning of the day. The result, pure genius. Officially the day's ride is an "ass-kicker" at 110 miles and 10,400 ft ... and here to stay. And this is only 1 of 12 stages for the entire tour.
Here is the topo-map for day 2. Part of the fun and challenge of designing the routes is to keep us on roads that are off the beaten path whenever possible. Even though this isn't a detailed close-up of the map route, you can see how a stage meanders before reaching its end, and the profile of the course makes it very clear how hilly and mountainous it is. The ride starts at about an elevation of 1300 ft and climbs to almost 6000 ft at the top of the col d'Aubisque, and then it drops down and continues on through the foothills. All a lot of fun for the maniacal cyclist.
The profile for the 2nd stage more or less speaks for itself. The col d'Aubisque is featured at the start of the ride when your legs are fresh and that leaves you free to attack the climb with some panache. However, considering that there are another 90 miles to the finish after the climb, and another 5,400 ft., it probably best to moderate your efforts a little. If you study the profile with a keen eye you'll see that there are about 20 miles of downhill after you crest the Aubisque summit. Speaking from experience this lends itself to some fast and furious riding. Another moment of pure cycling joy in the Pyrenees.
The overall perspective of the route for stage 2 as it relates to the entire Pyrenees mountain range and both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.
At first glance this photograph is a dime a dozen, but take the time to study some of the details while I describe the context. At this point in the ride we've descended off the Col d'Aubisque and are pedaling through the foothills, specifically somewhere below the Col du Tourmalet. We are at about mile 45, and it's around 11:30 am. It's hot enough already that I've got my jersey unzipped, and the pace challenging enough that Rob (blue helmet) pivots his upper body left and right with each pedal stroke, a tell tale sign that's he's working to keep the pace and stay in the draft. We are riding two abreast and in the middle of the road, a sign that betrays the minimal car traffic on this back road. Even though we have another 65 miles to ride our jersey pockets are lightly stocked, testament to our confidence of the van support that is at our finger tips all day long. All of this to a cyclist is what you call "living it up."
So the foothills are the "low roads." But the low roads aren't a "step down," rather these roads are an opportunity to see another personality of the Pyrenees that is not steeped in high mountain folklore and legends. I imagine you could call them the neglected but brilliant and beautiful siblings. Believe me it is well worth it to ride through the back roads and see what 90% of the tourists never do, the hidden farms, villages, and splendid landscapes that are the inner workings of this region. It's also just plain fun and challenging riding. And lastly it's a great introduction and a way to ease into the trip - though averaging 100 miles a day for the first 4 days isn't that easy.
I think the smiles on their faces says it all. Stage 2, redesigned with the Col d'Aubisque, at 110 miles and 10,400 feet is here to stay. As Carol said "any one of the stages in this tour would have been memorable, but to put them all together in a single tour was epic. It was without a doubt the most physically and mentally challenging cycling I've ever done on a bike. It was evident from the very beginning that this tour was put together by someone who understands what it means to be an avid cyclist."
Trip dates: Aug 27th to Sept 11. Cost $4200. More details here.