The Mediterranean side of the Pyrenees mountain (in French called les Pyrenees Oriental) is a stark contrast with its arid climate from the Atlantic end which is humid and green.
Stage 4 had a facelift in 2015, and the tweaking is here to stay. The main difference is the total elevation for the day, at about 1700 ft. more than in the previous version. There are so many wonderful backroads throughout the Pyrenees that I find it a little disingenuous to claim that the adjustments make the stage better than it was before. I prefer to say that it's different. Mainly it accomplishes the goal of adding a little more climbing to the day's course. Ah you say, "more is better?" But of course, and you are welcome. Furthermore, there are also some scenic benefits that are well worth it.
The course route for stage 4.
Above the "topo" map of the stage. The wonderful joy of cycling is never to try and find the fastest way from start to finish. It's all about meandering, and I dare say this course does just that! Now, stage 4 at 128 miles, along with the 3 previous consecutive stages, will make for a very tired group of riders by the end of the day. I can say that after 9 years of running this tour this stage will require from all the riders considerable physical and mental fortitude. Nonetheless, the beauty of the ride and the sense of accomplishment having reached the Mediterranean, having pedaled 428 miles and climbed 32,400 ft. in 4 days, should put a massive grin on your face at dinner that night.
The profile for stage 4.
Again, this part of the tour is technically in the foothills, so there aren't any of the long classic climbs found in the high mountains, such as the col d'Aubisque that we do on stage 2. Nonetheless, the climbs are considerably more than just "rolling hills," as they range from 500 feet of elevation gain to 1800 ft., which you can see by the elevation profile above. I find that this is the kind of day that calls for an aggressive riding style to maximize the experience, so take it from me and go for it, but remember "a man has got to know his limitations."
And the course route for stage 4 as it relates to the Pyrenees mountain range, Atlantic on the left and Mediterranean on the right.
Joe doesn't have his helmet on!! What? It's ok to take it off on longish climbs when it's really hot.
Attitude is everything. This trip has always had a friendly competitive spirit. If my memory serves me correct Charles (blue bike) put the hurt on us all on this climb, and Joe gave him a run for his money. Like I said, it's a good day to be aggressive and burn some candles. Here, at the top of the 2nd day's climb, we are about to make the transition into the more arid landscape. At about mile 40 you'll recognize and enjoy the landscape change, which to me is a fascinating attribute of the Pyrenees mountains.
The Gorges de Galamus. A "gorges" in French is a canyon. Yeah, yeah, bring it down a little and try not to compare it to Grand Canyon size.
One of the added scenic bonuses discovered this year, the Gorges de Galamus on the eastern end of the Pyrenees foothills. The road, as you can see, is carved into the canyon walls. It is too narrow to allow for traffic to flow in both directions. Naturally there is a 5 minute stoplight to alternate the traffic and control the mile long passage. The base of the canyon is 600 feet below. On this day since we cover 128 miles and we don't stop much to sightsee, but be sure to make a note in your memory to back some day and check it out.
Corbieres wine vineyards ... tasty.
It is of no surprise to find vineyards along the ride, we are of course in La Belle France, but now that I think of it the Pyrenees Oriental (eastern Pyrenees) is the only region that we cross that does produce wine (Corbieres AOC). Most of the landscapes that we see on this journey are planted with other crops, corn and wheat, along with plenty of fields and forests, and of course livestock grazing about the roadside. So this is once more another pleasant example of the variety and beauty that the French Pyrenees has to offer.
Ron making his way over the last significant climb of the day - not the super high peak in the background, more like the ridge to the left - where he will be greeted by the first glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea.
Back to the "dime a dozen" cycling photograph. I like this one because it makes me dream of being there, riding a road that will zig zag its way through the foothills to reach the Mediterranean Sea. I know that at this point Ron has ridden 80 miles in the day and he still has another 50 miles to go, but the sun is shinning and he is exactly where he wants to be. We'll check in with him at mile 115 to see if his "nerves are getting on edge," that's about the time when some riders are thinking no mas! Hey, if it was easy it wouldn't be fun.
Mr. Bradley was a force to be reckoned with on the bike, with plenty of candles still to burn at mile 90 of 128.
This is how I like to ride a bike, especially across the Pyrenees, nothing but the bare essentials in your pockets because the sag-wagon is always near by, along with warm weather and on a road with very sparse car traffic, the jersey unzipped and a smile on your face at about mile 90. All of these great attributes everyone has now become accustomed to after the first 4 days of the tour. For those of you like Bradley, and me, and everyone else that has attended this tour, who want a trip that is 95% about riding, look no further! But bring your "game" because there is some serious vertical too.
One of the many grand moments of this tour, at last the sea.
A moment of jubilation and enchantment, our first view of the Mediterranean Sea - 30 some miles away off on the horizon. Very cool! At the seashore it is officially 428 miles and 32,400 feet in 4 days, the so called warm-up before the return leg through the high mountains. Awesome! This is a bucket list item for dedicated hardcore cyclists for sure. Anyone of the stages in the tour is epic, and Stage 4 is a great way to finish off the 1st leg of the tour, with just the right amount of work to warrant the following day off with our first rest day.
Take a rest, a day off the bike, and enjoy the seaside town of Collioure, walk around the 12th century forte, eat your fill of gelato ice cream, and then get ready for the longer ride home through the high mountains - 600 miles and 70,000 ft.
Trip dates: Aug 27th to Sept 11. Cost $4200. More details here.