Looking up (and westward) towards the high mountains of the Mediterranean Pyrenees. The coastal mountain fog beginning to burn off.
Stage 5 is when we leave the Mediterranean seaside village of Collioure and make our way west, back to the Atlantic Ocean and the town of Biarritz where we began our journey. This is an exciting day as we begin to ascend into the high mountains where we will ride for the next 8 stages. The day before we enjoyed a day of leisure and recovery in Collioure, our first of 2 rest days, so today everyone is well recovered and eager to get back on the bike. Our journey back is the "hardcore" block of the tour, the part that everyone has trained for and awaited with anticipation.
It's going to be a great day so eat your Wheaties, or whatever is the equivalent in France, and let's get ready to rumble!!
Starting at sea level we make our way to as high as 3500 ft. elevation. Compared to the remaining stages that take us over peaks at 5000 and 6000 ft., this day's ride may seem un-intense, but at a total of 8500 feet it is still stellar and is chocked-full of climbing for the day, especially considering that the remaining stages only get harder. Furthermore, a factor that can come into play on this day is the wind. In 2012 we had a gnarly headwind all day long. Pray to the cycling Gods that it doesn't happen to you.
The course as it relates to the entire Pyrenees range.
We made the effort in 2012 to leave an hour earlier than normal, 8 am start instead of 9 am, in the hopes that in the morning the wind would be calmer. No difference. No one launched any attacks on this day.
Okay, everything looks pretty basic and straight forward, riders slotted in a pace line ... but wait, take a look at the grass next to the road marker. Howling headwinds! Occasionally the wind blows hard here. It has a name, like the Mistral winds in Provence, or the San Ana winds in Southern California, and it's called La Tramontane. Over the years that I've offered this tour we've always had good luck with weather and minimal wind, that is to say no Tramontane. Well, in 2012 the Gods were against us, and for the entire day we battled a stiff 25 mile an hour headwind, with gusts that were significantly stronger. I fear the Tramontane wind now.
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself ..."
Here is another visual aide to help you understand the ferocity of the Tramontane winds. Pictured above is the Mediterranean sea at the town of Collioure. These winds blow in a series of 3, that is to say for 3 days, or 6 days, or 9 days. All we can do is drink our beers and pray, like the atheist in the foxhole.
Yup, that's what 20 miles to the Mediterranean sea looks like.
It takes us about 20 miles of pedaling through the coastal flats before we reach the foothills and begin the upward efforts. It's a lot like a stage in a pro-bike race, a long flattish-rollers section before we start the surges and attacks in the climbing portions to create a little havoc ... (I'm not suggesting you challenge your cycling buddies, ha!)
"Effort only releases a reward after a person refuses to quit."
Mike, an accomplished rider, getting it done, back in 2012, had this to say about the tour, "I had an interest in the Pyrenees trip for about 3 years before I finally signed up. I was looking for something that would be a challenge beyond what I had ridden in the past and I wasn't disappointed."
Mountains are the greatest seducer of cyclists.
I love the view towards the high mountains, it beckons us with the history of cycling, countless races, the Tour de France, amateurs like us with the promise of experiencing the same challenges and the same climbs that the professionals ride. Pretty darn cool if you ask me. I'll never tire of riding my bike here. Remember, if it was easy it wouldn't be fun. Adapt and overcome, that's how we roll.
First we eat and drink, then we pedal.
A quick pit stop after the descent off the col, at about the 38 mile mark. Everyone drinks a soft drink, eats their choice of snacks, and then it's back on the bike. Frequent pit stops like this keep everyone's energy levels high, which helps us to ride hard, but it also helps to minimize the accumulative fatigue. Without this kind of sag support I don't think this trip is doable.
It looks as though there is some version of a French Redneck who has shot up the sign?!
The 2nd climb of the day. Piece of cake, I agree, only just shy of 2000 ft., but still about 18 miles long from when the slope turns up and you cross the crest. I will say this, it is a fast pace climb, because of a mellow grade, 4/5 percent average. And as you know, pace and intensity can make a mountain out of a mole hill. No lagging, push, push, push.
Pavement my friends, it's all about the quality of the pavement. The simple joys of a cyclist. French roads are almost always well paved, vive la France.
"Do things that make you happy ... "
A little ways down the descent of the Col des Auzines. 91 miles total for the day is just about right. This is a great stage, though every stage on this tour is awesome.
This picture is deceiving, not the smiles and the satisfaction, but the fact everyone is making it look easy. Time to pick up the pace and add some urgency and concern to their expressions.
Nearing the summit of the Col d'Aussieres. Again, another small back country road that twists its way up the mountains. About 2/3 of this day's course is on this type of road. It's as though the roads were built for the enjoyment of cyclists. I like it. This is the longest climb of the day with a moderate grade, and that means speed. Tomorrow, stage 6, we will abandon the moderate grades and welcome the classic 7-8-9-10% pitches beginning with the Col du Porte de Pailheres.
In 2014 the weather on this day was hot, and the wind non-existent. In 2015, no wind, but much, much cooler at the higher elevations. It required putting on gear to keep warm on the descents. Pictured here, Brian in 2014.
The summit of the Col d'Aussieres is a sort of long flat plateau that the road zigzags along for about a mile before descending. An interesting aspect of the ride is that by the end of the day we are in a very different landscape from when we began. As you can see in this photo there are pine forests on the hillside, along with fields. This is a truly unique aspect to this trip, the constantly changing and variable landscapes.
"Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment, full effort is full victory." Well Gandhi, these guys look satisfied after a full day's effort.
We were a little lazy here at the end of the day. No one was pressed to get to their room, instead opting to drink and eat from the van on the hotel steps. Derelicts!
Trip dates: Aug 27th to Sept 11. Cost $4200. More details here.