Cresting the Col d'Agnes, on a hot day. From an absolute elevation perspective this is the highest point of the day and our second climb.
Stage 7 of the Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge is our 3rd day in the high mountains as we make our way back from the Mediterranean Sea (6 more high mountain stages to go). The day before we rode the Porte de Pailheres climb, a long 22 km, which is rated "out of category," along with some other more moderate climbing, for a of distance of 79 miles and 8652 feet for the day. Today we bring the mileage up a bit at 93 miles and stack up 4 climbs. Stage 7 was modified in 2015 as a consequence of changes to the previous stage. The goal was to increase the mileage in stage 6 which changed the day's destination, and so the collateral UPSHOT was it also lengthened out stage 7 by about 15 miles and a tiny bit more climbing. Adapt and overcome, that's the motto for riding this tour, along with the justification that "if it was easy it wouldn't be fun." In the end none of these details means much to you, all you care about is turning the pedals over. You'll have a great time, I guarantee it!
The map almost looks like a piece of art that you would gladly hang on your living room wall. Follow the red road line and relive the joy of riding the French Pyrenees; or, for those who have yet to do it, imagine the challenge of riding across the Pyrenees.
Remember the old saying, "you take the high road and I'll take the low road." Well there ain' t no low road, unless of course you have to surrender to the low road, as in "bail out, abandon, withdraw, give up, or bag-it." There is always an optional easier way to get to the hotel at the end of the day. But, I can say, with good grace, that everyone who has ever come on this tour has performed. No one has given up.
The course location as it relates to the mountains and the coasts.
I like the pictures that show the effort, the pain. Why is it fun to ride a bike up a mountain? I do not know. Maybe it makes us feel alive.
Speaking of bagging-it, pictured above is karl, a.k.a. the Squirrel, who completed the entire tour, but admitted to me in Collioure on the Mediterranean coast that at the end of Stage 1 he was ready to quit. He was wondering what in all hell had he gotten himself into? I can say that I am sure everyone has a moment of self doubt. It may not come on day 1, but when it does do like Karl did, bury the thought and keep pedaling. Today the Squirrel holds his head high.
Take it from me, you'd rather descend down this side than climb it.
The beginning of the descent off the Col d'Agnes, west side. It's a long way down with some steep pitches. The TDF climbed up the west side of Agnes a few years ago, but when you watch the pros climb they make it look easy. But this is a big reason we come to ride these climbs, we want to see what it feels like. I'll tell you it's the best feeling in the world for a cyclist, and in late August early September, we'll have the place to ourselves.
Pavement quality, as always, good, check!
What a day, warm and sunny! Even though all eyes are focused on navigating the descent, this picture captures the view off to the side. Those mountain tops in the horizon are what we have ahead of us for the next week to come. I ask all my riding clients to bring an extra set of brake pads because you may burn through a set. When you descend a 9-10-12% grade and you come upon a switch back at high speeds, you'll need some serious breaking power to bring your speed down and steer the turn.
Local Pyrenees spectators to cheer you on!
There isn't anywhere else that I've ridden where you have farm animals free to roam the high mountains like in the Pyrenees. Farming has been part of the Pyrenees for 1000 years or more, and modern society has not, thankfully, changed the culture and traditions of these farming communities. I always emphasize to my clients that they need to be aware of the possibility that these animals may be on the roads at anytime, so it is especially important to be vigilant on the descents.
The view from the Col de la Core, the last climb of the day, looking to the east and from the way we came in the past few days.
The view from the Col de la Core looking east.. Below the road up the climb.
I have to say that this climb is deceptive. It's the final climb of the day but the lead up to the Col de la Core is a fast and fun long descending run through a valley after coming off the Col de Latrape, the kind of descent where you slot into a pace-line and go flat out, so that when you are in the draft you recover even though you are moving at 35 miles an hour and pedaling and coasting as you hold the wheel in front of you. Usually we have lunch either just prior to this run or after, so that when you reach the beginning of the climb of la Core you'll have a fresh tank of energy. Everything is a go! Most of the climb is a steady 7-8-9%, and a lot of it is in the trees without a view of the summit until you reach the final 2 km, and perhaps it is better that way? But per my experience the last few miles are tough because it is a long climb, and in all likelihood you are trying to drop someone or not get dropped, whatever is going on you'll be suffering and loving it?! Amen.
The sign gives it away, Col de la Core, altitude 1395 meters, or 4579 feet.. Remember, the climb started at about 1200 feet.
The fun of cycling is that every ride, even if it's a ride you do regularly, is always different because the weather conditions are never exactly the same. I've had the fortune over 10 years to ride in the Pyrenees a lot, and therefore I've seen the mountain passes in all their splendour and sometimes in their less welcoming mood. On this day in 2013, pictured above, we had clear skies and hot weather, which you can tell because everyone has stripped down to cool off once they reached the top. So we lingered at the top, the majority of the hard day's ride done, the added struggle from the impact of the heat while climbing forgotten, basking in the joy of summiting another pass in the Pyrenees. There aren't too many things better than that ... and we still have a long descent to top it all off.
Most of the riders in the group have crested and headed down the descent after gearing up, taking a drink and chewing down a snack. I'm waiting for the last of the riders before I follow in the sag-wagon. No one will head down the mountain without access to their gear to stay warm.
Again, at the summit of the Col de la Core, 2014, and the weather is different. It was cooler, which was more helpful on the climb, but as the clouds roll in on this day, which they can do quickly in high the mountains, our desire to linger was stifled. Get your warm gear on and head down the hill, the sooner the better. C'est la vie.
Call me a romantic but I love roads in France lined with Plane trees. It's quintessential, maybe cliche for most, but to me it feels like home and it's my heritage.
Trip dates: Aug 27th to Sept 11. Cost $4200. More details here.