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

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Stage 8 of the Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

The view from about 1 km from the top of the Col du Porte de Bales, and somewhere along that stretch Schleck dropped his chain and Contador attacked on that infamous day in the TDF.

This is, statistically speaking, the "Mother" of all stages on this very awesome tour. I present to you stage 8 my friends!! 5 climbs and a whopping 14,124 feet of climbing. Your saving grace is that the following day is a rest day, so no holding back, attack!! Plus you'll have plenty of ice cold Red Bulls in the sag-wagon to keep you pumping all day. I started to drink them last year in the high mountains and I was astounded by the affect. I'm a Believer now.

Stage 8 of the Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge

This day was originally inspired by stage 15 of the 2005 Tour de France that George Hincapie won. Sure there are some differences, but in essence that day included 6 climbs. I figured if he can do it we can do it, right? I mean it isn't as though you need to be doped! Okay, I'll make it a little easier, reduce the mileage by about 30 miles and make it only 5 passes. Now you don't need dope, just Red Bulls.

Stage 8 of the Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge

As always take the time to study and enjoy the profile. And take comfort in the laws of Physics, what goes up must come down.

Words of encouragement that have motivated and sustained past riders on this day, "when in doubt, attack!" And the usual responses to my words of encouragement, "I'm not in doubt." Anyhow, piece of cake, by now you are used to this high mountain stuff, no sweat.

Stage 8 of the Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge

As the course relates to the overall picture and focus of the Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge.

Stage 8 Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge

Twisting and turning, numerous switchbacks, perfect pavement.

The climb up the east side of the Col de Mente. Its about 7 miles long and averages 7%, topping off at an absolute elevation of 4,426 feet. Over the distance of the climb you gain about 2,349 feet. Its been featured in the TDF 18 times. How's that for cycling history. Now come live it!

If you are lucky enough you might come across the ferocious Pyrenees mountain dog. Don't get too close, they are unpredictable beasts responsible to guard sheep from predators. This one here is prowling the summit of the Col de Mente, just at the edge of the mountain top cafe.

Those that I can assert under oath who are still cycling: Jeff, Gordon, Scott, and me ... and all still lean and mean, and older.

Yikes, the passing of time ... I'm talking about how life flies by. This photo is from 2006, the inaugural Pyrenees 1000 mile trip. I'm glad to say that everyone in this photo is still alive and well, though I can't vouch for the fact that they are all still riding bikes, and if they are still riding are they likewise lean machines, or have they allowed for the extra pounds of body fat wisdom to prosper? I can guarantee this, you want to show up lean and mean for this trip or you shall curse yourself to sleep every night.

Stage 8 Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

Run Forest, run! Brian, winner of the Western States 100 mile run, is churning the pedals up the Col du Porte de Bales.

Personally I've ridden up this climb (Porte de Bales) 4 times now, and I'll be honest it's hard and it's long, and it only first appeared in the TDF in 2007 (and 3 times since then). Why? Well, it took the TDF organization to prompt the repaving of this desolate and, at the time, almost impassable road. Voila. Now it too can be a staple of your diet for "fun in the sun."

All I can say is that it is tougher than it looks, in large part because the 7 to 8 percent grade in this photo has been preceded by mucho kilometers of 10 to 13 percent grades.

"Our contribution purely depends on our consciousness and our willingness to support those in need, to show vulnerability and accept the support of others, to share without expecting the credit, to give it our all and allow our hard work to decide the outcome, to understand that control can only be achieved with a shared responsibility." I'm not sure who said this, but this should be the Van guy's motto. The other one is, "adapt and overcome." Ok, it's an inside joke that only past riders will understand.

Stage 8 Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

See, didn't I tell you it's "fun in the sun." 100 yards from the top and loving every pedal stroke. You got to appreciate it, he's in an aerodynamic position, traveling at the whopping speed of 6 miles per hour. Of course every advantage counts, because small attention to detail adds up and is necessary to clear the top.

Lunch at the top of the Porte de Bales in 2012. Lynda taking in the view, and Brian, WTF he's got his helmet on while he eats lunch?!?

Oddly enough lunch each year is not necessarily at the top of the Porte de Bales, which is a perfect spot. Last year we had it at the bottom, go figure, at about mile 45 of the day. Whatever the case, the van will be waiting for all the riders at the summit because I can guarantee everyone you'll need to put fuel back into the system once you are done with this climb.

The view of the descent down towards the next climb, the Col de Peyresourde. Pat enjoys the warm weather in 2013.

The descent down off the Porte de Bales is fast, but then all the descents in the Pyrenees are fast. The previous descent of the Col de Mente is one of my favorite, but most of the descents are favourites. I guess what I am trying to say is that riding a bike through the Pyrenees is awesome where ever you are.

Stage 8 Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

Even from this high up you can tell the pavement is good.

This is the view looking at the east side of the Peyresourde, the side we climb up, taken from just about at the summit. Take a good look at the mountain tops in the background, that's where you've been the past couple of days. The descent off the Porte de Bales merges with the Peyresourde about a couple of miles into the climb already, but that still leaves us about 7 miles to get to the top. Last year, thanks to the Red Bull, I was able to push fairly hard on this climb, and I enjoyed passing and dropping some of my riders. Hey, you're not supposed to give away any cols!

I'm telling you, the pavement is epic everywhere over here. It isn't that much of a stretch to say, "1000 miles and not one pothole."

The top of the Col du Peyresourde, you can see the grade in this shot. At this point you've made it over 4 passes, about 11,000 feet in your legs, and just one more to go. I can't predict how you will feel, how much energy you'll have in the tank. For me it's varied from year to year.

This is why cycling up a hill is so much fun, or should I say has an allure, like a gravitational pull, or maybe the same reason and need for the chicken to cross the road.

In 2014 I think I was fairly cooked at the top of the Peyresourde, but I'm pretty sure everyone else was cooked too. It was hot and the heat always has a kryptonite effect.

Okay, this might get a little confusing so pay attention. This picture was taken from the top of the final climb, the Col d'Azet, and we are looking east at the summit of the Col de Peyresourde, which is the 4th climb. What you see then is just a small portion of the Peyresourde descent, which is fast and fun like all the other descents. The formula for the high mountain stages is, "hard climb up, and fast and fun down ... repeat."

What can I say, another favourite descent. If you have the skills and the mental fortitude you can just let yourself go, stay off the brakes, and easily reach speeds of 50+ miles an hour. There won't be any livestock on this road, I have yet to see any in all my years riding this climb, and since this col is frequently included in the TDF the pavement is always butter perfect. Plus the line of sight is clear. Your worst case scenario is getting caught behind a vehicle, but this trip is in the off season and car traffic is minimal. I can't say cars have ever slowed me up, it's really just grabbing the brakes to scrub off speed and stay within reason and caution (no shame in being cautious and controlled).

You've probably seen a nature show about mountain goats. Well, come live the experience and see the "mountain cows" in their natural setting.

The final climb of the day is the Col d'Azet, and even though it isn't the longest climb of the day it packs a punch. Yellow is 7-10 %, red is 10+ %, blue 4-7 %. The climb is 4.7 miles. Be smart, drink a Red Bull at the top of the Peyresourde.

There are signs like this on every climb, and they provide you with critical information: remaining distance to the top, current altitude, and average grade. The signs are usually spaced about 2km apart, so you can track your progress. Of course, depending on the sensations in your legs, the information on the sign can be motivational or terrifying. It's all a matter of perspective and attitude.

Stage 8 Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

The col d'Azet, unlike the col de Peyresourde, can be packed with livestock. On the way up it isn't a big deal since it won't affect your rhythm, you can always zig-zag around the cows that are actually in the road, they won't be spooked or do any sudden moves. But this is a good reminder that these animals are free to roam in the upper reaches of the mountains, and one should be aware of their possible presence and their droppings when descending. Please assume that on the smaller, less traveled roads, livestock may be lurking.

This photo was actually taken in the morning, in 2006, when the course was in the opposite direction.

The panoramic view from the summit of the col d'Azet looking west. Below, at the very bottom is our destination for the night. For those that know the road, from this point on you can actually coast all the way to the doorstep of the hotel.

A couple of the riders from the past at the top of the col d'Azet. Charles to the left. He holds the record having done this trip 4 times. The passing of time has caused him to retire from cycling and take up golf. He came up with the phrase "adapt and overcome," as a good motto for this trip. And on the right, Uncle Ron, who at the age of 72 put the hurt on all of us. He has not given up cycling and does not play golf. Ron uncharacteristically bonked on this day at the top of the 4th pass. And from that moment he inspired the famous Clint Eastwood words, "a man has got to know his limitations." Both of these guys have become good friends to me and they are legendary riders.

Stage 8 Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

The view again from the col d'Azet with a layer of fog covering the valley floor.

Stage 8 Pyrenees 1000 mile cycling challenge

A final parting shot, about 2/3 of the way down the descent. The road in the background is not part of the day's ride, but you are welcome to ride up it the next day, which is the 2nd and last rest day of the trip. Actually, there are many riders who go out for a short ride on the rest day, so don't rule it out ... yet.

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

Pyrenees 1000 mile challenge