France From Inside Cycling and Wine Tours France

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

Join email list

In the news

News  Letter  Index

Chateau de Pitray
Chateau de Pitray

"I never though I would ever say this, but I wish I was doing this fucking insane ride again !"

Oral Powell, comments after completing the trip twice - 2009 and 2011.


March 11, 2012. Uggg, the weather here in the Bay Area is showing some signs of rain. Yesterday's mountain bike ride was actually not that much fun, mostly because I was not properly dressed and so I suffered from the cold on the misty descents ... note, to put this in perspective the past week has been 70 degree weather and blue skies. So, in order to ensure that I do not give up cycling after yesterday's "mildly bad" experience, I continue to dream about the Pyrenees.

This is Ben, his younger days, full of wonder and vigour, in 2005. He's a mutt, and part of his heritage is some sort of Pyrenees sheep herding terrier. He's my parent's dog, who lives in the Bordeaux wine country, and he has had the pleasure of returning to his mountain roots many times. When I first began to explore the Pyrenees I recruited my parents to drive sag-support, and Ben got to come along.

The town of Biarritz, Atlantic coast, in the early am, low tide. By the late morning this beach will be standing room only, and at high tide half the beach will be submerged.

Almost lost somewhere on a Pyrenees back-road, back in 2002, on a solo ride that took me over the Col du Tourmalet. I drove south to Lourdes from a cousin's place near the Pyrenees, parked, got on the bike and off I went. The loop for the day took me back to my car via the foothills, nasty steep buggers, on a road that at one point turned into a gravel fire road. In this picture I am half-way confident that I am not lost, but fearful of the next climb.

2005, top of the Col de Pailheres, weather a little funky, but not that bad. For the 2012 trip, the Col de Pailheres will be the first of many "real mountain climbs." When you climb up this you will have your first taste of the high mountains. Hmmm ... I wonder if you will use your "granny gear?" I suggest you try not to, save that "relief" when you really need it, like the next day. Not only will you be introduced to the climbing, but also the descending ... try not to go too fast.

The popularity of cycling in the Pyrenees is evidenced by the road signs specifically for cyclists. Note the information: summit altitude, current altitude, distance to the top, and average grade. I'm not sure if this information is a blessing or a curse. I suppose it all depends on how you feel physically when you come upon a sign ... usually every 3 km.

I was happy when we came across this "road block." Bill is a motorcycle rider, and over his head when it comes to riding up these mountains under his own pedal power (this trip was a casual "who wants to ride in the Pyrenees with me," before I began offering the trip to the public ... that's how Bill got to go). Anyhow, to make up for his pace up the mountain he had to show his bravado down the descent. If you don't use your brakes it is a matter of seconds before you exceed 50 mph on a 9 and 10 and 11 % grade. This cow crossing is the only thing that slowed him down.

2007, on one of the stages back to the Atlantic coast. This stage that year was designed to ride slightly north of the Pyrenees, in what you can see is rolling hills. Everywhere I have ridden in the French countryside is spectacular, especially in the south where the weather is warm. 4 riders working together ... efficient and smart, a technique you should heed.

How many times has the Tour de France passed through this tunnel, between the Col d'Aubisque and Col du Soulor? Countless is the answer. That's me up ahead, super stoked.

2002, Col du Soulor, which obviously was featured in the Tour that year. Look ahead and you can see the road cut into the granite rock. SWEET photo, totally iconic.

2007, I am probably giving words of wisdom and encouragement to the group at lunch - and of course no one is listening or paying much attention. It doesn't matter when you are a legend in your own mind. Anyhow, this is the anticipated 5 pass day, and I am bummed that I have to drive the van.

Top of the Col d'Aspin. I have no idea what year this is, but the view is always appreciated. The Col du Tourmalet is in the back-ground. The cow reminds me of a "DAQ" - dumb ass question presented in total seriousness - asked by a good friend and participant in 2006. As you can anticipate there are a lot of farm animals in the high mountains, and I get asked a lot of DAQs, so don't forget your thinking caps. The "DAQ" asked on day 7 of that trip was, "now Allan, are those the same cows that we saw on the first day?"