September is here and that only means one thing; pack the car and drive
off to the Alps for a week of cycling in the mountains. But this year I
am doing something slightly different - La Haute Route de la Pyrenees /
The Raid Pyrenean*. This is a route, entirely in the French side of the
mountains** starting on the Atlantic at Hendaye and finishing on the
Mediterranean at St-Cyprien Plage (Perpignon - home of the 2018
Challenge Cup winning Catalan Dragons) and riding many cols made famous
by the Tour de France (and La Vuelta).
* The official Raid Pyrenean covers the course in 100 hours. I am taking a more leisurely 6 days for the 436 miles and 14,593m climbing
** There are variants of the route including one which has a brief foray into Spain after Bagneres-du-Luchon to take in the Col de Portillion
Not wanting to carry all my kit, I have joined a group holiday from Exodus, (other operators are available) specialists in adventure holidays. 10 years ago I went on an Exodus Mountain Biking holiday based near Luchon in the Pyrenees. Sadly that trip is no longer offered. It will be a great help to have a minibus to carry stuff from hotel to hotel and be there to replenish bidons and energy bars etc. Hopefully the weather will not result in having to jump in the van - the forecast is to start sunny and end sunny but for some rain in the middle.
The trip starts with an early flight to Bilbao and time Saturday
afternoon to assemble the bike and have a short ride along the corniche***
to St Jean du Luz, an area I know well from family holidays when I was
just a child. The proper riding starts on Sunday and we ride every day
completing the route on Friday before an early start on Saturday for a
flight home from Toulouse.
The tables below show the stages with distance, vertical gain,
highest point and links to each days' report, a map and a profile. There
is a further table below with a list of cols crossed and their usual
category when included in the Tour de France.
List of Cols
Pyrenees v The Alps
Regular readers of this web-site know that I have done a decent amount of riding in The Alps but very little in the Pyrenees. Why is this? Two main reasons. Firstly The Alps are easily reachable in one day in the car. Breakfast on the 7:30 ferry, a long motorway drive and you are enjoying your first Pastis by 18:30. The Pyrenees are that little bit further and not really viable to get there in a day. It is possible to get home, indeed I have driven back from St Jean du Luz in one day, but on the homebound journey you gain an hour crossing the channel and arriving home at midnight is not a problem. That is not a good time to be arriving at your holiday hotel on the outbound. Secondly The Alps, due to height and more consistent snow, are more developed so it is possible to base yourself in one place and have quality rides every day from your doorstep. This is a little trickier in the Pyrenees. The mountain range runs NW-SE and most of the roads run NE-SW. There are only a few roads running along the mountains (one reason why the Col du Tourmalet is used so often) and fewer ski resorts so less loops and more out-and-backs.
But the Pyrenees has some hidden gems - beyond even the small ski resorts that light up Le Tour are some beautiful spots that Le Tour can't visit due to strict enforcement of National Park rules. Sadly none of the following are on the route followed but if your are in the area you simply have to visit Le Pont d'Espagne, Gavarnie, Cirque de Troumouse and the Route des Lacs (Lac d'Oredon, Lac d'Aubert & Lac d'Aumar).
Perhaps next year will be the Route des Grandes Alpes from
Thonon-les-Bains on Lake Geneva to Menton on the Mediteranean.