Pyrenees Day 4 - The Central Pyrenees
Col de Peyresourde & Col de Portet d'Aspet

There was rain overnight but we woke to another fine, if slightly chilly morning. Breakfast was at 7:15 and we started the day at 8:15. First off was a 12km descent down the valley to Arreau before turning right into the Louron Valley. There was a 'pas' signposted on the road, but it was a pathetic amount of ascent so it has not been recorded. Soon we stopped for a short break to remove arm-warmers and gilets and to have a quick coffee before the start of the Peyresourde.

If there was any thinking that today would be a "day after the Lord Mayor's show" following on from the Tourmalet then that was quickly dismissed. The overnight rain had left some clouds hanging in the valleys and the climb of the Peyresourde was beautiful - possibly the most picturesque of the week so far. My legs were much better today but I couldn't keep up with Dan who took the first mountain points of the day.
 

Old Sign at the Peyresourde - like most Route Nationals the RN618 has been downgraded to a Departmental Road - the D618

By now the roads had dried out so we had a long fast descent to Luchon and a coffee stop next door to the Mountain Bike Shop where Claude is well known. Another fast 20km stretch to Fronsac for the 7.5km Col des Ares. Claude chose this route option as the Col de Mente is more exposed so not a good picnic stop whereas the Col des Ares has a choice of picnic locations for any weather. This was a delightful climb, nice and steady all the way up - indeed I kept the bike in second gear all the way up. At one point I thought Dan was going to pass me but he decided to keep something back for the Portet d'Aspet and I left him to take the honours at the top.

Col des Ares - just shy of 800m

During our picnic lunch we met a solo female cyclist who was riding pretty the much the same route but unsupported. We filled her bidon and bade her farewell. I have never seen a cyclo-tourist carry so little kit. After lunch we had a descent and an undulating route, including the Col de Buret at a whopping 2%. The Col de Bech is marked on the map but not on the roadside; it is at a junction with a minor road but part of our descent.

Soon though we were on to the main feature of the day - the Col de Portet d'Aspet. Only 4.4km in length but weighing-in at a brutal average of 9.7%. There was no hiding on this beast of a climb. John and I had a great battle; three times he passed me on the steepest sections using his 34-32 gearing to great affect but I was able to claw my way back to him each time when the gradient settled to more manageable levels. I pulled away one more time and managed to stay away to the top
 

Col de Portet d'Aspet - rivals the Col de la Forclaz de Montmin above Lake Annecy for suffering
Ken, John, Martin & Dan at the least photogenic part of the Col

We now had a 35km descent back to the hotel to look forward to. Ken jumped in the van, John, Dan and I regrouped after the steep section of descent and enjoyed a 3-Up time trial for a well deserved beer.
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