Pyrenees Day 6 - A perfect day of cycling
Col de Pailheres and the Mediterranean Sea

I have been lucky enough to enjoy some special days on the bike but I can only describe today as a perfect day of cycling. Yesterday afternoon's lack of energy and motivation were just a distant memory. Amazingly we woke up to another dry day, albeit with wet roads, had a proper HC climb from our doorstep to over 2,000m and then three types of descent in ever-improving weather; very narrow and twist with awesome views, along a narrow gorge on a wider road and then a long, fast descent on a very gentle gradient but with the sun on our faces and the wind on our backs. Today's ride was 94 miles; I was saying to the rest of the group that I would do a loop at the end to bring up the hundred, but despite easily having the legs for it, there was just no need - the normal cudos of completing a 100 would not have added anything. What a way to finish the week.

The climb to Col de Pailheres starts in Ax-les-Thermes. No warm up, just a 19km climb from the off. The average is 7% with the first half easier than the second. It was a chilly morning but when climbing this is not a problem. It was a cloudy morning which again added spectacle to the views as we climbed but it was not until the final kilometer that we entered the cloud. The summit was shrouded in mist and cold, just 6, so leg-warmers, winter jersey and windproof were donned for photos and the descent.
 
The HC 2000m cold Col de Pailheres

The first part of the descent was just awesome; very narrow, twisty and steep. The golden rule of descending is to watch the road, not the view. On this descent I had to keep stopping to take in the view. The mist was lifting from the summit and the affects were just stunning. Camera phones don't do scenery justice, but here is an example:
Blue sky appearing on the descent of the Pailheres

The nature of the descent changed as we entered the gorge of the river Aude. The road surface wasn't the best of the week but was still better than many roads of Essex. It was a 35km drop to the coffee stop in Axat, it took 25km to warm up sufficiently to remove my outer layer . I was very pleased to have had my leg-warmers easily accessible in the van.

After Axat we had a short climb to the Col de Camparie where we had our picnic lunch. Then we were in for a treat; a 35km descent on a fantastic road surface, on a wide road with little traffic, a gentle but steady gradient in our favour with the sun out and the wind on our back. We made rapid progress, I just wonder how much more rapid it would have been if this had been a Sunday club ride. We had short stop in Estagel to re-group before the gentle 4km climb of the Col de Bataille - the final col of the week before the final drop to the coast. As we neared the coast the traffic increased but it was a nice ride into St Cyprien and the end of the journey


From 6 earlier on the Col to 30 on the beach

We had a 5km ride back to the hotel for some celebratory beers. Time to pack the bikes up - the week was over.

Today's profile - thanks to GPS Visualizer .com

So how do I rate the week? It was fantastic.
I was very lucky with the weather; we had some overnight rain but to have 6 days in the Pyrenees, even in September the most stable month, without any day time rain is very rare. This would be a good week anyway, but multiple wet days would reduce the enjoyment.
The group was small, no cliques and no egos. 4 people with a shared desire to ride some mountains.
Claude - the support driver. Just fantastic. Could not have been done without him. Great picnic lunches very day, tea, coffee, water and snacks available, great knowledge of the area. He also took plenty of photos which I will use to create a photo galley in due course.
The hotels were fine, maybe one or two midweek could be better but we were in small-town France so not a lot of choice. Some of the hotels had pools so worth packing your swimming costume if you are thinking of doing these trips. Indeed a couple of our stop-over towns were spa towns so another option for afternoon recuperation.
Each evening we ate together as a group in the hotel, the evening meals were individually all fine but maybe over the week could have done with more variety. Vegetarians, and especially vegans, should seek advice with the tour operator if considering a similar holiday. In the larger towns there were other options but in a couple of places we were tied to the hotel.

My previous holidays in the Alps were self-lead - staying in one base and riding loops / out-and-backs without support. Though some people do ride solo point-to-point, I can't imagine doing this ride without support. Having the van means you can carry less food, water and clothing and gives contingency should the weather make the stages dangerous.

Would I recommend this trip? A big yes. I would do it again with some fellow club members. Personally I prefer this sort of riding to Mallorca, but the world would be a dull place if we all liked the same things.
 

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