I had a couple of options for today my last day in Argeles-Gazost as tomorrow I am moving to my second base Saint-Lary Soulan. There are several little known climbs around here but I was drawn to the big two - the Tourmalet or Aubisque via the Solour. There is also a return from the Solour via the Col de Spandelles but my research said that this road was in poor condition so the Tourmalet it is. If you have ever wondered why the Tourmalet (and indeed the Aubisque/Solour) have featured in so many editions of Le Tour it is all down to geography. The Pyrenees run North-West to South-East and most roads climb up the valleys running approximately North-East to South-West, some continuing over the watershed into Spain. There are few roads that run parallel to the mountain line so when Le Tour wishes to cross from valley-to-valley, there are very few options.
My ride started the same way as yesterday following the river upstream to Luz-Saint Sauveur and after an hour of riding (ascending over 200m) the official start of the climb of the Tourmalet was reached just outside Luz. It is 19km long, climbing over 1,400m at an average of 7.5%. Much of the climb has a steady gradient of 7 or 8% which makes it easier than the shorter Hautacam, though there are some tough sections, especially the final drag to the line which is around 15%. The climb takes in the town of Bareges, another spa town with a faint whiff of sulphur from the hot springs. There is an alternative for some part of the main road above Bareges - the Voie Verte Laurent Fignon, but I didn't want to risk it in case it wasn't all paved.
The climb took slightly over 1'45" and the summit was its usual busy self so a quick photo and then a fast descent back down to Luz. I soon caught a small convoy of traffic and would have been happy to sit behind but one vehicle was an old VW Campervan emitting some nasty fumes so I took an opportunity to pass by.
After lunch I considered my options; Meteo France had thunderstorms likely after 15:30 and you are a foolish person to gamble with these weather forecasters. I checked the skies and the time and decided to climb to the ski resort of Luz-Ardiden - this is a 13km climb rising over 1,000m to just over 1,700m. A little before the half-way point the rain started and though not yet looking like a heavy downpour was imminent, I decided to turn back as the descent would not have been much fun in the wet. Also I must admit to being a little slow this afternoon, it probably would have taken me another hour to reach the summit and the weather can change quickly in the mountains. I have done a lot of miles during lockdown but maybe I'm missing the intensity of the club runs, or still suffering from the Hautacam.
When I got back in the valley floor, the rain was quite hard so I donned my water-proof jacket for the section to the start of the Voie Verte at Soulam. By the time I reached the Piste Cyclabe the sun was out so counting on the wind at cloud level being the same as at ground level I decided to ride all the way to Lourdes, whilst keeping an eye out on the weather. The cycle way here is nowhere near as busy as the one around Lake Annecy, but there were a few people about. The path was wet in places so I had missed some rain and the skies were darkening by the time I reached Lourdes. Surprisingly the Voie Verte just petered out in a rather run down section of the town. On the assumption that the railway station is in the town centre and the fact that this was an old railway line, it was odd that it didn't continue as that would make it more useful for commuters.
Looking at the clouds, I knew that I would be racing the rain but though the return was very slightly uphill, the wind was behind me so I made rapid progress. The speed limit was 20kph, but I was doing slightly over 20mph most of the way. Luckily I was back in Argeles-Gazhost when I heard the first rumble of thunder and by the time I was showered, the rain was falling like a tropical rainstorm. So a little annoyed to have missed out on Luz-Ardiden but another French cycle route completed.
|Profile (as ever from gpsvisualizer.com)|
|I don't remember this sign from 2 years ago|
|The start of the Voie Verte Laurent Fignon - cycles only|
|The summit of the most heavily used Col in Le Tour|
|I've ridden up that valley!|
|An iron bridge on the Voie Verte, a popular spot with people swimming in the river|