Mega post alert – Calling it out upfront here… As you may need more than one tiny road coffee to see you through this insane Pyrenees frothing. In fact, I have to say that I’ve reached into the shallow depths of my blogging prowess and confirmed what I suspected upon finishing Day 6 on the AT40 tour:
I don’t have the literary skills to do this day justice
But alas I must try, which means subjecting you to a post of such gargantuan proportions that even Godzilla would start to nervously piss down his leg if he were to come face to face with this Pyrenean rant. Grab a pastry, tell work cunts to fuck right off and then stand as far back as you can while I blog myself into a frenzy like I’m the only person that has ever ridden their road bike in the Haute Pyrenees.
But first, a word on the indulgence of a cycling trip. By day 6 we were fully immersed in the glory of what these trips represent. This isn’t your normal “squeeze it in before work” set-up, we were at the absolute peak of what these trips are all about: An utter immersion and overdose on cycling. Nothing more to it than that. No chores, no timetables, no meetings, no riding guilt… Just an entire structure that is dedicated to the sole activity of riding your bike as much as humanly possible.
And fuck my face with two Pain au Chocolat’s if we weren’t rammed right in the most perfect place to be maximising on this cycling binge-fest. A quick look out the window alerted the squad that a mythical day may just be on the cards:
That’s the one – I had conveniently/oddly located us approx 6km’s up one of the most famous climbs in not only Europe, but essentially the planet: The Tourmalet.
Used a mere 83 or 84 times in the Tour de France, its probably the heavy weight in the pissing contest between here and the Alps, sent into the ring against Alpe d’heuz and Galibier.
Through sheer honest/naive coincidence, I had established our Act II HQ in the village of Barèges. A charming little place yes, that is until you’re driving up it in an Audi that’s got a couple of frothing racing sardines in it who are foaming at the mouth with the prospect of another hairy BBQ the next day.
But perversely this of course meant when we did roll out for our first mega day in the Pyrenean promised lands, we oddly had a 6km descent down the Tourmalet to get the roadie balls rolling. Pretty much as ENDURO as fuck…. Except a whole lot faster:
Not to give too much way here, but it didn’t occur to me as we did cruise missile impersonations down an early morning Tourmalet, which was still waking up to another day of amateurs crucifying themselves on its slopes, what exactly was in store for us that day. Sure, we had a rough plan for Day 6, but in that moment as I marvelled at the speed and sensational early morning Mon-tons I had no idea what I was about to encounter:
The biggest day of climbing I’ve ever done on a bike
But I was blissfully unaware at that point exactly how it was all going to unfold, I had more pressing concerns to deal with such as: Why was it so fucking hard to find a decent coffee in Luz-Saint-Sauveur? Honestly, is it too much to ask to have a La Fabrica clone in every cycling town? Its the bottom of one of the most famous climbs in Le Tour and I could barely replenish my Grimpeurs correctly.
With the distinctive scent of coffee dissatisfaction emanating from their pores, it was time to press on and enjoy the blast down the valley towards the Hautacam. Somewhere in your mind there is the recognition that you’ll need to climb back up all this shit, but with the early morning bravado and freshness in you, its dismissed as an afterthought.
Our first target in the Haute Pyrenees? Another legend of course and one that has seen some infamous shit go down on it. The Hautacam!
Whilst we had already had an HC warm up in Spain, it was time to start tucking into some famous Hors and as we turned off the D913 you could almost taste the history of what we were about to climb into…
I mean fuck, this is where in 1996 Mr 60% unleashed the famous big ring attack on his equally juiced as fuck rivals to pretty much seal his tour win. It was also the scene of additional crimes when in 2000 Armstrong put 4 minutes into Strudel connoisseur Jan Ullrich, to pretty much wrap up another deleted tour win. Other big moments up here included Nibbles and Cadel Evans both attacking these slopes, with Nibbles taking the stage win while in Yellow and the cockroach taking the maillot jaune, looking after it for a while before handing it over to Sastre.
Phew – So ok, fucking famous then. Right, enough “most of those cunts were on the gear” cycling history channel, it was time to get some of our own, and man, we had picked a banger of a day to do it…
The Grimpeurs could clearly feel the weight of history on their svelte carcasses and it didn’t take long for us to both settle into our respective rhythms for the longest day. Almost immediately I had to switch to tempo mode, whilst they danced away like a pair of Julie Andrew’s.
The thing about Hor smashing is that you can only do so at your own pace. Try and ride with those better equipped for the Mon-tons and you will blow to pieces in hideously embarrassing fashion… And these Hors don’t offer any refunds either. I was giving away 20kg’s to Matt and a solid 10kg’s to AT, so you can do the math on how much additional power I had to put out to stay next to them… And yes, I’m ignoring the fact that Miguel Indurain defended the yellow jersey up here in 1994.
So tap out that pace and if you’re #enduroasfuck, then this also means enjoying the banger vista thats a key theme of the Hautacam:
Its not often I will say this, but this is a fantastic climb… Dare I say even beautiful? Its one that even non-climbers will appreciate and enjoy. It never gets truly evil and fucked up like an Angliru and it wasn’t rammed with epic Euro trash like say Alpe D’Huez. The scenery is fairly sensational all the way up and its 13km’s at 8% are a good way to start a big day.
I will say though, don’t do what I did and get excited in the last kilometre, potentially even putting in a burst of hammer time thinking you’re at the top… When in fact the real top is a few Km’s further on past the official signs, where your Racing Sardines have been waiting patiently (possibly for 10 minutes) to catch the summit pic:
Thank fuck I had zipped my jersey up, the sponsors will be stoked. And yes, that view behind me is for real.
Ok, there isn’t a whole lot to do at the top of Hautacam, apparently there was a Crepe restaurant there and looking back on it, fuck I wish I had gone in there to smash some of that sugar coated goodness. But, we had to cover of the mandatory HC check list, which of course is headlined by the cheese dick summit shot, ideally in mismatching kit…
And so how about that descent then?! Must be fucking awesome right? Especially on a disc brake equipped road bike right?! Herr Piggy must have been wallowing in its own shit surely? Well, it was for about the first 3 or 4 km’s, at which point I got nothing but screaming and vibration out of the front brake, which aside from fingering the mountain serenity, felt like a massive rip off given this was pretty much the whole point of a fucking disc brake road bike. It also meant more solo time as the eagles soared:
Dirty Tip – When you roll into Argeles-Gazost for a snack after coming off the Hautacam, don’t let your Hanger force you into stopping at a weird bakery in the industrial area of town, head up the hill a bit to where all the patisserie’s are located. This will avoid the awkwardness of standing on the side of the road while you attack a baguette in one hand and a pastry in the other like a wild dog, while your riding crew looks on with a combination of fear and disgust.
With the snack break of fear and uncomfortable silence left to become a fleeting memory as French pastry goodness restored life support, it was time to start the trek back up the valley and onto the crescendo of the day… Let me say, riding up here is definitely a must do on a road bike as well:
What you can’t see here is the glorious tailwind that was pumping us up the valley in a style that made you not only feel like a PRO in a glorious break away, but also created a false economy of how much you still had left in your body. And yes, this was pretty much the most insane ‘out and back’ ride ever…
I know what you’re thinking at this point and yes, we were the guys riding up the Tourmalet in pretty much the peak heat of the day. We had seen hordes of lemmings early in the morning as we rolled down it, but now the mountain was oddly devoid of mismatched kit and mountain bikes. Given the vibe of the day so far, that felt somehow appropriate to be honest. It felt correct that it should be as hard and as exclusive as possible… Well, that’s how I felt before we had even got to the climb and I was still busy sucking wheel like an intern.
For those that haven’t had the chance yet to douse themselves in the glory of the Big T, we were coming at the beast from the Luz-Saint-Sauveur start, which means that the moment you swing through town you’re in the Col-Box straight away. Ahead you’re faced with 18.9km’s averaging 7% for its 1,407m of elevation gain. As an opening stanza its hot, long and motherfucker, it feels BIG straight away.
Get comfortable, as you’re looking at somewhere between 1 hour 15 to 1 hour 45mins of straight up bad ass Col crunching to get through here. In all honesty, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected on the lower slopes, aside from the fact that I was gagging to stick my head in a giant trough of cold water – Something that didn’t appear to be an option anywhere I looked.
The lower section feels less epic to be honest and as I tapped it out I found my mind wandering to a range of topics like why is Instagram the new home of soft porn? And who would come out on top if I was allowed the run the Hunger Games at work? And not to mention why is there so much sweat running down my grill?
I think the hardest grind section is the km’s in and out of Barèges, and not just because our accom was there, inviting us in to drink beer and lie down. But once you bust through that zone, you’re rewarded with the sensational upper slopes and this is where it starts to get alpine and somewhat frothy.
Throw in some manageable 5% sections and holy fuck, call me Richard Gere, but I was falling in love with this Hor. I know that I’ve been up some sensational climbs before, Stelvio springs to mind, but this was something else for me. I’m not sure what it was, but the Tourmalet just has a presence to it that demands an unspoken respect.
If I had to sum it up, I think I would have to describe it as Ethereal… It was not only quieter than I had expected (as in, who the fuck rides up here in the middle of the arvo), but it’s vastness and magnificence dominates the senses. You also know that hundreds of PRO’s have battled on these slopes, potentially even setting up tour bids or stage wins right on these very roads.
As I quietly kept the 170mm cranks whirling over, I attempted to drink in and retain as much of the surroundings as I possibly could. With every pedal stroke I knew I had less time to spend with the Monster T, so it only hastened my drive to consume as much of its magnificence as I possibly could.
Whilst the last 2 or 3km’s look like a fucking mission, they’re actually not too bad, sure, it ramps up near the summit, but there’s no real hint of a zig zag or stepper machine needing to be employed as you come up to crest the legend and your brain starts to think about smashing a coke.
And indeed, the 800 was highlighting that right on the top of the summit we had cracked the century mark. Holy fuck.
I was probably a good 30 minutes behind the greyhounds, which may confuse the MTB crowd as to why no one was there to greet me at the summit, but I was more concerned with the fact that AT and I had broken our cheese dick HC summit photo flow, as well as having to get my photo taken next to a T1000 dying on a giant metal bike by a German motor cycle gang.
This is the tricky thing about road riding in the Mon-tons with wildly differing ability levels – It can quickly become impractical. When you’re as ENDURO as fuck, people love a good re-group, but in the road world waiting soon becomes an impossibility… Just ask the WA and the Hawk, who still to this day can feel deep within their lightweight bones the cold that penetrated their souls while they became meat popsicles at the summit of Norikura.
So, 5 hours in and 100km’s down, that’s usually enough. I had ticked off Hautacam and one side of the Tourmalet and was now rolling solo, so surely that’s a solid day in the bank. However, another thought became very clear to me as I crested the Tourmalet and as simple as it was, it became the driving force behind me wanting to push on and indulge even further:
Days like this don’t happen very often
Ok, so if you’re Mike Cotty or a PRO, then maybe they do… But for most of us, days like this are on the low side of supply, so I suddenly found myself with a steely determination to not only push on, but to maximise the absolute fuck out of it. Besides, the vista demanded it:
So with a swift kick of the piggy cuntwagon and it was time to venture into uncharted territory for this Nomad… The math that still worked in my head confirming that we were heading towards numbers we hadn’t ever experienced before.
The other thought as I dropped down towards La Mongie was that I had actually mapped this route out on Strava Route Builder and then dismissed it, laughing abrasively at how ludicrous and epic it appeared as the KM’s and elevation numbers climbed to never before seen levels.
But that was in the comfort of an overpriced and undersized air conditioned cHub ex-pat ghetto. Here, in these magnificent French Mon-tons, the only thing I gave a fuck about was MORE – To keep it going, to make it more epic and to inhale as much of the Haute Pyrenees as my flaring nostrils would allow me to.
I finally caught up with the Racing Sardines in La Mongie, where they had rightly parked up to refuel and contemplate the girth that we were trying to currently consume. I joined them in conducting a raid of the most dubious looking snack shop in town. As Luca Paolini likes to say – Zero fucks given at this point as long as it sold Coke.
Some people say that I act like I enjoy a baguette with mayo in it, well motherfuckers, I ain’t acting…
Rapha, before you cancel my modelling contract, no, I’m not pregnant, its just slight coke bloat and I was busy doing a Brando impersonation to keep the mood light.
It was time to continue this magnificent Mon-tons assault… Not for a second did I consider that I wanted to stop at this point, no matter how much it fucks with your head riding down a Hors that you’re then going to ride straight back up. AT started to mumble something in Russian about “A months worth of TSS in a day” with a thousand yard stare projecting out of his dead zombie eyes, declining the concept of dropping another 12km’s or so down to the start at Sainte Marie de Campan.
I used every cycling peer pressure weapon in my arsenal to get him to push through, cajoling, commanding, coaxing and even using the ‘it never fails’ “Come on cunt“, but Birthday boy was cooked and the pin was pulled. The town Donkey looked on in support of AT…
So 3 became 2 and we pushed on to continue our assault on both personal boundaries and this king of Mon-tons. I was feeling not only oddly better than I expected, but even more strangely determined to see this day through to nail one final HC climb. Very few pedal strokes were dished out on the way down…
The km’s flew by as we carved down the Mon-ton… Every few minutes it re-occured to me that I had to come all the way back up this motherfucker, but in a crazy Ex-GF kind of way, I wanted to embrace that pain and suffering. If shit was going to be crazy, it may as well be full gas crazy.
A quick refuel of the bottles at Sainte Marie de Campan and it was time to tackle the slightly ‘easier’ and more popular side of the Tourmalet. 17.2km’s at 7% for 1,249m more in the climbing bank. The road surface is mint, the weather was good and I was able to suck a whole lot of whippet wheel for the lower sections as well to get the final stanza rolling:
Matt pointed out that this was the location where in 1910 Octave Lapize had a hunger induced melt down and screamed the famous words at the Race Director: “Vous êtes des assassins!” (clearly he had never ridden with the real Assassin… A 357km stage is nothing to complain about bro). The irony was not lost on me that those very words were plastered across my chest thanks to my Rapha PRO base layer, which as we headed towards the 6 hour mark, was decidedly cunted by this point #itsnevertoohotforabaselayer.
In the standard format for riding big Cols with really good climbers, I soon found myself alone. Given this was the third time for the day, I was strangely comfortable with it… Not resigned to it, but by now I was actually embracing the toil and the greatness of where I was. There was also something else that I oddly craved:
This was cycling at its greatest… It wasn’t about disciplines, wheel size, starva segments, the latest innovation, racing, training data numbers or anything else that may spend its time on the internet masquerading as being cycling but isn’t.
This was simple, this was to embrace the solitude, the suffering and look past all that to enjoy it on a deeply immense level which you don’t always get to enjoy. Holy fuck, I sound like a Rapha newsletter… But then again, everywhere I looked appeared to be the set of a Rapha photo shoot:
Given the time of day, I was also pretty certain that I was the last person heading up the climb at this time. As the time got closer to 6pm or so and I ticked off the KM marker signs, the sense of perverse euphoria only grew. Don’t hate me ENDURO Bro’s, I’m having a mythical Mon-ton moment here. As I worked into the middle section of the climb and its stunning surroundings, I felt like this was the crowning piece on a day that I was still trying to process.
Oddly, I never felt like cracking. Yes, it was clearly harder than Mandingo at a College pyjama party, but I didn’t think for a moment that I was going to have to stop, or have a COLossal COLlapse. Ok, so the section up to La Mongie is a motherfucker, no question, but I was loving every metre of this beast… A fact that defied even my own logic and perspective. Clouds rolled in and formed an ominous view on the horizon, which only seemed to add to the occasion and epicness. I had transcended normal suffering and appeared to have gone into a euphoric state fuelled by the monumental nature of this day.
Clearly I’m not a spiritual person per se, but with less than 3km’s to go to the summit of this beast of a Col, and as I passed through the 4,000m mark of climbing, it became clear to me that this was a momentous occasion and about as spiritual as I was ever going to get. Stand back as my ENDURO crew take a massive golden shower on my head, but I challenge anyone who rides bikes that don’t have plus sized tires to come here and not feel compelled, moved, inspired or just simply awed by the Col du Tourmalet.
In my head all I had to do was get to that summit… Like the 2010 Tour, that was the finish line and then it was rollsville back down to civilisation. The last 2km’s seemed like an out of body experience… Solo, that late in the day, not completely destroyed and seeing elevation gain numbers that were basically alien to me and my legs. I stood at the top of the climb and looked out over the view above, somewhat awestruck at what the day had involved and what had been achieved.
I’ve had mega road days before, The Charly Gaul Gran Fondo, The Special in the Japanese Alps, Day 2 of the Cols Classico to La Plagne, and now this ride definitely enters the hall of fame with those hallowed days. Back in the cHub recounting how it rolled and looking at the pictures, I can remember every part of its awesomeness, even if I can’t tap into the hurt that was in my legs the last time up the Tourmalet.
One thing is for sure, and I confirmed this with the database, I have never seen this amount of climbing in a day before… Which only reinforces the notion that I won’t be attempting to Everest any time soon:
- 4,190m climbed
- 7 hours 32 mins ride time
Apparently I spent 3 hours and 52 minutes with my HR at tempo… Not that I gave a fuck about that at the time, but suspect riding tempo is what allowed me to not blow my load whilst navigating this map:
So there we go… A rare post for an even rarer day. As I said above, these days don’t come along very often and to be able to embrace and get through its massiveness was not only a reminder of how rad cycling is, but also why Mon-tons are incredible. You may have gathered from the above, but the Tourmalet is clearly a must do – So get it on the list if its missing from your trophy cabinet.
The question that night at dinner was obvious: How the fuck do we back that up? Stay tuned for Day 7…