– It’s in the Pyrenees on a roads that have many times been part of the route of the Tour de France.
– Good pavement.
– Good climbs.
– Beautiful rural scenery and picturesque French towns.
– French bicycling road signs which give regular statistics about the upcoming grade.
– I can’t think of any negatives about this ride, but it is rural France, so depending on time of day, time of year, etc., it may be difficult to find replenishment on the route. Plan accordingly.
Informational sign on Col d’Aspin
Arreau from Col d’Aspin
Near the summit of Col d’Aspin
Near the summit of the Col du Tourmalet
View from the Col du Tourmalet
Col du Tourmalet summit
2009 TdF riders pass through Gripp, enroute to the Tourmalet
Last year I got to ride part of the Alpe d’Huez stage of the Tour de France. It was our sixth tandem ride and an airline workers’ strike start meant we got a very late start. We got to the 2k to go mark and the road was closed to cyclists. We had a long, increasingly cold, wait with little food and water. Bad planning on our part as we did not prepare for the possibility of not making it to the finish. Still it was exciting to experience the famous climb in person and see Carlos Sastre’s break that helped him win the 2008 Tour de France.
This year I spent a few days following the Tour with a group of six. Our base was Grindoux, just outside Castillonnès, France. We rented Merckx bikes from Apolo Cycles in Bergerac. The bikes are very nice; full carbon with Shimano 105 components. I brought my own saddle, and pedals.
A couple days before the Tour got to Spain, we drove from Castilllonnès to Barcelona and rented an apartment in the Gothic district for two nights and a day. I’d spent a few days in Barcelona with my family last summer and it was great to be there again without the pressure of needing to see all the famous sights. I spent a leisurely morning walking the Gothic District and La Rambla, watched the Tour on TV in the afternoon. Some people in our group did Barcelona-in-a-day and others Barcelona-in-an-afternoon (by bus). We met that evening for Paella.
The night before the Girona-to-Barcelona stage we stayed in Caldes de Malavella, Spain, and did a short ride near the beach at Palamos that afternoon and ate dinner in Girona. The morning of Stage 6 we rode about 14 miles to the start watched the start festivities, and rode back to our Caldes de Malavella, before a long, scenic drive through the Pyrenees to Encamp, Andorra.
We left Encamp by bicycle about 8:30 AM on Friday for Andorre Arcalis. I made it to the top and was very excited to see another person from our group come around the barricade just as I was heading down to meet her. There were lots of hats and samples given by sponsors near the finish line. With nearby refreshment stands and a good seat near the jumbotron, the wait for the caravan and race finish seemed short. The riders had to bike down Arcalis so we were passed by many, including Contador, Sastre, Armstrong, Leipheimer, et al on our way back to Encamp. It was really a great day, much less crowded than Alpe d’Huez had been. In my limited experience, a mountain top finish on a non-famous climb seems to be a great opportunity to see and ride a Tour stage.
The next day the race started in Andorre-la-Vieille and came right past our hotel. JB and I went for a short ride on the race route toward Envilira Pass. We had to get back before the road was closed for the caravan so we didn’t make it to the top of the Pass. After the riders passed Encamp we headed for Arreau, France, near the base of the Col d’Aspin.
On Sunday, four of us started from Arreau for the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet. One rider decided to stop at the top of the Col d’Aspin with a great view of the breakaway coming up many switchbacks of the Col and an easy descent back to Arreau. Three of us continued on toward the Col du Tourmalet. I got to the top of the Tourmalet about 11 AM. It was a difficult climb, but the hardest part was negotiating the sea of Basque demonstrators that emerged onto the route from the parking lot about 4km from the top. I emerged from the crowd about 2km from the top and enjoyed the rest of the climb in relative calm. At the top I took a few photos and headed back down, meeting my friends about 13km from the summit, near Gripp. We watched the caravan and race come through at a cafè local residents had set up in their garage. After the riders passed we had a good ride back over the Col d’ Aspin to Arreau and a 4 hour drive back to Castillonnès.
I’ve been riding here in the Lot-et-Garonne region of France since we returned. I’ll post more about that another day.