Attacking the Pyrennes

Our first day of riding on the tour was during Stage 12. We were given a few options to ride to the finish. That’s where our bus would be and we had access to the hospitality area. Not a bad thing to look forward too after a bunch of climbing.

Of course, our hotel in Bagneres-de-Bigorre wasn’t that far from the Col du Tourmalet. I created my own route that would take me up the Tourmalet, the Col d’Aspin, and finally the Col de Peyresourde. It would be 50+ miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing. Not an easy ride, but I would get in several historic climbs.

My route started down the D935 to the famous village of Sainte-Marie de Campan. This is where Eugène Christophe stopped to fix his broken forks in the 1913 Tour. In the village, I hung a right to go up the D918. The road was still relatively flat at this point, and the skies were overcast. Thus, I decided to push the pace a little. The road started to ramp up around the first turn. I soon found out that one of the good (or bad) things about climbs in this area of France is that they have signs every kilometer telling you how many km are left and what the average gradient is. This helped me with my pacing. I also found that the lower section was nicely wooded. While it wasn’t raining, it was definitely a little misty out. The road surface was also in pretty good shape.

The climb didn’t seem that bad to me thanks to my training before my trip. I did start to tire as I got towards La Mongie. That’s where I began to go through avalanche tunnels and ran into some of the famous horses of Pyrennes just relaxing in the middle of road. Despite the pain of climbing, I was having a lot of fun. Well, the fun started to dissipate once I reached La Mongie. The skies cleared up, the tree cover disappeared, and the gradients got steeper. The last 5K were about 10%. Ouch.

Just a couple of kms from the top, there was a woman taking photos. She ran after me with her business card. It was kind of funny. Here’s one of her photos of me…

Me riding up the Tourmalet

The top of the Tourmalet was beautiful. This is where I really appreciated the clear skies. I took my time enjoying the experience. The amount of Tour de France history up there was amazing.

Clear skies to the west from the Col du Tourmalet
The Col du Tourmalet

I probably could have spent more time up there, but I had to get going if I was going to beat the peloton to the finish. I was wondering what the descent was going to be like, and it wasn’t bad. The road surfaces were better for descending than I thought. The weirdest thing was entering the fog and having limited visibility. Here’s a video of my descent…

I’m not going to get too much into the Col d’Aspin. While it’s a famous climb, I didn’t think it was that hard. There were cows at the top, but the descent was clear and very beautiful.

The top of the Col d’Aspin
Cows guarding a van at the top of the Col d’Aspin
The descent down the Col d’Aspin was gorgeous

On the way to Peyragudes, I got a little lost. I took a road that I hadn’t planned on, but it still dumped me out on the road I wanted. What I didn’t know was that the route I chose was the same one that the Tour vehicles were taking to the finish, while the riders went a different way.

The roads around this area have rich Tour history

All of the climbing was finally taking it’s toll on me. Thankfully, the first part of the Peyresourde climb wasn’t too bad. The amount of traffic and people biking/walking to the finish also provided a nice mental distraction. Things really got torturous though the last little bit before the Peyragudes ski station. While we weren’t going up the insanely steep gradients that the Tour riders would be, it was still hard. I rode around the top a little bit trying to find our bus, but I was happy when I did. Overall, one of the hardest days that I’ve had on the bike.

Looking at the Peyragudes ski resort.

Here’s a video of my descent of the Col d’Aspin and climbing up to the finish at Peyragudes…

We were treated with VIP passes to the Tour hospitality area just a few hundred meters from the finish. We had our own unobstructed view from the side of the road, as well as the finish. A truly memorable day!

Here’s my Flickr album (aka, the really nice photos from my DSLR) of Stage 12…

2017 Tour de France - Stage 12

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