Posted on July 15, 2011 by vicki
Tags: france, tour

Sunday 10/7/11 64km dep. 10AM arr. 6:30PM

This leg of the journey was filled with all the stuff that leg cramps are made of. We did some of the big climbs of the Tour, and felt as proud of our accomplishments as any winner of the polka dot jersey could feel.

Going up Col du Tourmalet

Going up Col du Tourmalet

Of course, it did take us four days to ride the route that the pros would complete in a single day. But our bikes weigh four times as much as theirs do so we figure it all evens out. Makes us appreciate even more what hill-eating monsters those cyclists really are though!

We began the day with Col d’Aspin, a climb to 1489m over about 12km. The views were good, the cyclists were plentiful, and it didn’t seem like too long before we were sitting at the top and making our sandwiches. There were lots of other cyclists and tourists at the top, all trying to keep out of the way of a herd of free-roaming cows that were holding court. One managed to undo Rodney’s pannier with its tongue and took obvious enjoyment in licking his socks.

Licking the cows at Col d’Aspin View from Col d’Aspin

We had a quick and fun descent into the town of Ste Marie-de-Campan, where we stopped for coffee and hot chocolate at the only establishment in the place. My ears picked up the ‘bloody hell’ exclamation from a neighbouring table and we made the acquaintance of two Aussie guys about to join an organised bike tour that follows the Tour de France around for the next two weeks.

Our own date with the tour not being until the 14th, we rode on and started the daunting and legendary climb to Col du Tourmalet, 2115m at the highest point. The beginning was good, and we left our bikes by the side of the road and took a short but steep climb to see a waterfall. Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in and enveloped the entire top half of the mountain, reducing visibility to around 10m. Several times we were riding along next to a steep drop off, and it seemed like we were staring out over the precipice into the abyss. Nightmarish stuff, especially as campervans and cars were still driving past.

Waterfall Col du Tourmalet Foggy up on Col du Tourmalet Sad Donkey Cows

It got especially tough towards the end and we spurred our tired legs on with short biscuit breaks over the last few kilometres. We were ecstatic to reach the top, took a few pictures as evidence then pulled our jackets on for the trip down.



Going down was even scarier than going up. Visibility was so poor that we didn’t dare allow ourselves to gain any speed, not knowing where the road went ahead, so our forearms and hands got pretty sore from squeezing the brakes. About halfway down we came beneath the clouds and things improved dramatically.

We cruised down the rest of the hill, past several campsites before selecting one in Esterre, very close to Luz-St Sauveur. The proprietress showed us to a very nice site complete with picnic table and we set up the tent and showered quickly before riding into the town in search of a feed. The town itself is quite touristy and the two best restaurants were full up. We ended up in a Spanish restaurant with a bowling alley, but the pizza was better than we expected. We rounded the evening off with crepes for dessert before crawling into bed exhausted from the day’s efforts.

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