Stage 8: Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 06:15. Transfer: none. Start 07:40. Distance 186 km. Terrain: high mountains (4,000 metres) . Climbs: 1  HC, 2 cat 1, 1 cat 2. Finish 20:15. Time in saddle: 11:08.

Climbing is approximate as my Garmin was having an off day and I’ve not corrected it on Strava yet. But with four major climbs you get the picture. [Update: climbing was somewhere around 5,000 metres in the end.]

Local lowdown

So after a hard day in the saddle, there’s nothing better than arriving at Bagnères de Luchon and having a nice hot shower using the local Pyrenean soap. But the pétéram (tripe) for dinner? No thanks – I’ll stick to the pistache (cassoulet)! Actually the hotel laid on some great food but I think table manners are going a little bit out of the window as we all stuff our faces more and more as the tour progresses. Appetites are huge at the moment and we can’t wait to devour our dinner.

Tale from the Tour

Today was the turn of the Tourma-Tourma-Tourma-Tourmalet. Actually the song I heard being sung last time I was here went “Allez, allez, allez, monter le Tourmalet”, sung by a cheery bunch of people who were under cover while we were getting soaked. Today was also somewhat soggy but nowhere near as wet as it was then.

First things first – Ian, Sam and Stu on the excellent support team are all from Wales so we had a great time watching the football last night. I’ve made Gary an honorary Welshman as he was getting caught up in it too. So now it’s Bale v Ronaldo. Tidy.

Riding along with Nick W at the start he mentioned how our various aches and pains are “rotating through our bodies”. How true that is. If it’s not the back it’s the knee and if it’s not that it’s the achilles. Gary suffered from that today, but it got better as the day went on and he finished well. Of course all these ailments have the same root cause – cycling! My body is holding up and I had no real discomfort (other than what you would normally expect on a day like today).

We started by passing many more fields of maize on a route that also took us past Lourdes.

After the last long flat section that I will do, we had a climb up the Tourmalet, the first HC climb. I actually saw a 2CV coming down, and how it got up the other side first I’ll never know, especially as it was towing a trailer (see under Arrival Day, which now seems light years away). Weather was clear at times to get some shots though.

Emerging from the mist

The next climb was a very pastoral Hourqette d’Ancizan, where it wasn’t just donkeys we had to avoid but cows and horses too.

On the next climb, Col de Val Louron Azet, we could see almost nothing. I rode most of the middle section of the ride with Nick and we literally had our head in the clouds for a large part of the day.

At feedstop 4 I changed into a dry jersey – my “Cycling Bishop” one, which was a blessed relief and I was then a bit warmer for the final section.

The Peyresourde was the last climb of the day and which I rode on my own. One thing which helps on the climbs is where signs are put up saying how far there is to go, how much climbing there is and what the average gradient is over the next 1 km.  This is very helpful and lower down the climb gives me the info I need to do mental maths, as I can work out whether, after the next km the gradient looks like it will get harder (boo) or easier (yea).

Others like to listen to music, chat with their friends if they have the energy or just generally let their minds wander. I’ll do those things too, except listen to music. Why would you when you can hear the sounds of nature, the rushing water in the gorges and the cicadas which seem to get louder the further south you go?

I was one of the last to finish, which is no surprise but I did finish in time for dinner which is the main thing. Although there is one day to come, I already feel very proud of my achievement and anything I can manage tomorrow will be the cherry on the top of a very large cake. The enormity of it hit me with 5 km to go on the last climb today when I realised that yes, this stage was in the bag too.

Tomorrow I am torn between completing the ride on two wheels, and getting back in time to celebrate properly. I shall aim to do both! It is, though, highly likely that I won’t write up Stage 9 until I am on the bus to Toulouse on Monday morning.

Penseé du Pédaleur

So today’s reminiscence relates to the iconic Tourmalet. I was delighted to have the opportunity to climb this from the west today, because when I was here in 2014 the road was closed for resurfacing. The road had been in pitiful condition, but when the Tour goes through, then the roads get either resurfaced or top-dressed. The pros were going to descend that at top speed, so pot holes are no good in those situations. Had we tried to ride it, then we would have found the tar sticking to the tyres and would have to stop every few metres or so anyway to clean them off else the bike is going to get wrecked. A few weeks later I returned to the Pyrenees to ride that stage, so was able to climb from the east side and descend a beautifully smooth road. However, the weather was again atrocious with the conditions so bad that I took it easy on the descent, despite the risk of going hypothermic. So today it was good to be able to do that climb at last. I wasn’t bothered that it was wet. You have to accept whatever comes your way in the mountains and to be prepared for it. If you don’t respect the mountains you can get into a lot of trouble.

2 thoughts on “Stage 8: Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon”

  1. Kudos x 5.
    This brings back happy memories of the Etape in 2014. One of a collection of ‘worst ever day on a bike’ memories.


  2. Great write up John. Glad that the Tourmalet was a bit more hospitable than when we did it in 2014. Almost there – great achievement.

    John King


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