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Pyrenees Cycle Challenge

Update from the Pyrenees

by John Jack

Introduction:

Heavy snow and rain had fallen in the weeks before our arrival in the Pyrenees. The Col du Tourmalet was fermé throughout our stay and the road between Col d’Aubisque and Col du Soulor had been had been badly damaged by an avalanche, only re-opening Friday, 14th June – the day we arrived.

Visit our Picture Gallery for images of John’s trip – click here

Saturday, 15th June

We climbed Col du Soulor from the east. The weather closed in as we climbed and the summit at 1474m (4864ft) was shrouded in cloud and it started to rain. After a coffee break at the summit with the team, I decided to press on for the Col d’Aubisque, the target for DAY 1, hoping the weather might lift – it did not! After a mile or so it got colder, visibility was reduced to a few metres and my glasses were covered in rain. I couldn’t see the edge of the road … and the drop! Adrian Samways was on his motorbike and we decided it was too dangerous, so we turned back. When we arrived back at  Argeles-Gazost in the valley, the sun came out!

Total Climb: 19.3 km at 5.4% gradient – the last 5 km to the top were all +8% !

Sunday, 16th June

Perfect weather for attempting the Col du Tourmalet, the target for DAY 2. Unfortunately the road remained closed so we climbed through the Gorge de St-Sauveur to the Cirque de Gavarnie in glorious sunshine and 34o C. It is a Unesco World Heritage Site and the scenery was spectacular. Following lunch at Gavarnie (1365m/4500 ft), I started the climb to the Cirque. After gaining maybe 200m in height, the heat became too much on a steep, exposed road so I turned back. Lower down in the valley my Garmin recorded 40o C (105o F), the road surface was melting and I needed to sit under a tree to recover. The cycling highlight was reaching 50.9 mph on the descent – a personal record. Frustratingly cars were slowing me down in places, but great fun!

Total Climb:  22km at 4% gradient – touching 9% above the village of Gavarnie.

For comparison, Hacketts Lane from Droxford up to Fiveways x-roads averages about 3.5% for 1 km.

After two days 7400 ft of ascent – SO FAR SO GOOD.

Monday, 17th June

After travelling to Vielle-Aure and checking into our next hotel, we set off to ‘recce’ the Col de Peyresourdes, our target for DAY 3, but were forced back after 13 km by a violent storm and heavy rain, which did not stop for the next 30 hours! To make matters worse Bob Barker suffered a ‘mechanical’ and his wife Chris rescued us both in the car.

Tuesday, 18th June

We had no choice but to abandon any attempt at climbing Col d’Aspin, the target for DAY 4. Apart from a trip to the village in the car for lunch, we were hotel-bound until about 4.00 pm, when we were evacuated! The road outside the hotel was flooding by the time we left in convoy with other hotel guests. The village disaster plan was being activated for the first time since 1982! We were joined by villagers on higher ground in a hostel, which normally houses school parties on skiing holidays. Amazingly, 124 people were fed a 4-course meal by the family who owned our hotel (well, it was France). As we prepared ourselves for a night in a dormitory – no ensuite – the hotel owner said we could return to the hotel at “our own risk”. The fire brigade had stemmed the flooding and pumped out the road. We were in our rooms and in bed by 10.30. The next day we set off at 9.00 am but were back at the hotel by 10.00 am – all roads out were either flooded or badly damaged. Luckily, a local delivery man got through to the hotel from our intended direction on a higher road (partly washed away but open) and we retraced his route. Some villagers were not so fortunate – their homes were under water.

Where next?

The challenge was 4 mountain passes in 4 days totalling 15,000 ft of ascent. Having achieved 50%, I will not be satisfied until 100% is attained and have therefore entered two UK events in July:

Magnificat Sportive – Newbury, 14th July 82 miles and 4189ft ascent [since completed in 6 hours 13 minutes]

Mega Meon Sportive – Waterlooville, 28th July. 80 miles/4409ft ascent

Only when 15,000 ft is clocked-up will sponsors be asked to contribute, preferably on line at:

mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/johnjack1

Thanks

Meantime, I thank my support team in France: Marion, my wife; Bob Barker, fellow cyclist & Chris Barker, support car driver; Adrian Samways, support motorbike & Angie Samways, local guide; AND my sponsors for their generosity.

John Jack

July 2013