I really wasn’t sure how today was going to go, I just wanted to I completed stage 6 within the cut off time…. and not be last. Here is what I had to look foward to: 101km overall, 60km timed, 2337m of ascent, 2696m of descent, Col de Bordères (1156m), Col du Soulor (1474m), Col d’Aubisque (1709m)
Actually, I was pretty sure I could complete the 101km -only very slowly. We head off at 8am, me dropping to the back of the peloton as we left the town and reached the first climb. I decided there was no point trying to keep up so was happy to let the others pass me. Soon I was on my own, apart from one other-Victor- who was in his 70’s and was trying to keep up with me, (!) but I gradually managed to lose him as the climbs went on. Apparently Victor is a bit of a star of the race, having been last for all of the sections but it not really mattering as he just wanted to complete what he could. And with the help of “ the red lantern” – a rider who hovered with the stragglers, encouraging them to keep going- he’d made several of the cut off times and was happy.
Today’s penultimate stage was a change of tempo, terrain, and weather, as the Haute Route left the high mountains of Central Pyrenees and dropped down to the rolling hills of the Pyrenees Atlantiques, towards the city of Pau (the third most visited city on the Tour de France route.) For the first time this week, the peaks were shrouded in cloud and mist, creating an almost ‘eerie’ atmosphere, but also hiding some of the legendary views unfortunately.
The route consisted of three climbs, with some of the steepest terrain of the week right from the outset. The cloud however did help with the heat management on the super steep initial two climbs: the Col de Bordères and the Col du Soulor. I welcomed the food stations at the top of each climb, wafting down as much cake, coca cola and cheese (! again cheese- a real French thing as I can’t say I’ve ever seen cheese at a fuel station in the UK) as I could- but being conscious that I didn’t want to get beaten by the clock.
The descent from the Col d’Aubisque was interesting- I just couldn’t get my cleats clipped in – having not brought my usual mountain biking cleats to be fitted on the bike, -so I had to use a pair I wasn’t used to…However, I really did enjoy the seemingly endless sweeping descents- the kind you just don’t get in the UK. It was the final 50km that was the real killer for me as the Haute Route left the high mountains of the Pyrenees, to a style reminiscent of cycling in Surrey- with narrow, undulating lanes, up, down, through little villages- and just when you think all the uphill is over- another short but painful climb popped up around a corner- “ oh go away” (ok, that’s the polite version;-) I cried, as another emerged- at this point I’d lost track of timing as I thought I had another 25km to go, but actually all the signs said 5km – theoretically, I had done it well within the cut off time- but I just want sure….
Reaching the final timed section was a joy as my saddle was really beginning to hurt now- there were only a few people milling around waiting for stragglers like myself – before cleaning up the food station and heading to Pau.. I hoped they hadn’t got bored waiting for me! So- overall- I did the timed section in about 4 and a half hours – (the winners completing it in around 2 and a half!). My friend advised me to get a disc cassette which offered me more gears to drop down into on the hill – still, I think the best thing to have are strong legs and a good power to weight ratio….anything else is just excuses.
That evening we headed into town for a much deserved pizza/pasta… the staff couldn’t quite believe how busy they were – nearly every restaurant overrun with hungry cyclists…like myself -fuelling up for the finale……:
Stage 7: Pau/Arette – Anglet Basque Coast (France)
The weather was looking very ominous with thunderstorms predicted, so after a slight change to the route to avoid bad weather conditions on the Col du Soudet – the peloton left town in convoy- unfortunately, I thought I’d just drop to the back again- but was scooped up by the support van- thinking I would be dropped off at the start of the timed section- sadly this wasn’t to be- but to be honest- the weather really was unpleasant- and by the time I realised I’d missed the start, I wasn’t psyched anymore. The other riders climbed the Col d’Ahusquy, but its downhill was neutralised for safety, then went through the remaining 50km to the timed finish in Cambo-les-Bains. From here after a break , they rode in convoy to Anglet with its impressive surf beaches and the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. That night in nearby Biarritz was the final closing ceremony, where we were treated to videos from the week, awards and finally a chance to let your hair down after 7 days hard riding.