Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Ariegoise 2010

Dave Hills tells the story of his summer riding trip in the Pyrenees

It started as many of these great ideas do over a few beers to discuss our cycling target for 2010. It had been 3 years since we had been down to the Pyrenees to tackle the 2007 Ariegoise Sportive and myself and a couple of mates decided that it was time for another visit for the 2010 event. Appropriate passes from the spouses were obtained for a week long trip to the Pyrenees to fit in some training on real mountains before the event. Cairnpapple is a great climb, but doesn't really prepare you for the high mountains.

We departed for Toulouse on Sunday 20th June, bikes suitably packed up in bike boxes and by some miracle they all survived the careful handling of the friendly baggage handlers across three airports. Having organised this years trip, I decided to ease the lads in gently on day one with a climb of the Tourmalet starting off in Lourdes and climbing from Luz Saint Sauveur. This was the side that Contador and Schleck would fight out their final battle in the 2010 Tour, only a little faster than us. Tuesday's challenge included Col D'Aspin and a little known climb called the Hourquette D'Ancizan. It's fair to say that the rest of the week involved more tapering than training.

Saturday 26th June was race day and a 5.30am rise was swiftly followed by a face stuffing exercise of monumental proportions to the point that I don't think I could face another croissant. The start was in Tarascon and we had chosen the medium route, the Mountagnole, which was (only) 117 km and involved 2600 metres of climbing. Weather was perfect in the low 20's but forecast to rise to 32c later in the day. The mass start was incredible with over 4000 participants slowly edging over the start line. Individual timing chips ensured that everyone received an accurate timing from start to finish which actually turned out to be a missed opportunity to use the slow start as an excuse for my time of over 7 hours to complete the course. The first 100k were rolling and sitting in a peleton of over 200 meant that the French countryside flashed by at an alarming rate until we arrived at the foot of the final climb in the small village of Les Cabannes. Ahead of us was only 17k of the climb to Plateau de Beille. How hard could it be ? Answer - very ! It may have been the miles in the legs but this seemed harder than the Tourmalet, Ventoux and anything else we had tackled over the years. Climbbybike website claims it's an average of 8% for 16k but the 2k plateau in the middle means the rest is even tougher, with kilometre stretches of 11+%. Two hours later I was still 1k from the top when my stomach started retching and I felt really faint. Resting up for a couple of minutes, I eventually recovered enough to limp over the line in a time of 7 hours and 3 minutes. Please don't work out the average speed !

As there is only one way up and down the climb, we had a motorcycle escort off the mountain in batches of 100 or so. Safe to say the descent was more suited to my power to weight ratio and I managed to salvage some pride against the foreign competition. I would recommend the event as a great experience but I won't be there next year as the unanimous verdict from the team was that next year's trip is to the flat lands of Holland.

Image: Top of Col D'Aspin looking down on climb from the east side.

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