Despite COVID a group of 8 riders from Dynamic Rides CC in the Midlands (UK), managed to navigate LFT and PCR tests, customs procedures and government forms to return to our favourite hosts (Sue and Reg) at Vélo Le Closier (VLC) for 8 days of riding in the high Pyrénées.

We were driving in 2 cars through the night so we could arrive early on Friday morning and fit in a ride to make the most of our stay. This is where Reg and Sue really came into their own as exceptional hosts. They were up to greet us at 5.00 am when we arrived to direct us to our rooms for a quick couple of hours sleep. They then had breakfast ready when we woke around 8.00 am.

IMG-20210906-WA0025Bleary-eyed and after a filling breakfast of muesli, egg on toast, and Danish pastries along with much needed tea and coffee, we tackled a flattish 50 mile route away from the mountains to stretch the legs. After an hour of riding, jet lag/car lag kicked in and everyone needed another caffeine infusion. Luckily, we had Reg with us and a suitable café was located for our first stop of the trip.

Slightly revived we headed back until a heavy shower with 10 miles to go woke us up again and we
kicked for home with the group splitting and reassembling before piling into VLC for showers, tea and home-made cake, not in any particular order. A bit of bike maintenance was needed after the rain and we made use of Reg’s well stocked garage for cleaning and last-minute fettling ready for the next day’s ride. Sorting the kit for washing was another nightly priority but with the efficient drying room at VLC, all kit was dry by the morning if we needed it.

With all of the routes uploaded to Garmins in advance (thanks to Andy and Tony), we had a rough plan for the week’s activities which were always up for discussion around the breakfast table depending on weather, legs, mental fortitude and the challenge of convincing John not to add “just another small mountain” en-route. Reg provided useful input too as he knows all of the climbs in the area and the best places to stop.

IMG-20210904-WA0009First climb for day 1 was Lac de Cap de Long. 22.7 km long from Saint Lary Soulan with an average gradient of 5.9%. One of the best climbs in the region and a regular favourite with our group. There is a spectacular dam and reservoir at the top and a great restaurant/mountain hut, which has a limited menu but does excellent omelette and chips. Definitely needed for the long decent back down the way we had come ready for the next climb of the day, the Horquette.

This is a lovely climb and after gaining the summit you drop down into a beautiful quiet valley before reaching a T- junction. Left takes you to the Tourmalet, right to the Col D’Aspin. There is a perfect café on this junction and after a quick stop for pancakes and coffee we headed for the Aspin and back down the main road to VLC, 81 miles and 9,200 feet of climbing in the bag.

One of the advantages of having the cars instead of flying was the ability to drive further out to do climbs we had not done before. The group split on this day with some preferring to do the Tourmalet and others Luz Ardiden and the Cirque de Troumouse.

It took just over an hour to drive to Luz-Saint-Sauveur from VLC where we split up. The climb up Luz Ardiden was well worth the drive. A popular Tour de France (TdF) climb for many years, the road was smooth tarmac with spectacular switchbacks leading to the ski resort at the top. No café open to our dismay, which let’s face it is the main incentive for riding up mountains, so it was a fast decent back through Luz-Saint-Sauveur and up the valley towards the next climb, the Tromouse.

20210906_164149As it was lunchtime, Andy, Tony and I found a café in a village just before the climb started and filled up on baguettes and coffee while John carried on to start the climb. Fortunately, there is a café on top of the Troumouse which was just as well because John was downing jells like sweets towards the top and regretting missing lunch after climbing this tough mountain which most of us had never heard of before. John still decided to go the extra couple of kilometres up a gravel track and was followed all the way up by a tractor towing open carriages of tourists because there was not enough room to pass him.

When we caught up with John at the cafe, he said there was not much to see and the track was very rough. Andy and I looked at each other and were off the bikes quicker than John ordering a beer at the bar. A coffee and pancake with magnificent views of the mountain tops seemed a much better option. Fair play to Tony who carried on. We watched his slow progress across the side of the mountain until he disappeared from view.  A second coffee and pancake went down well while we waited for his return.

The Toumalet group of Jo, Dai, Richard and Nick had a good ride up this monster of a climb made famous by the TdF. They had some epic stories of bravery, sacrifice and suffering in the face of monumental odds to get to the summit, that was Dai’s story anyway, when we met them back at the café in Luz-Saint-Sauveur for the car journey back to VLC.

IMG-20210908-WA0019You have probably noticed that café and restaurant stops are an essential part of our rides. There are only so many protein bars, fig rolls and jells you can cram in your jersey pockets and the stops provide a welcome break from climbing.

Fortunately, there are plenty of restaurants and cafés in the Pyrénées and, as you would expect in France, the food is always excellent. Like the day we stopped at a restaurant in Bagnères-de-Luchon and mistook mushroom risotto for a large portion of squid risotto. I’m sure the handwritten menu said champignons. Super tasty but probably not the best meal to have after coming down off the Porte de Bales and going straight up the Peyresourde after the lunch break. Nick and I certainly got value for money out of that dish as we climbed to the top. Another great stop was on the “rest day” up the Col de Beyrede, a very steep local climb to a restaurant in the middle of nowhere serving huge portions of typical French soup with vegetables and lamb mopped up with hunks of French bread.

IMG-20210911-WA0016The other big day was another drive and ride, this time to Argelès-Gazost. This village is at the base of the famous Col de Soulor and Col d’Aubisque. This is a long climb. 30.1 kilometres with an average gradient of 4.1% ramping up to 9% in places. Always shrouded in mist at the top, the highlight of the ride came on the descent when a group of Eagles (Reg thought they might be vultures) difficult to see through the swirling mist, eerily swooped around the valley at eye level for 5 minutes while we tried to take photos before they rode the thermals higher up the mountain. A sight I will never forget.

Something that stood out for all of us on the rides was the lack of potholes and the low levels of traffic compared to the UK. Riding in a group was very peaceful without the shouting and pointing out of potholes every few minutes that you get back home.

Another memorable holiday and a big thank you to our hosts Reg and Sue for making the trip run smoothly. From getting up at 5.00 am to greet us when we arrived and having breakfast ready before the first ride, to helping us to prepare baguettes ready for the car journey home and another 5.00 am wakeup call on the day of our departure. You are both absolute stars.

We will be back.