2017 Italy and France Alps and Pyrénées cycling trip

Discussion in 'Member's Travelogues' started by Shut Up Legs, 12 Jul 2017.

  1. Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member


    [ click any image to see the larger one ]


    This trip report is split over 18 posts, because I did a lot over there, so it takes a while to describe it all. I also wanted to ensure I passed on any useful information to anyone else wanting to cycle the regions I visited, and simply because I enjoy sharing my cycling trips with like-minded readers on the CycleChat forums. :smile: The 18 posts are as follows:
    1. Introduction
    2. Day 1 - Torri di Fraele
    3. Day 2 - West and East sides of Passo dello Stelvio
    4. Day 3 - Passo di Mortirolo and Passo di Gavia
    5. Day 4 - Addio Italia, Bonjour La France, and Lascets de Montvernier
    6. Day 5 - Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier
    7. Day 6 - Alpe d'Huez
    8. Day 7 - Gorges de la Nesque
    9. Day 8 - Mont Ventoux
    10. Day 9 - Rest day
    11. Day 10 - Col du Tourmalet
    12. Day 11 - Col d'Aubisque and Col du Soulor (or that was the plan, anyway)
    13. Day 12 - Hautacam and Col de Tramassel
    14. Day 13 - Luz Ardiden
    15. Day 14 - Col de Tentes
    16. Heading home, and Conclusion
    17. Extra - Of Marmots and Other Fauna
    18. Extra - Of Irises and Other Flora

    In these posts, the photos with the date / time stamps are mine: I prefer to have this option enabled, so I can look at the photos years later, and recognise where they're from: I've taken a lot of photos over the years on my cycling trips. Those without the date / time stamps are taken by one of the others in the Forever Cycling Tours tour group: Richard, from New Zealand. We shared our photos with each other shortly before the end of the tour.

    The trip was split into 2 main tours. These were not 'tours' in the normal sense. I know many people don't consider supported cycling trips to be tours, so if you're only interested in those, no need to read any further.
    1. The first tour was a paid supported tour with Forever Cycle Tours, a UK company, and covered days 1 to 11. The tour I did was this one: The Legendary Cols Tour. I used their hire bike option, and the bike, a Cube Agree GTC Pro, was very nice to ride: light and easy to use.
    2. Even 1.5 weeks of Alpine and Pyrenean cycling wasn't enough for me this time, because the distance I had to travel just to get there required that I make the trip worthwhile, so I wanted to pad it out to 2 weeks. So for days 12 to 14, I stayed at a cycling-specific B&B in Saint-Savin (about 15 to 20km south of Lourdes in southern France), and did rides according to my own itinerary, and at my own speed. The B&B is this one: Pyrénées Cycling Lodge. Again, I used a hire bike, which was even better than the Cube bike, and was a Lapierre Xelius SL 600.

    Why do it?

    Is there anything more enjoyable for a cyclist than to do a great deal of the kind of cycling that one prefers? My particular passion is road cycling up mountains, the bigger and steeper the better.
    Some would call this torture rather than recreation, but there are so many reasons to do it:
    • spectacular scenery on the climb, at the top, then on the descent;
    • attempting a physical challenge, with the side-effect of getting very effective exercise;
    • getting away from "it all", as the saying goes: mountain roads are typically a lot quieter and smell better than busy towns and cities;
    • and of course the guilt-free snack binges after the rides. :okay:
    One other very important reason is the denial of encroaching age: my 40s are behind me, and I wanted to do this just to prove to myself how fit I am.

    I actually enjoy the climbs more than the descents, because they last longer, and any time on the bike is good time as far as I'm concerned, and I enjoy the workout, and also because one can see the scenery in far more detail when one goes slowly.

    Anyway, enough proselytising, and on with the trip report! :hyper:

    Some numbers

    This trip is the second of its kind for me: I spent 6 days cycling last September (i.e. in 2016. The trip report is here: 2016 France trip report), and thoroughly enjoyed cycling through the French part of the Pyrénées, then Mont Ventoux, then the French part of the Alps. One of my main goals for the trip I just finished was to improve on the previous trip in every aspect possible, and I think I managed to do that fairly well.

    The previous trip saw me riding 584km (363mls) over 6 days, with about 14,195m (46,540ft) climbing at 8.4% average grade, while this one was 870km (540mls) over 14 days (with 1 day of no riding in the middle), with about 20,425m (66,965ft) climbing at 8.25% average grade. The plan for this trip was to do about 1,110km (690mls) with about 27,810m (91,180ft) climbing, but that was overly ambitious, and I knew I'd fall short of that. Overall, I'm pleased with what I managed, which was about 78% of the distance and 73.5% of the climbing.

    I deliberately made this trip longer than the previous one, because after travelling more than 17,000km just to ride less than 600km over 6 days, I went back to Australia last September feeling like I really should have stayed longer. So this time I did that, although I still wanted to stay longer! :rolleyes: I would have been more than happy to do another 2 weeks of riding over there, but bills must be paid, etc. ...

    The spreadsheet below I created before the trip, where the green bits show the rides I completed in full as planned, the yellow bits are where I partly completed the planned rides, and anything else is the rides I skipped. If you're wondering what a "Climbbybike index" is, it's a difficulty index (where a higher number means more difficulty) for bicycle climbs, and was devised by the ClimbByBike web site: http://www.climbbybike.com/climb_difficulty.asp). The abbreviation "HC" means hors categorie, and refers to the hardest bicycle climb category, as defined here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hors_catégorie). Where the spreadsheet says 'no climb' for a ride, this is a bit misleading, because it just means that it was relatively flat compared to the massive climbs on the major riding days. But relatively flat actually meant I did only less than 1000m climbing, instead of several times that! :laugh:


    The map below (you'll have to click it to show the larger one) shows the start points of the various rides I did). Up near the top right is the rides that started in Bormio, in the Italian part of the Alps and far to the northeast of Milano. Then near the middle of the map is 2 dots near Grenoble that show the rides that covered parts of the French part of the Alps. Below and to the left of those is another 2 dots showing the day of riding I did on Mont Ventoux, which is just south of the Alps. Finally, there are 2 dots near the bottom left, showing the rides that started from Lourdes, and from Saint-Savin (about 15-20km south of Lourdes).


    Getting there

    As I mentioned, I had to travel a very long way to get there, because Australia might as well be on Mars as far as Europe is concerned. Around 2230 on June 20th I left Melbourne, with a 12 hour flight to Abu Dhabi with Etihad Airways. After a 2 hour stopover, I had a 7 hour flight with Alitalia to Malpensa Airport near Milano (although 'near' is about a 45 minute train trip), arriving there about 1330 local time on the 21st. I then took a shuttle bus from the airport to the Holiday Inn Express, where I stayed that night and the next. I'd purposely allowed for a full day at the hotel prior to being picked up by the cycling tour bus on the 23rd, to help me get over the jet lag. That night, I went to bed fairly early, and slept for about 12-13 hours. I can't sleep on aeroplanes, no matter how hard I try, so I'd been awake for almost 50 hours. :tired:

    I may pick another hotel next time I go to Europe: I used the Holiday Inn Express in September's trip also, but although it's clean and tidy and well-run, the mattresses are too hard, and the hotels don't have their own restaurants, so I needed to find another nearby place to eat dinners.

    Pre-Cycling tourism: the jet-lag recovery day

    On the full day before being picked up for the cycling tour, I went from the hotel to Milano, via the shuttle bus to the airport, and then a 45 minute train trip to Milano, and the same going back. It was a pleasant enough day, although certainly not my main purpose for being in Europe. The weather was typical mid-summer: mid-30s and clear, which was a nice contrast to mid-winter in Melbourne.
    Interestingly enough, I left Melbourne just before the winter solstice, and arrived in Italy on the summer solstice, so not only was the weather a great deal hotter, but the days were very long also, with sunsets being between about 9 and 10pm for the duration of my stay in Europe.

    After arriving at the Cadorna train station in Milano, I then spent a few hours walking through the city, visiting two of its major parks, first the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli, and then the Parco Sempione. Between these, I visited the Duomo di Milano, a large and impressive looking Gothic cathedral that dominates the city square next to it. On my way to the Duomo, I walked through the very touristy fashion mall called the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

    While walking through the abovementioned mall, a street vendor approached me, and tried to sell me what he called a 'lucky' wristband, which was really just a few strands of coloured cotton. His 'selling' method was pretty dodgy, and involved him giving one to me, then demanding money after the fact. In fact, after giving one to me, he asked me where I was from, then after I told him, he gave me another, then said it would be 10 Euros. Not wanting to make a big fuss about it, I gave him 10 Euros, then he said it was 10 Euros apiece, not 10 for both wristbands. At that point, I lost patience with him, and refused to give him the other 10. After that, I avoided him and the others like him: they were pretty obvious once I'd seen them, so it wasn't hard to avoid them, although a few firm "No"s were needed in a few cases. :rolleyes:

    While walking through Milano, I noticed several things:
    • there are a lot of cigarette smokers, but then there are in Melbourne too;
    • cycling is more prevalent here: see the image below which is my lame attempt at a Milano cycling montage. It was hard to take good photos of them, because they appeared and were then gone almost before I could point the camera at them. It was a refreshing change to see a city where cycling is more normal than anywhere in Australia. In Milano (and in Italy and France in general), the cyclists were just part of the landscape, and simply shared the roads with motorcyclists, other motorists, and pedestrians, with no acrimony and no hassle. While using the roads in Italy and France as a pedestrian or as a cyclist, I felt a lot safer than I ever do in Australia, because the motorists just seemed to be more aware of me.
    • the trains (at least, as far as I could tell) ran on time and smoothly, again in contrast to Melbourne, where they're frequently late (or where the drivers even deliberately skip stations in an attempt to 'meet' schedule targets), or where the train operator company makes all sorts of pathetic excuses for trains being late or not running at all. I noticed the same in France later on in the trip. Australia could learn from this (if the government chose to, that is).
    • Carabinieri (police) were in abundance in the Piazza del Duomo next to the cathedral, presumably in response to the recent high levels of terrorism alerts.
    • The Piazza die Mercanti was closed. :sad: I really wanted to walk through here, as its architecture dates back to the Middle Ages. However, it clearly badly needed maintenance, and on this day was completely covered in scaffolding, so hardly any of it was visible.

    I'm not a fan of big cities, so tend to visit the nice green parks while there, and the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli was pleasant enough, with some lakes, various birds and other animals, and lots of greenery.

    Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli :

    Fashion doesn't interest me either, but the architecture of this galleria looked pretty impressive, and I was passing through it on my way to the Duomo di Milano.

    Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II :

    The Duomo di Milano is a large, ornate gothic cathedral, which totally dominates the city square that it adjoins.

    Duomo di Milano :

    No trip to a big European city like Milano would be complete without some observations of the local cycling culture, so I did my best to take some photos of these fast-moving creatures.

    Cyclists in Milano :

    That evening, I walked from the Holiday Inn Express to the Crowne Plaza hotel about 1km away, and ate dinner at its restaurant, then didn't do much else before going to bed.

    [ Next - Day 1 - Torri di Fraele ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
  2. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 1 (23rd June) - Torre di Fraele

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    After my ridiculously long trip to get to Italy, the riding finally began today. I took the airport shuttle bus from the Holiday Inn Express hotel to Malpensa airport terminal 1, to wait for the Forever Cycle Tours contact, Dani, who was supposed to arrive at the airport about 0930. She arrived on schedule, along with Ben, another of the tour staff, and Alex, who was the tour bus driver. The other tour customers also arrived, 9 of them including myself. There were 4 from Australia including myself, 2 from New Zealand (one of them non-cycling), 2 from different parts of the USA, and 1 from Scotland.

    The 2 from NZ were Richard and his wife Shirley (he was there for the cycling), and Richard and I shared our photos with each other shortly before this tour ended, so we both ended up with a better collection of them - thanks, Richard! :okay:

    We all got into a hire bus (not the tour bus: Alex drove that separately to Bormio), and its Italian driver drove us to Bormio, which took about 4 hours of driving, with a 45 minute lunch stop in the middle, at Trivio Fuentes about halfway along the famous Lago di Como (aka 'Lake Como'). The road house had delicious food. I noticed that with all road houses in Italy and France during this trip (and during last September's France trip): they're very well-equipped and run in general.

    The scenery got increasingly spectacular as the bus neared and then entered the Alps, and we started going through some very long road tunnels cutting through the higher hills. In the early afternoon, once we arrived in Bormio and at the Palace Hotel, our home for the next 3 nights, we all checked in to the hotel, and then started getting the bicycles and our riding gear ready for our warmup ride to the Torri di Fraele and back.

    Bormio is not only a popular cycling town, but also has skiing during the winter months, not surprising given its 1200m elevation and 3 nearby mountains all peaking over 3,000m.

    The map and elevation chart below shows the 'warmup' ride. It had a fair bit of climbing, but certainly little compared to the major climbing days of the tour.

    Day 1 route and elevation chart :
    Distance: 29.5km. Climbing: 1277m. Highest: 1940m. Temperature: low 30s.
    Torri di Fraele is at the northwest end of the route, and Bormio at the southeast end.

    The Palace Hotel was comfortable and well-run, and definitely one of my favourite hotels for this trip, although it had no air-conditioning. The only problem I had with my room is that it was on the top floor, and the sloping roof cut into the room, so that the ceiling was a lot lower on the side of the room facing the outside wall. I bumped my head several times on that part of the ceiling before I got used to it. The view out of the window was spectacular, though, showing the nearby mountains (some of which topped 3,000m and showed snow-caps even in mid-summer).

    A lot of cyclists were staying at this hotel, so it's clearly popular with cyclists. Group sizes ranged from fairly large (20+) to smaller ones like ours. This may have been partly due to the fact that the next day (24th June) had a Passo dello Stelvio sportive, in which 100s (or perhaps a few 1000?) of cyclists rode up the pass.

    Bormio's Palace Hotel :

    I chose to use a hire bike for this tour to avoid the hassle and uncertainty of taking my own bicycle overseas, and back, entrusting it to the casual and sometimes careless hands of airport baggage handlers. The bike was a Cube Agree GTC Pro, and was light and easy to ride. I put my own pedals and saddle on it, along with a few frame bags, and I was ready to go.

    My hire bike, a Cube Agree GTC Pro :

    Myself, the other 7 tour customers, and Dani and Ben gathered together for the ride, with Alex driving the van back and forth along the route, accompanied by Richard's wife Shirley. We then headed out of Bormio, and west and then north, up a road with many hairpin bends ('tornante' in Italian) up to the Torri di Fraele. With the temperatures in the low 30s, it was a bit of a hot ride, but not unbearably so.

    The Torri di Fraele, or 'Fraele Towers', were part of an old fortification system to protect against frequent invasions.

    Looking down to the hairpin bends from the Torri di Fraele :

    Just before the Torri di Fraele, the road cut through the mountainside via a rough-cut tunnel, a pretty common feature in the Alps.

    Road tunnel next to the Torri di Fraele :

    Torri di Fraele :

    Torri di Fraele :

    The photo below I actually took early the next morning, but I'm posting it here because the next post already has the maximum photos in it. Using Google Street View online, I managed to find a very good vantage point on the northeast outskirts of Bormio from which to see the entire town, so I walked up there, and took a few panoramic photos of the town. There's a road called Via Santalone, and just to the east of this road (or perhaps it's a continuation of the same road?) is a great spot for viewing the entire town.

    View down to Bormio from its northern margin :

    I recorded this day's entire ride using my helmet-mounted GoPro Hero3+ video camera, and the 2 edited videos uploaded to Youtube (see below) show the ascent and descent parts of the ride, respectively.

    We then got back to the hotel in the mid-afternoon (sunsets weren't until between about 9 and 10pm), put our bicycles in the secure ski / bike room in the hotel, and then had a very nice dinner at the hotel, before retiring for the night.

    [ Prev: Introduction ]
    [ Next: Day 2 - West and East sides of Passo dello Stelvio ]
    Last edited: 13 Aug 2017
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  3. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 2 (24th June) - West and East sides of Passo dello Stelvio

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    Today was a big day, probably the toughest in the entire 2 week trip in fact, physically very demanding, but the views were definitely worth the effort! :eek:

    Day 2 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 107km. Climbing: 3210m. Highest: 2760m. Temperature: low 30s lower down, around 20 at the top.
    In the map, Bormio is at the southwest of the route, Passo dello Stelvio at the south of the loop, Santa Maria (Switzerland) at the west side of the loop, and Prato (back in Italy) at the far eastern extreme of the loop.

    I'm used to getting up very early (I get up at 0400 every week day for my bicycle commute to work), so as I mentioned in the previous post I did that today, walking through Bormio and admiring all the old buildings, also visiting an ATM at a local bancomat to get some more Euros. Breakfast at the hotel was 0730 (and this continued for the rest of the tour: breakfasts were at 0730 and dinners at 1930), then we started the ride at 0840.

    A note on names: this part of Italy (Sondrio Province) has towns with dual Italian and German names, due to its partly Germanic history, and Passo dello Stelvio is also known as Stilfserjoch.

    The lower parts of the climb from Bormio up to Passo dello Stelvio included several tunnels, such as the one shown below. A few of these had water trickling from fissures in the rock, so it was effectively raining inside some of these tunnels. There were very few motor vehicles on the road today, due to a sportive being held: the Gran Fondo Stelvio, including a large number of cyclists.

    Tunnel in lower part of Stelvio climb :

    Well into the climb, I could occasionally see a panorama of the hairpins in the road ahead of me, such as the one in the photo below. One common feature of these Italian road climbs is that the hairpin bends are marked by signs with 'Tornante' plus a number written on them, which meant there were that number of hairpin bends left until the top of the climb, so the number decreased the higher we got. This contrasts to the French signs for common cyclist climbs, which typically show the distance remaining to the top, plus the average grade for the next km of riding.

    Hairpin bends in road up to Stelvio :

    The view back down the valley once I got a lot higher was equally spectacular, showing the many bends in the road, and of course the mountains (with a bit of snow) in every direction.

    View west towards Bormio from partway up Stelvio :

    The next photo shows a few of the tunnels that the road cut through.

    View west towards Bormio from partway up Stelvio :

    At about 1115, a photographer from Foto Stelvio took some photos of me. For those unfamiliar with this practice, it works as follows:
    1. photographers from a company position themselves on scenic points on the major cycling climbs, be it the Alps, Pyrénées, Mont Ventoux or elsewhere;
    2. cyclists ride by (heading up or down) and the photographers typically take several photos of them over a few seconds;
    3. sometimes the photographers will hand you their business card, sometimes not, but generally the photo company's name is on a sign somewhere near the photographer;
    4. some time later, you view the company's web page, find your photos, based on the date and time you rode by that particular point, and if you like them, you order them online;
    5. the photos are emailed to you (or at least this is probably the most common option; paper options are available also for the majority of them, I think).
    Anyway, I ordered a few of their photos, and one of these is below, showing me enjoying the climb! :smile:

    Foto Stelvio pic of me :

    Due to limits on the number of images I can insert in a single post on this forum, I couldn't show all of them, but here's a link to a photo I took of part of the sportive crowd on top of the Passo dello Stelvio. It was very busy up there, with a party atmosphere, including someone urging the finishing cyclists on via a loudspeaker, an inflatable finish arch, and people everywhere, not just cyclists but numerous motorcyclists also.

    [ Sportive crowd on top of Passo dello Stelvio ]

    I took the photo below at the Passo dello Stelvio sign only a few minutes before I reached all the abovementioned mayhem. It's pretty barren up there, but being snowed under for a big chunk of the year would have that effect, I guess. :cold:

    Passo dello Stelvio sign on west side :

    While at the top, and waiting for the last 2 cyclists in the group to get there (I wasn't the last one up, this time, unlike all the rides in the September trip :wahhey:), I went into one of the many shops up there (it's almost like a mini-town at Passo dello Stelvio) and bought 2 Stelvio + Gavia + Mortirolo jerseys and 1 t-shirt with a similar theme. Now I just had to do the other 2 climbs (tomorrow) to 'earn' the jersey. :laugh:

    Eventually, we all regrouped, and headed back down the west side of the pass, where about 3km down was the intersection with the road that heads north down the Umbrail Pass and into Switzerland. Alex was also waiting for us there in the van, since he couldn't drive the van to the top of Stelvio, due to the sportive. A few km along that road, and after passing through the Italy / Switzerland border point, we regrouped again. The photo below was taken from somewhere near that road intersection (I think).

    View of mountains near west side of Passo dello Stelvio :

    The descent down the Umbrail Pass into Switzerland was very nice and with beautiful scenery, as the photo below shows.

    Partway down Umbrail Pass towards Santa Maria :

    We regrouped again at the Swiss town of Santa Maria at the bottom of the descent. While there, a Swedish bicycle tourer (at least, we guessed he was Swedish, from the flag attached to his touring bicycle) turned up, and spent a few minutes on his phone. Much respect to you, sir, for doing these climbs the hard way! :notworthy:

    [ Swedish bicycle tourer at Santa Maria ]

    After the brief stop in Santa Maria, we headed east along the road towards the Swiss / Italian border, and stopped for lunch in the Swiss town of Mustair. By then, it was getting hot, with the temperature about 35 degrees. The food at the cafe (the Hotel Restorant Chavalatsch) was nice and the service good. After lunch, we headed over the border, then south towards the Italian town of Prato allo Stelvio (aka Prad am Stilfserjoch), and after regrouping again, we then headed up the long climb to Passo dello Stelvio again, but from the east this time.

    Next to the road heading southwest from Prato to the next major town of Gomagoi, there was a river, with multiple waterfalls, but I couldn't find it on the map, so don't know what it's called.

    River next to Prato - Gomagoi road :

    Further on, I passed the multilingual sign indicating that Passo dello Stelvio was open.

    Passo dello Stelvio sign near start of east climb :

    The mid 30s heat made the climb a lot more difficult than it would have been, so I just took it reasonably slowly, and drank heaps from the 2 bidons clipped onto the bike. One place I was happy to stop for a minute and temporarily escape the heat was one of the 1-sided tunnels covering the road. The support from the Forever Cycle Tours team was great: Alex drove the van back and forth along the route, and so we could periodically refill our bidons from the water stored in the van, very handy on a hot day like today.

    I was sure that the Garmin GPS computer on my bike showed a temperature of about 38 to 40 some time during this climb, but the temperature chart above only shows a maximum of 33, I don't know why. Perhaps it's because the chart only has temperature readings every few minutes, and it skipped the high one?

    1-sided tunnel on east climb up Passo dello Stelvio :

    About 8km before the top, the climb has a few steeper sections, in which the grade briefly gets over 10%, so my tired legs didn't like that much. Fortunately the scenery on this particular climb never fails to amaze, so I had that to look at.

    Steeper section on east climb up Stelvio :

    The 2 photos below (one I took, the other from Richard's camera) show the mountains to the left / south of the climb up to Passo dello Stelvio. If you look closely, you can see a house partway up one of the steep mountain sides in both photos (near the centre of the 1st, and a bit to the left of centre in the 2nd). I can only imagine what it must be like living there. :wub:

    Mountain to south of Stelvio east climb :

    Mountain to south of Stelvio east climb :

    Eventually, I started riding through the sequence of hairpin bends in the part of the climb that heads west, and ahead of me I could see the numerous bends still to be ridden, which depending on your state of mind is demoralising or exciting. I found it to be the latter, because no matter how hard the climb is (and I found this one to be very tough), I always enjoy them, especially when the scenery is this impressive.

    Hairpin bends leading to Stelvio :

    With 22 (of a total of 48) hairpin bends to go, I reached the Berghotel Franzenshohe, and the bilingual sign next to it, reading tornante in Italian and kehre in German. By this point, I was at 2200m elevation (the pass is at 2760m).

    [ The Berghotel Franzenshohe at the 22 tornante sign ]

    Farther on, there was a very welcome wooden water channel with a continual stream of water falling from it down into a cement trough: a great idea for hot days! :sweat:

    Wooden water channel and trough :

    I should point out that from about just past the 1-sided road tunnel onwards, Dani accompanied me to the top, and patiently rode with me, even though my progress was pretty slow at times, because I was pushing myself close to my limit on this ride. I think it was mainly because I wasn't used to the heat, having just come from mid-winter in Melbourne. She was an absolute champion for doing this: yes, I know, she got paid for it, but I still really appreciated it. My time for this climb was about 20 to 25% longer than for most of the others in the tour group, so by the time I reached the top, they had already left to ride back down to Bormio, but Alex was at the top waiting for me in the van, and as I said I had Dani encouraging me every km of the way. :bravo: The view east from Stelvio was really impressive, and well worth the climbs. It was also a lot cooler up there by then, only about 15 degrees, so when I rode back down to Bormio, I put on a cycling jacket to ward off the wind chill.

    View east from Passo dello Stelvio, after 2nd / eastern ascent :

    The 2 photos below are from Richard's camera, and are of the mountains near Passo dello Stelvio, and looking towards Stelvio from nearby, respectively.

    Mountains near Passo dello Stelvio :

    Looking to Passo dello Stelvio from nearby :

    Once at the top for the second time that day, Dani took a photo of me at one of the signs, before we both headed down the mountain to Bormio and dinner.

    Me at Passo dello Stelvio for second time that day :

    I recorded the descent from Passo dello Stelvio just before lunch down to Santa Maria in Switzerland using my helmet-mounted GoPro Hero3+ camera, and also the descent from Stelvio down to Bormio in the mid to late afternoon.

    Passo dello Stelvio descent to Santa Maria :

    Passo dello Stelvio descent to Bormio :

    [ Prev: Day 1 - Torri di Fraele ]
    [ Next: Day 3 - Passo di Mortirolo and Passo di Gavia ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
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  4. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 3 (25th June) - Passo di Mortirolo and Passo di Gavia

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    Day 3 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 113km. Climbing: 2800m. Highest: 2600m.
    Temperature: around 15 in Bormio and Grosio, warming up to mid 20s at Passo di Mortirolo, then up to mid 30s in Monno, around 30 in Ponte di Legno, cooling down to 10 at Passo di Gavia, then back up to mid 20s back in Bormio.
    In the map, Bormio is at the north of the route, Monno at the southern extreme, with Passo di Mortirolo to the northwest of it. Ponte di Legno is at the eastern extreme of the route, and Passo di Gavia is halfway up the east part of the route.
    I don't know what happened to the elevation readings part of the way up to Passo di Gavia, but it certainly wasn't a cliff face, as the chart shows! :laugh: I guess the GPS bike computer temporarily had trouble with its barometric altimeter. This wasn't the section of route where I rode (slowly) through the 400m tunnel, either, so that doesn't explain the anomaly.

    We left Bormio at about 0830, with thundery showers starting the day. :rain:
    The tour group unanimously decided to climb up to Passo di Mortirolo from Grosio, instead of doing the shorter, steeper and more difficult climb from Mazzo, as the bad weather discouraged us from the latter. We missed the Mortirolo turnoff just before Grosio, and ended up having to backtrack about 3km, so did 6km more than planned today. The rain stopped just as we started riding up the main climb to Passo di Mortirolo, and the rest of the day was clear, except for another brief shower just as we started the Passo di Gavia climb from Ponte di Legno.

    The views riding up to Passo di Mortirolo were quite nice, not as spectacular as some of the more exposed climbs, because this climb is heavily forested, but some views were quite panoramic.

    View of Grosio (or Mazzo) from partway up Mortirolo climb :

    As I mentioned, the Mortirolo climb is heavily forested, and after the rain, was showing its colours.

    Mortirolo climb forest :

    The climb had various useful road signs, showing the distance to the top, and the average and maximum grades for the next km.

    Mortirolo road sign :

    View south from Mortirolo climb :

    The climb up to Passo di Mortirolo wasn't particularly difficult, although there were several sections where the grade got over 10%, but these were interleaved with slightly flatter sections, so it was manageable. At the top, the temperature was a pleasant low 20s, and I had a brief rest while waiting for the last 2 riders in the group to join us.

    Myself at Passo di Mortirolo :

    Myself at Passo di Mortirolo :
    The sign says "road without parapets", so in other words: stay clear of the edge!

    After everyone joined us, we rode down to Monno, a steep and very winding descent, and the temperature increased rapidly, so it was in the mid 30s when we regrouped again at Monno. We then rode along the road towards Ponte di Legno, stopping for lunch at Vezza d'Oglio. After lunch, we continued on, regrouping again just at the start of the Passo di Gavia climb in Ponte di Legno, where we were met by a brief rain shower.

    Early on in the Passo di Gavia climb, I saw this memorial plaque in the wall on the right hand side of the road, but I could find no information on who Delfino Faustini was, or what happened to him.

    Delfino Faustini memorial plaque, early in Gavia climb :

    The scenery on this climb is really impressive, particularly the mountain views to the west and to the south.

    Mountain view to south from Gavia climb :

    At several points, the climb up to Passo di Gavia has some steep pinches, where the road not only gets well over 10% grade, but it narrows so that motor traffic (or at least, the 4-or-more wheeled kind) can only go in 1 direction at a time. This caused a few headaches for their drivers, and I spotted this traffic jam at one of these spots, where 2 cars faced each other, with a line of motorcyclists behind the car heading in my direction. A few horns were used, and some bad words said, before it was sorted out. :laugh:

    Gavia climb traffic jam :

    Mountain view to south from Gavia climb :

    Eventually, I reached a tunnel about 5 to 6km before the pass, which was difficult to cycle through. It was 400m long and unlit, and also had a bend partway through which blocked my view of the exit. To make things worse, the surface of the road inside the tunnel had sand spread over it. Even though I had a fairly good headlight on the bike, the almost total absence of any visual cues affected my balance, and made cycling in a straight line difficult, particularly with my legs feeling very tired by that point. It's definitely not a cyclist-friendly tunnel.:angry: This wasn't just my feeling, either: the others in the group had the same experience.

    According to someone on an Australian cycling forum, the road that heads left at the tunnel and bypasses it is rideable, but the views are apparently vertiginous, plus it may not have been suitable for my hire road bike. Had I known what the tunnel would be like, I might have tried it anyway. :rolleyes:

    South entrance to tunnel 6km before Passo di Gavia :

    On the right hand wall shortly after the tunnel was another memorial plaque, this one to Negri Beniamino, and I couldn't find any information on this person, either.

    Negri Beniamino memorial plaque, after tunnel in Gavia climb :

    My legs felt reasonably strong today, although that strength reduced about 4km before Passo di Gavia, and I slowed down a lot for the remaining part of the climb. The road surface on both sides of the pass is very bad, with large, wide cracks and numerous potholes, unlike the Passo dello Stelvio climb from yesterday. Eventually, I got to Lago Nero, a lake about 2 to 3km before the pass and at about 2400m elevation, and very clear and clean looking.

    Lago Nero, about 3km before Passo di Gavia :

    The scenery past the lake got increasingly rocky, with some waterfalls cutting through the rock, and the mountain views to the west and south became increasingly impressive.

    Waterfall near Passo di Gavia :

    View south near Passo di Gavia :

    View south near Passo di Gavia :

    As I got near the pass, the temperature had dropped to about 10 degrees, and a moderately strong and cold wind was blowing, which made every 2nd bit of road between the hairpins near the top a tougher ride, as I had alternating tail and headwinds, plus my legs were very tired by then. I eventually saw the Passo di Gavia buildings in the distance.

    Passo di Gavia buildings viewed from nearby west :

    Myself at Passo di Gavia :

    Passo di Gavia signs :

    This time, I had arrived at the pass just in time to have a brief rest before most of the others, who had arrived there before me, were preparing to ride down to Bormio. I decided to join them, before the cold made my legs stiffen up. We all headed down the mountain towards Bormio, riding past the cold-looking Lago Bianco, and passing the San Matteo battle monument as we did (it is briefly described here: http://www.cyclinglocations.com/gavia-pass-alps/ ). We took care during the descent, because as I mentioned, the road surface is very bad in this area.

    San Matteo battle monument at Passo di Gavia :

    I recorded the descent from Passo di Mortirolo to Monno using my helmet-mounted GoPro Hero3+ video camera, and also the much longer descent from Passo di Gavia back to Bormio.

    Passo di Mortirolo descent to Monno :

    Passo di Gavia descent to Bormio :

    Due to today and yesterday being very tough rides overall, I suspect this is when I strained my right lateral knee muscle, which I then felt more strongly later (but more on that in the Day 6 report).

    At dinner that evening, we took our time, because the long half-day bus trip from Bormio in Italy to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in France awaited us the next morning, so we had no early start to do cycling.

    [ Prev: Day 2 - West and East sides of Passo dello Stelvio ]
    [ Next: Day 4 - Addio Italia, Bonjour La France, and Lascets de Montvernier ]
    Last edited: 15 Aug 2017
  5. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 4 (26th June) - Addio Italia, Bonjour La France, and Lascets de Montvernier

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    This day had the least riding of all the 13 riding days in my 14 day double-tour, mainly due to the long bus trip from Italy to France: more on that below.

    Day 4 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 18km. Climbing: 370m. Highest: 785m.
    Temperature: mid 20s in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, high 20s up on top of the Lascets de Montvernier.
    In the map, the Lascets de Montvernier (aka 'Montvernier hairpins') starts near the Arc river near the northwest of the route, and Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is in the southeast.

    I had an early morning walk to an ATM at a local bancomat in Bormio, then had a cappuccino at a nearby cafe, although it was unfamiliar to me, compared to the style of cappuccino I'm used to in Australia.

    As with the trip from Malpensa airport to Bormio, Forever Cycle Tours hired a bus to take us from Bormio to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in France, which left at 0830. During the trip, we watched some Tour de France documentary video to kill some time. We had lunch at a Chef Express road house, which I think was somewhere between Milano and Torino. After crossing an Italy / France border checkpoint near Bardonecchia, we entered the Traforo del Frejus (traforo = tunnel), a tunnel almost 13km long that crosses the Italy / France border.

    Traforo del Frejus on the Italy / France border west of Torino :

    At 1630 we finally arrived in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, and checked into our hotel for the night, the Hotel du Nord, which appears to be a cyclist-supporting hotel, at least you'd think so by the exterior (see picture below). Unfortunately, I was a bit less than impressed by this hotel: the rooms are too small, the dinner service was very slow, and the dinner was a fixed menu with no choices available.

    Hotel du Nord, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne :

    At about 1730 we all left to ride to the Lascets de Montvernier (aka 'Montvernier hairpins'), with the temperature in the high 20s. Along with 1 other, I chose not to ride from the top of the hairpins up to the Col du Chaussy (one of the extended ride options for this part of the tour, which added 20km and about 700m climbing), because I wanted to save my legs for tomorrow, in which I would be riding up the Col du Télégraphe and then Col du Galibier.

    Lascets de Montvernier viewed from bottom :

    Lascets de Montvernier viewed from top:

    Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and L'Arc valley, viewed from Lascets de Montvernier :

    As with Day 1, I recorded the entire trip to the Lascets de Montvernier and back with my helmet-mounted GoPro Hero3+ video camera, and split the video into the outbound and inbound parts.

    Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne ascent to Lascets de Montvernier :

    Lascets de Montvernier descent to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne :

    [ Prev: Day 3 - Passo di Mortirolo and Passo di Gavia ]
    [ Next: Day 5 - Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
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  6. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 5 (27th June) - Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    After another continental breakfast at the Hotel du Nord at 0730, where I had the best croissants of the whole trip (crispy, buttery and delicious! :hungry: ), we left for the day's ride at about 0830.

    Day 5 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 69km. Climbing: 2160m. Highest: 2645m.
    Temperature: around 20, warming up to low 20s on Col du Télégraphe, high 20s in Valloire, then a bit below 20 on Col du Galibier.
    In the map, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is at the north of the route, La Grave at the southwest part, and Col du Galibier about 2/3 of the way down the route.

    I need not have worried about being able to do the Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier climbs, as they turned out be noticeably easier than the double Passo dello Stelvio climb from 3 days ago. I was particularly happy about doing these climbs today, because during my September 2016 trip, I skipped these 2 climbs, and regretted it ever since.

    Col du Télégraphe in particular was a lot easier than I had expected. As with many of these popular cyclists' climbs, signs asked people to share the road, regardless of their mode of transport, such as the one in the picture below.

    Share the road sign on climb to Col du Télégraphe :

    Farther up the climb, I passed a 'pique-nique' area! :laugh:

    Pique-nique area :

    The mountain views were nice on this climb, with a bit of mist partly covering the peaks.

    Mountain views on climb to Col du Télégraphe :

    At the Col du Télégraphe, the large straw cyclist was getting a bit of a Tour de France makeover. One thing I also noticed is that it's in a different position compared to what I saw in September 2016 (previous picture here: https://sites.google.com/site/2016francecyclingtour/home/day7-telegraphe-sign.jpg ).

    Col du Télégraphe sign and straw cyclist :

    After regrouping at the col, we all rode down to Valloire (the small dip in the above elevation chart), and had a snack and drinks at a cafe there, before heading south up the road towards Col du Galibier.

    The scenery on the ride up to Col du Galibier is beautiful, as the road winds its way up the climb, next to the river (which I believe is La Valloirette, from the map).

    Road up to Col du Galibier, next to La Valloirette :

    Col du Galibier climb :

    Col du Galibier climb :

    One of the photos from Richard's camera (see below) shows me riding up the climb.

    Me riding up the climb :

    At about 1350, another professional photographer took several photos of me riding up the road, this time from Griffe Photos, one of these photos shown below.

    Griffe Photos pic of me :

    Towards the top of the climb, unmelted snow from last winter became more evident, and on closer inspection I could see small rivulets of water dripping off some of it, but there was still quite a bit left, including one section of road with a wall of snow still next to it. :cold:

    Entrance to Col du Galibier road tunnel :

    Wall of snow next to road just past road tunnel :

    When I got to the top in the early afternoon, it was busy up there, with a lot of motorcycle and bicycle tourists up there, clamouring to get photos in front of the col sign. Not surprising, given how good the weather was, with the temperature around 17 (but with a chilly wind blowing).

    Me at Col du Galibier sign :

    From the col, the views in all directions are very impressive, showing the surrounding mountains still with patches of snow on them from last winter.

    View east from Col du Galibier :

    View west from Col du Galibier (with Chalet du Galibier Refuge on far right) :

    I then rode down to the Chalet du Galibier Refuge, a cafe + shop only 1km down from the col on its southwest side, where I joined the others in the group for lunch (a delicious omelette). While there, I also bought a Col du Galibier cycling jersey and t-shirt. We all then commenced the long, but fast, descent down to the town of La Grave, our stop for the night. The descent goes through some tunnels of varying lengths.

    We were staying at the Hotel Castillan on the main road through the town, and the view from my hotel room was amazing, showing the nearby La Meije Glacier sitting on top of the nearby mountain peaks. La Grave is at 1500m elevation, and the peaks at about 3300m, and they loom over the town. A cable car (the Téléphérique des Glaciers de la Meije) lifts people up to near the glacier, so they can hike to it on foot. I believe technically it's several glaciers, or at least that's what the maps show.

    View from La Grave up to La Meije Glacier :

    View from La Grave up to La Meije Glacier :

    La Grave, with Téléphérique des Glaciers de la Meije on the left :

    Hotel Castillan in La Grave :

    I recorded the descent from Col du Télégraphe down to Valloire using my helmet-mounted GoPro Hero3+ video camera, and also the descent from Col du Galibier down to La Grave (I edited out the lunch stop and joined the 2 videos together for the latter descent).

    Col du Télégraphe descent to Valloire :

    Col du Galibier descent to La Grave :

    [ Prev: Day 4 - Addio Italia, Bonjour La France, and Lascets de Montvernier ]
    [ Next: Day 6 - Alpe d'Huez ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
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  7. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 6 (28th June) - Alpe d'Huez

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    Today had some bad weather, and a bad knee day for me, but more on that below.

    Day 5 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 44.5km. Climbing: 1220m. Highest: 1820m.
    Temperature: 11 on the descent from La Grave, about 15 in the valley, then back down to about 12 (and rainy) up on Alpe d'Huez. :rain:
    In the map, La Grave is at the east end of the route, the start of the Alpe d'Huez climb at the west side of the route, and Alpe d'Huez is to the northeast of that.

    Leaving La Grave at about 0830, we rode the long descent down to where the RS1092 splits from the D1091 at the eastern end of Lac du Chambon, at which point we turned onto the RS1091 and followed that around the south side of the lake (with a bit of climbing involved). I'm kicking myself for not recording that long descent on the video camera, because it would have made a nice video.

    Lac du Chambon, viewed from western side :

    After regrouping at the western side of the lake, we continued along D1091, following it northwest towards Le Bourg-d'Oisans, regrouping again just before the start of the Alpe d'Huez climb. The scenery along the river gorge (the river is La Romanche) towards the town was very nice: I should have put that on video too (maybe next time! :okay:).

    On the ride up to Alpe d'Huez, a saddle-sore I'd been developing over the last several days made itself felt, plus I noticed a right lateral knee pain, because it seemed that sometime over the tour (most likely on the Italian riding days 2 and 3), I strained it. My progress up to Alpe d'Huez was slowed down because of it, and I arrived up there after the rest of the group. I still enjoyed the ride, though, despite a sore bum, a sore knee, and being intermittently rained on! :laugh: (yes: this is what I call recreation, odd as it may seem)

    View from lower part of climb down to Le Bourg-d'Oisans :

    View from a bit higher up down to Le Bourg-d'Oisans :

    View from a bit higher up down to Le Bourg-d'Oisans, with hairpin bends visible :

    Shirley took a photo of me with Richard's camera as I rounded one of the hairpin bends, with me making the climb look easy (not).

    Me riding up to Alpe d'Huez :

    Another photo from Richard's camera showing the impressive backdrop to the climb :

    Further up, I saw one of the ornamental bicycles commemorating previous rides up Alpe d'Huez (of course, the TdF visits this climb regularly).

    Red bicycle on Alpe d'Huez climb :

    View up to Alpe d'Huez, and showing scenery past it :

    Nearby mountains viewed from near top of Alpe d'Huez climb :

    Alpe d'Huez mountainside sign near top of climb :

    Dani from Forever Cycle Tours accompanied me for the last 7km or so in the climb, since I was the last one up this time, so thanks again to Dani! :bravo: At about 1110, Griffe Photos took several photos of me, one of which is below.

    Griffe Photos photo of me riding up Alpe d'Huez :

    I reached the top around noon, riding clockwise around the loop road that circles the ski resort town, and stopping at the summit sign which is (roughly) 2/3 of the way towards the north of Avenue de Rif Nel and on its eastern side.

    Alpe d'Huez summit sign :

    We then rode back down to a restaurant in the main part of town (I can't recall what restaurant it was), where we had a light lunch and drinks. Some of us (myself included) decided to skip the optional 2nd part of the ride, and just check in to our hotel for the night.

    This 2nd part involved riding up from Alpe d'Huez to the Col de Sarenne (about 200m higher), then a clockwise loop from there down to Lac du Chambon, then from there along the D211A aka the 'balcony road', so-called because it hugs the mountainside, with a sheer drop on its left (south) looking down towards Le Bourg-d'Oisans. This would have been a very nice and scenic ride, but the weather was pretty bad, with intermittent rain, and a bit chilly, so a lot of that view would have been hidden anyway (another reason to return! :okay: ).
    This 2nd part of the ride would have also added a fair bit of climbing, because the balcony road rejoins the Alpe d'Huez climb at the town of La Garde, fairly low in the climb.

    I checked into the hotel along with some of the others, which was the Hotel Les Grandes Rousses, and grand it is. It's by far the best hotel I stayed at during the entire trip (and the highest, being at 1820m). I can't fault anything about it: the rooms, food, service, and everything else was really good.

    After booking a 30 minute recovery massage for my aching right knee (and my legs in general, after 6 days of Alpine riding), I went for a walk into the main town, buying an Alpe d'Huez cycling jersey and t-shirt while I was there. The views from various parts of the town are quite spectacular (I seem to be using that word a lot).

    View from Hotel Les Grandes Rousses :

    View from Alpe d'Huez town :

    Hotel Les Grandes Rousses :

    The recovery massage temporarily reduced the pain in my right knee, although it flared up again 2 days later on Mont Ventoux, and again 3 days after that on the last day of the Forever Cycle Tours tour.

    One of the hotel's nice features is that the wifi there is reliable and super-fast, so that was also nice to have.

    [ Prev: Day 5 - Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier ]
    [ Next: Day 7 - Gorges de la Nesque ]
    Last edited: 15 Aug 2017
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  8. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 7 (29th June) - Gorges de la Nesque

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    Another day, another bus trip to transfer to another town far away. :rolleyes: At least there weren't too many of these: Bormio to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, Alpe d'Huez to Bedoin (today's), and Bedoin to Lourdes. Today's bus trip took about 4 hours, and left about 0830, going via the winding river valley to Grenoble, then around the northern edge of the Vercors regional park (I'd love to do some cycling in that area one day :smile:), then down the western side of the park to Orange, then east to Bedoin, about 4 hours driving in all, with a lunch stop in the middle at a road house near Valence. The weather improved as we got closer to Bedoin, getting warmer and less rainy.

    Day 6 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 74km. Climbing: 915m. Highest: 820m.
    Temperature: mid 20s for most of the ride.
    In the map, our hotel 2km south of Bedoin is at the north end of the route, and we did a clockwise loop around the Gorge.

    On arrival at Bedoin, we checked into the Hotel Des Pins, in a quiet location about 2km south of Bedoin town centre. Its gardens have a lot of Mediterranean style plants, including numerous lavenders (this is a lavender farming area, and lavender plants grow everywhere, even by the sides of roads). At about 1400 we left on a ride to the Gorges de la Nesque, stopping at a pizzeria in Mormoiron on the way to the gorge for some very nice pizzas. :hungry:

    The ride through the gorge wasn't particularly steep, with all the grades being fairly gradual ones, but the overall ride still had over 900m climbing. The group mostly stuck together on this ride, only splitting up a few times.

    Gorges de la Nesque :

    Gorges de la Nesque :

    Gorges de la Nesque :

    Me emerging from a tunnel at Gorges de la Nesque :

    Gorges de la Nesque :

    The lookout at the Gorges de la Nesque is located fairly close to where Google Maps zooms in if you enter "Gorges de la Nesque" as a search term. We all briefly stopped there to admire the views of the gorge.

    View from lookout at Gorges de la Nesque :

    View from lookout at Gorges de la Nesque :

    View from lookout at Gorges de la Nesque :

    Looking back to Gorges de la Nesque (from somewhere north of Methamis, I think) :

    Past the gorge, our route took us through various areas of farms, including some lavender fields.

    Lavender field :

    Lavender field :

    I recorded the entire trip using my helmet-mounted GoPro Hero3+ video camera, and uploaded the part of it going through the gorge to Youtube.

    Gorges de la Nesque video :

    Back at the hotel, we enjoyed dinner at the restaurant, and looked forward to riding up Mont Ventoux tomorrow.

    [ Prev: Day 6 - Alpe d'Huez ]
    [ Next: Day 8 - Mont Ventoux ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
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  9. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 8 (30th June) - Mont Ventoux

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    Today, my goal (and that of most of the tour group) was to join the Club Les Cingles du Mont Ventoux, where the goal is to ride up Mont Ventoux by all 3 major routes in 1 day (which would be about 137km and 4400m climbing, so a major effort). Last year, I'd ridden up Mont Ventoux twice in 1 day (from Bedoin, and then from Malaucene), so I wanted to better that today. Unfortunately, my strained leg muscle near the right knee prevented this, and I only did the climb from Bedoin. :sad: Now, I have a reason to return: unfinished business! :okay:

    Day 8 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 68km. Climbing: 1540m. Highest: 1910m.
    Temperature: low 20s in Bedoin, dropping down to about 5 early in the climb, then about 9 to 10 at the top, then up to mid 20s down in Malaucene.
    In the map, the hotel south of Bedoin is at the southwest end of the route, Mont Ventoux is the very bendy bit near the northeast of the route, and Malaucene is at the northwest end of the route.

    I left the hotel at about 0630 to start the ride to Mont Ventoux, earlier than previous rides, but my original plan was to do 3 climbs, so I needed an earlier start for that. The weather was fine for the climb, as the photos below show.

    Mont Ventoux viewed from near Bedoin :

    Valley and gorge view from near Les Bruns :

    A short way up the climb, I saw a sign mentioning Col du Mont Ventoux. I have no idea what this is supposed to be, since it's a mountain, not a col. Perhaps someone just took one of the generic col signs and reused it? :scratch:

    Col du Mont Ventoux sign :

    The forest views are quite nice in the early parts of the climb.

    Forest views in early part of climb :

    Somewhere about 1/3 up the climb, I had a problem with my gear shifting, and Alex conveniently turned up in the tour van, and had a look at it. It turned out to be just some gunk in the pulley wheels, so was easily fixed. That was the only problem I had with the hire bike in the 11 day tour, so I was pretty happy with that bike.

    About halfway between Les Bruns and Chalet Reynard (which is located at the intersection with the Bedoin climb and Sault climb up to Mont Ventoux), there is a building that mentions the Mont Ventoux hill climb. This commemorates a car + motorcycle event held annually up to the mid 70s.

    Mont Ventoux Hill Climb building :

    As I got out of the forested area, I started to see the old weather station building on top of Mont Ventoux in the distance.

    Mont Ventoux from partway up the climb :

    The view down to the valleys from the south side of Mont Ventoux also gets better as you ascend higher.

    View south from partway up the climb:

    Towards the top, the trees and shrubs thin out, then almost completely vanish, replaced by mostly bare limestone, giving the landscape a lunar feel.

    Near top of Mont Ventoux :

    About 1km from the top, I visited the Tom Simpson memorial. Regardless of his history with performance-enhancing drugs, it's still a shame to see anybody die that young, and I believe that's the spirit of this memorial, to remember the fact that he died while ascending Mont Ventoux during a Tour de France.

    Tom Simpson memorial near top :

    A bit farther on, I saw a sign for Col des Tempêtes. Again, I have no idea what this is for, because there certainly is no access point between 2 mountain peaks here, so if anyone knows whence the name originated, please let me know, thanks. :smile:

    Col des Tempêtes sign :

    View of Alps past Col des Tempêtes sign :

    Farther on from the col sign, the summit became even more detailed.

    Near top of Mont Ventoux :

    Not far past the col sign, there is another memorial, this one just a sign commemorating some Brugge (aka 'Bruges') to Mont Ventoux cycling event. The translation for the sign (which has the same sentence in both Dutch and French) is something like
    That's about all I could find out about it, even though I did some searching on the internet.

    Brugge - Mont Ventoux cycling event memorial sign :

    When I reached the top, it was a bit cold, and with a moderately strong cold wind blowing: the mountain was living up to its name! :cold: Unfortunately, the cold wind didn't help my legs much, because the right leg muscle near the knee that I think I over-stressed on days 2 and 3 in Italy made its feelings known. When I started the descent down to Malaucene with some of the others in the tour group, every time I pushed on the right pedal, my knee hurt a lot. :sad: I could barely pedal on that descent. Obviously, pedaling isn't needed on parts of it, such as the middle part which is long, steep (up to 12%), smooth and straight, but on other bits, e.g. when I rounded the hairpin bends, a bit of pedaling was required, but my right knee just didn't want to do it.

    Me at top of Mont Ventoux :

    After our lunch stop in Malaucene, I reluctantly decided to get Alex to put my hire bike on the van, and I rode up the mountain in the van with him, as he used the van to support the others, as they cycled up the mountain on their 2nd ascent. Once the cyclists and van reached the top again, I got the bike off the van, and rode it back to the hotel near Bedoin, and that was my cycling done for the day. So even though I had grand plans of 3 Mont Ventoux ascents to better last year's 2 ascents, I only did 1. A shame, but the ascent I did do was enjoyable enough.

    While I rode back down to the hotel, the others in the group (except for Richard, who rode back with me) rode down to Sault, to then start their 3rd ascent of the mountain.

    Hotel Des Pins 2km south of Bedoin :

    Not wanting to waste such a nice day (it was pleasantly warm down in the valley, in the mid to high 20s), I walked with Richard and his wife Shirley to Bedoin, where we did some exploring and had lunch. I also tried some lavender flavoured icecream (as I mentioned, this is a lavender farming area), and I don't recommend it. xx(

    Richard and I went into the Bedoin bicycle museum, which contains an interesting mixture of bicycles from various decades (as far back as the late 1800s), vintage woollen bicycle jerseys, old leather saddles, and some other bits and pieces.

    Penny-Farthing bicycle in front of Bedoin bicycle museum :

    1888 Peugeot bicycle in Bedoin bicycle museum :

    1920 bicycle with unusual drivetrain in Bedoin bicycle museum :

    Having satisfied our curiosity in the bicycle museum, we then continued walking through Bedoin, going up a hill to the Eglise St Pierre (St Peter's Church), and looking down on the town from there.

    View of Bedoin from Eglise St Pierre :

    On our 2km walk back to the hotel, we noticed some bad weather settling on top of Mont Ventoux. Later on, the others in the group reported that on their 3rd ascent to Mont Ventoux, they were met by fog, freezing cold and then hail, so the weather up there was unpredictable today.

    Bad weather arriving at Mont Ventoux :

    The videos I recorded of my descents from Mont Ventoux to Malaucene, and Mont Ventoux to Bedoin, weren't my best effort, so below is my videos of the same descents in mid-September on last year's trip.

    Mont Ventoux descent to Malaucene :

    Mont Ventoux descent to Bedoin :

    We all met for dinner that night, with no rush to finish it this time, as tomorrow would be spent on a very long bus trip to Lourdes, so we ended up doing no cycling. Dinner was a slightly rowdy affair, as a large, vocal group of locals were at a nearby table enjoying a Friday night dinner together, so it was fairly busy in there.

    [ Prev: Day 7 - Gorges de la Nesque ]
    [ Next: Day 9 - Rest day ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
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  10. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 9 (1st July) - Rest day

    Due to the bus trip from Bedoin to Lourdes taking almost the whole day, we did no riding today: the bus left Bedoin at 0830 and arrived at Lourdes at 1600, with a lunch stop at La Dinee road house about 45km southeast of Toulouse. The weather wasn't that nice, either, with rain falling for a lot of the afternoon. :rain:

    Once in Lourdes, we all checked in to our hotel for the next 3 nights, the Grand Hotel Gallia & Londres, not far from one of Lourdes' main tourist attractions, the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes. I then went for a walk through Lourdes (borrowing an umbrella from the hotel) with Richard and Shirley. We arrived there a bit too late to enter the Chateau Fort on the high hill in the middle of Lourdes, as access is controlled and a museum fee must be paid, but they were about to close for the day when we walked up there. The photos I took of Lourdes from the Chateau Fort below I actually took the next day, after returning from the Col du Tourmalet ride.

    Grand Hotel Gallia & Londres bar area :

    Chateau Fort from street below :

    WW1 memorial, with Office de Tourisme behind it :

    Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes :

    Chateau Fort, viewed from Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes :

    Lourdes viewed from top of Chateau Fort :

    Lourdes viewed from top of Chateau Fort :

    Lourdes is loud and chaotic, and it's a miracle (excuse the pun ;)) that no pedestrians get hit by motorists, as the traffic there is a complete mess. I wouldn't want to stay there for any extended period. As a base for cycling, nearby Argèles-Gazost is probably far better. A lot of the shops in Lourdes sell religious-themed tourist souvenirs, and it tends to make the whole place resemble a city-sized flea market.

    [ Prev: Day 8 - Mont Ventoux ]
    [ Next: Day 10 - Col du Tourmalet ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
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  11. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 10 (2nd July) - Col du Tourmalet

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    Today, it was time for me to (almost) repeat a ride I did on the similar cycling trip last September, and ride south to Luz Ardiden and up to Col du Tourmalet. While last year's rides were Lourdes to Luz Saint Sauveur (via the Hautacam climb) on 1 day, then Luz Saint Sauveur to Bagneres-de-Luchon (via Col du Tourmalet) the next, today's ride was a loop from Lourdes to Col du Tourmalet, then heading north then west back to Lourdes.

    Day 10 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 103km. Climbing: 1925m. Highest: 2115m.
    Temperature: mid 20s mainly (including up on the col), although the temperature readings from the GPS bike computer seem to be all over the place for this ride.
    In the map, Lourdes is near the northwest part of the route, Luz-Saint-Sauveur (where we briefly stopped for a cafe snack before starting the main climb) is at the southern extreme, and Col du Tourmalet is the wiggly bit south of the map marker saying "Pic du Midi de Bigorre".

    As usual, we left at about 0830, riding along the shared cyclist / pedestrian path from Lourdes until it ended at Soulom, roughly 20km farther south. From there, we took the D921 road to Luz-Saint-Sauveur. There's a river that this road follows, which on the map is termed the Gave de Gavarnie ou de Pau, and I had an interesting time working out its origin. Gavarnie and Pau are towns, the former (which I actually rode through on day 14) down south near the Spanish border, and the latter northwest of Lourdes. Gave is a French word meaning a torrential river in the western Pyrénées - sounds very specific I know, but that's what this Wikipedia article told me: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gave_(placename_element) . I feel so much more educated, now. :becool: So the river's name basically means the torrential western Pyrénées river between Gavarnie and Pau! :laugh:

    Riding along the D921 next to the Gave de Gavarnie ou de Pau :

    After a cafe snack stop in Luz-Saint-Sauveur, we started our climb to Col du Tourmalet. I enjoyed riding up it again (and would quite happily do it more times). During the climb, my right knee muscle pain increased gradually, but then stopped increasing about 5 to 7km from the col, I don't know why, but I'm not complaining. :smile:

    Waterfall during Col du Tourmalet climb :

    Waterfall during Col du Tourmalet climb :

    There's a sign part of the way up warning about animals at liberty, understandable, given that sheep and cows seem to make themselves at home on various parts of this mountain.

    Animals warning sign :

    The col is visible from various parts of the climb up its west side, giving cyclists a rough idea of how much farther there is to climb.

    View of col from partway up west climb :

    The view back west from the mountain improved the higher I got. You can see quite a long way back down the valley on a reasonably clear day

    View west from partway up west climb :

    For the last several km from the col, I started seeing vultures in the sky, and some sitting on the ground (keeping a wary distance from the road). I guess they were there to prey on cyclists who couldn't handle the climb and died halfway up. :heat:

    Vultures in sky near Col du Tourmalet :

    At about 1230, another one of those professional photographers took several photos of me, this one from Zoom Photos Tourmalet - one of these is below.

    Zoom Photos pic of me near top of Col du Tourmalet :
    It was about 23 degrees at the top, not bad for 2115m altitude. :sun:
    The view down the valley towards the west is quite good from the top, as the following photos show.

    View west from Col du Tourmalet :

    View west from Col du Tourmalet :

    View west from Col du Tourmalet :

    Me at Col du Tourmalet :

    At the Col du Tourmalet, there is a statue of a cyclist riding, called Le Geant du Tourmalet. The cyclist is apparently Octave Lapize.

    Le Geant du Tourmalet :

    Harsh, rocky landscape on Col du Tourmalet :

    After regrouping at the col (there were I think 2 riders in the group following me), we all headed down the other side towards Saint-Marie-de-Campan, stopping a bit below La Mongie ski resort (I think) to have lunch at a pizzeria. At Saint-Marie-de-Campan, we then split up, with 3 of us (and Dani from the tour staff) continuing down the road to finish the loop and head back to Lourdes, and the rest of the group heading up the road towards Col d'Aspin, then back down it, and continuing the loop ride.

    We made very good progress on this final part of the loop, as the 4 of us formed a reasonably well-ordered peloton, and took turns at the front, plus the road was a slight downward grade all the way to our left turn off the D935 road near Montgaillard, about 20km. Because of this, we got back to Lourdes a lot sooner than I'd expected, at about 1645. I was then able to visit the Chateau Fort on the high hill in the middle of Lourdes, and take some photos from the top of it, where all of Lourdes is visible in all directions.

    Heading down the slight descent north of Saint-Marie-de-Campan :

    Although I recorded the descent from the col down to Saint-Marie-de-Campan, it wasn't one of my better videos, so here's the same descent from my trip in September last year. Les Basses is where I stopped the video recording last year (it's only about 1km before Saint-Marie-de-Campan).

    Col du Tourmalet descent to Les Basses :

    That evening, after a very nice dinner at the hotel, we all visited the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes, because one popular attraction at Lourdes is the nightly church service at this cathedral. Even if you're not (particularly) religious, it's quite a spectacle to behold: pilgrims walk through all streets of the city, carrying lit candles, converging on this cathedral, so it becomes the finishing point of a large number of long processions. The service is held just outside the front of the cathedral, and is broadcast over loudspeakers, with the usual mixture of sermons, reading and singing. Another popular spot to visit is just to the north (the righthand side) of the cathedral, next to the Gave de Pau river, where a grotto is located, where is it said that apparitions of the Virgin Mary had been seen.

    [ Prev: Day 9 - Rest day ]
    [ Next: Day 11 - Col d'Aubisque and Col du Soulor (or that was the plan, anyway) ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
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  12. OP
    Shut Up Legs

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    Day 11 (3rd July) - Col d'Aubisque and Col du Soulor (or that was the plan, anyway)

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    Today's ride didn't go according to plan, because my sore right knee flared up again, so my ride was fairly short and with not much climbing, then I spent the rest of the day in the van with Alex from the tour staff. :sad: A pity, because Col d'Aubisque and Col de Soulor are both gorgeous.

    Day 11 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 42km. Climbing: 495m. Highest: 490m.
    Temperature: around 20, give or take a few degrees.
    In the map, Lourdes is at the east end of the route, and Louvie-Juzon (where I had to stop riding) is at the west end.

    Because the ride schedule called for us to ride just over 50km before the main climb to Col d'Aubisque even started, the group was riding at a slightly more than relaxed speed, and this caused my sore right knee to start hurting, and by the time we reached the town of Luvie-Juzon, I couldn't continue, and had to put my hire bike on the van, and stay in the van for the rest of the ride.

    About 13km past Louvie-Juzon, we all stopped in Laruns for lunch at a restaurant there, with the temperature in the mid to high 20s, and the flies for some reason were very numerous (and annoying).

    There was plenty of lovely forest for the climb from Laruns up to Col d'Aubisque, as the next few photos show. The temperature got up to about 30 during the climb, but then cooled down and actually got a bit chilly at Col d'Aubisque.

    Forest during Col d'Aubisque climb :

    Forest during Col d'Aubisque climb :

    It was a bit chilly and misty on Col d'Aubisque, and as I mention in the Animals post farther on, a pair of horses met us up there also. We stopped for a while for the usual col photos, and to look at the giant bicycle installations up on the hill right next to the col, before the riders regrouped and headed towards Col de Soulor, with Alex and I following them in the van.

    Col d'Aubisque :

    Giant bicycles on Col d'Aubisque :

    The scenery between the 2 cols (about 10km) is also very nice, with lots of greenery, and also a lot of sheep, cows and (I think) goats wandering around, most of them keeping off the road. :rolleyes:

    Between the 2 cols :

    Between the 2 cols :

    Back at the hotel, since it was the final day of the Forever Cycle Tours' Legendary Cols Tour, we passed an envelope around and handed in some tips for the 3 tour staff, as we all agreed they'd done a great job. So thanks again to Dani (for bringing up the rear and encouraging the slower riders), Ben (for taking the lead, and navigating) and Alex (for driving the van, fixing mechanical problems, and keeping us all fed and watered). :notworthy:

    Also at the hotel, just before dinner, Dani gave us all a Forever Cycle Tours jersey, which brought the number of jerseys I took home with me up to 7, since I'd bought 6 on the trip (I'm not a bicycle jersey shopping addict, honest! :whistle:).

    As I mentioned in the Introduction post, 1.5 weeks of Alpine and Pyrenean cycling wasn't enough for me on this trip, so I had to increase it to 2 weeks, so there are 3 more posts after this one describing the 3 days I spent doing more Pyrénées rides, based at a B&B near Argèles-Gazost, and there's also the Conclusion post and 2 annex posts following those.

    [ Prev: Day 10 - Col du Tourmalet ]
    [ Next: Day 12 - Hautacam and Col de Tramassel ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
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  13. OP
    Shut Up Legs

    Shut Up Legs Down Under Member

    Day 12 (4th July) - Hautacam and Col de Tramassel

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    This morning, I bid farewell to the rest of the tour group at about 0900, as they prepared for the bus trip from Lourdes to Toulouse (about 2.5 hours, I think?), then got the hotel staff to call me a taxi to take me from Lourdes to Ayzac-Ost, which is where the bicycle shop run by the Pyrénées Cycling Lodge B&B owner is located. The bicycle shop is called Velo Peloton Pyrénées Bike Rental. My plan for the next 3 days was just to take it relatively easy, because of my strained right leg muscle, and only do 1 major climb per day, and that's exactly what I did: the Hautacam and Col de Tramassel, Luz Ardiden, and Col de Tentes, a very enjoyable (if very hot) 3 days.

    My plan (arranged with the B&B owner beforehand by email) was to pick up the hire bike from the shop, leave my baggage with him, and then head off to the Hautacam and Col de Tramassel, then ride back down and to the B&B in Saint-Savin, and by then the baggage would be there waiting for me. He agreed to take it to the B&B during his lunch break. So that's exactly what happened: a very handy way for me to fit in a decent bike ride on the first day of the bike hire and B&B stay. :okay:

    The taxi arrived on time, and for the roughly 12.5km trip which cost me 30 Euros, probably not that different to the equivalent Australian prices, except this taxi actually arrived promptly. Waiting for Australian taxis is an exercise in frustration.:banghead:

    Once I got to the bike shop in Ayzac-Ost, I setup the hire bike, putting my own saddle on it, plus the frame bags I was used to using, my Garmin GPS computer, front and rear lights, and 2 full bidons (it was a hot day). I then rode up to the Hautacam and the Col de Tramassel.

    Day 12 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 42.5km. Climbing: 1285m. Highest: 1625m.
    Temperature: high 20s, then mid 30s during the climb :sweat:, then high 30s on the ride to the B&B.
    In the map, the start of the route is at Ayzac-Ost at the northwest point, the start of the climb is at Ayros-Arbouix near the middle of the route, Hautacam and Col de Tramassel are at the east side of the route, and Saint-Savin (and the B&B) is at the southwest point.

    I've ridden up to the Hautacam once before, during my September trip last year, and recall it fondly. The only mistake I made last time is that, due to time pressures I only rode up to the Hautacam ski station, and not the remaining km up to the Col de Tramassel, where the scenery and views are far better. So this time, I rectified that mistake, one of the many improvements on last year's trip.

    View down to towns from partway up Col de Tramassel climb :

    I was quite happy with the hire bike I used for this day and the next 2, while based at the Saint-Savin B&B. It was a LaPierre Xelius SL 600, even lighter than the Cube bike I used for the 11 day tour with Forever Cycle Tours. The only different thing I had to get used to was that the front brake lever was the left one, instead of the right one which is standard in Australia, but I managed to get used to that easily enough: I just used the left lever a bit more than the right when braking.

    Hire bicycle, the LaPierre Xelius SL 600, in its natural habitat :

    After a fairly hot climb, with the temperature in the mid 30s for a lot of the climb, I made it past the Hautacam ski station, happy that I'd already surpassed last year's climb.

    Looking down on Hautacam ski station :

    About 5 minutes later, I arrived at the Col de Tramassel, where the views were every bit what I imagined (and had seen on the Google StreetView pages).

    View east from Col de Tramassel :

    View north from Col de Tramassel :

    After a snack and cold drink at the cafe at Col de Tramassel, the Refuge Le Tramassel, I then headed back down.

    Refuge Le Tramassel cafe :

    The temperature climbed into the high 30s as I returned down to the valley, so I took my time riding to Saint-Savin and up the hill to the B&B (Saint-Savin sits on a hill above Argèles-Gazost). Saint-Savin is a small, quiet town surrounded by bits of forest, quite a peaceful place.

    Quiet road leading up to Saint-Savin :

    The Pyrénées Cycling Lodge B&B is a single building, with a capacity for about 10 guests, run by an Irish couple Paddy McSweeney and Olive O'Connor, and also contains their son Sean (about 8-10 years old, I think?), and their two dogs Rex and Rebel. It's a very homely place, and staying there is like being a guest in someone's private home. :smile:

    After locking up the bike in a secure storage cellar below the house, and sorting out my baggage in my room, I went for a walk around Saint-Savin. Although it was very hot, I found the coolest place in town to be inside the Eglise de Saint-Savin, a medieval Catholic church, with nice old architecture and stone walls, a nice buffer from the heat.

    There were only 3 other lodgers there when I arrived, a man from Texas, and a man and woman couple from the Netherlands. Just before I left 2 days later, another man from Canada had joined us for breakfast, having arrived in the middle of the night.

    That afternoon, I relaxed after the walk, watching a Tour de France stage live (one of the perks of being right in France :okay:) on the living room TV. Later on, we had dinner, and Paddy and Olive joined us at the dinner table: as I said, very homely and friendly.

    View from my B&B room's balcony of the side of the building :

    Eglise de Saint-Savin :

    Interesting architecture in Saint-Savin :

    Saint-Savin town square, with great views of part the Pyrénées to the east of the town :

    Velo Peloton Pyrénées B&B :

    The chiens mentioned in the above photo, taking a break from the heat in the cool passageway inside the B&B :

    Saint-Savin near sunset :

    Saint-Savin near sunset, showing the B&B with the church behind it :

    I recorded the descent from Col de Tramassel back to Saint-Savin, but it wasn't my best effort, so instead here's the Hautacam to Ayros-Arbouix descent video from my cycling trip in September last year.

    Hautacam descent to Ayros-Arbouix :

    I had a very good sleep that night, because as I mentioned, it's very quiet there.

    [ Prev: Day 11 - Col d'Aubisque and Col du Soulor (or that was the plan, anyway) ]
    [ Next: Day 13 - Luz Ardiden ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
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  14. OP
    Shut Up Legs

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    Day 13 (5th July) - Luz Ardiden

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    Today, on the 2nd day of the self-guided part of my cycling trip, I rode up Luz Ardiden, 1 of the 4 climbs that were on my September 2016 trip itinerary but which I ended up skipping (the other 3 were Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galibier and Alpe d'Huez). So, again, it's nice to complete unfinished cycling business. ^_^

    Day 13 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 62.5km. Climbing: 1405m. Highest: 1715m.
    Temperature: high 20s, then mid 30s during the climb sweat.gif , then high 30s on the ride back to the B&B.
    In the map, Saint-Savin is at the north end of the route, Luz-Saint-Sauveur is at the east extreme of the route, and Luz Ardiden at the southwest end.

    As I rode along the D921 towards Luz-Saint-Sauveur, I took my time and took many photos, as I was not part of a group this time, so had no schedule to stick to. As before the river gorge of the Gave de Gavarnie ou de Pau was gorgeous.

    River gorge of Gave de Gavarnie ou de Pau :

    After briefly stopping in Luz-Saint-Sauveur to get a small snack to eat during the climb, I continued on through the town and started the climb up to Luz Ardiden. The views down to the town are unobstructed and panoramic in places, as the next 2 photos show.

    Luz-Saint-Sauveur from partway up Luz Ardiden climb :

    Luz-Saint-Sauveur from Sazos, partway up Luz Ardiden climb :

    As I previously mentioned, many popular cyclist climbs in France have signs every km showing the remaining distance to the col, current altitude, and average road grade for the next km, very useful! :okay:

    Luz Ardiden cyclists' sign :

    The next photo shows a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree: why spoil such beautiful landscape by throwing bits of garbage at it? :scratch:

    Respect your environment sign :

    As with many of these climbs, the views both down and up improved the higher I got.

    View down and east from partway up Luz Ardiden climb :

    View towards top from partway up Luz Ardiden climb :

    Also as with many of these climbs, they go through pastoral zones, and I saw various animals on this one, including various sheep and cows.

    Zone pastorale sign :

    About 5 to 6km from Luz Ardiden, the road surface got less ideal for cycling, because there were a lot of new bitumen repair patches on the road, with the tar still wet on them, and in the mid 30s heat, the tar wasn't going to dry anytime soon. I did my best to avoid these, but still had to stop a few times and wipe bits of bitumen of my tyres, since the wet tar had made them stick.

    The next day, when dropping the hire bike off at the Velo Peloton bike hire place, I mentioned this to Paddy, and he showed me the mess one of his other hire bike customers had made of the hire bike: its brake pads were covered in bits of bitumen and tar, leaving poor Paddy with a major cleanup job.

    I reached Luz Ardiden around midday or so, and several cows were there, gathered around one of the cyclist col signs. Luz Ardiden wasn't very welcoming today, though: both of the toilet blocks in the ski resort buildings there were closed, and the restaurant there also appeared to be closed, so I didn't stay up there for very long.

    Luz Ardiden ski resort :

    Luz Ardiden cyclist col sign :

    View from Luz Ardiden farther up the mountain :

    View from Luz Ardiden showing the hairpin bends down and to the east :

    I then carefully descended past the first 5 to 6km with the new road sections, trying to avoid the new bitumen and wet tar sections, to avoid any chance of the bike skidding, then picked up speed lower down, and was back in Luz-Saint-Sauveur quickly enough. The ride back to Saint-Savin was also mostly downhill, except for the last 3km or so between Pierrefitte-Nestalas and Saint-Savin, which is uphill. I took my time climbing it, as the temperature was in the high 30s. Just south of Saint-Savin, there is a panoramic view of the town from a hill overlooking it (you can spot the church in the photo below: the building with the spire on top).

    Saint-Savin from hill overlooking it and south of it :

    I recorded the descent from Luz Ardiden from Luz-Saint-Sauveur on my helmet-mounted GoPro Hero3+ video camera.

    Luz Ardiden descent to Luz-Saint-Sauveur :

    One thing I noticed about the B&B when I got back to it is that the wooden shutters on all the rooms there are very effective at blocking the heat: no wonder they seem to be so common over there. The inside of my room was reasonably cool, even with the mid 30s heat outside.

    As my day was far from complete (I got back around mid-afternoon), I walked from Saint-Savin to Argèles-Gazost and back, to visit a carrefour (supermarket) there and stock up on some drinks and snacks. It was a longer walk than I'd realised: about 10km round trip, so I was pretty hot when I returned, but at least I got to see some more of this lovely area.

    Since it was mid-summer, sunset wasn't until about 2140, so we all enjoyed dinner around 7pm still with full daylight outside, and this time Paddy and Olive's son Sean joined us for dinner.

    [ Prev: Day 12 - Hautacam and Col de Tramassel ]
    [ Next: Day 14 - Col de Tentes ]
    Last edited: 20 Aug 2017
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    Shut Up Legs

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    Day 14 (6th July) - Col de Tentes

    [ click any image to see the larger one ]

    For my last hurrah, as this was my final day of riding before I had to leave France :sad:, I rode up to one of the highest parts of the Pyrénées accessible by a sealed road, the Col de Tentes, which is about 100m higher than Col du Tourmalet. The weather was mostly good to me, with a bit of light rain between Luz-Saint-Sauveur and Gavarnie, as I headed south towards the col, but then clearing up after I left Gavarnie after having lunch there.

    Day 14 route and elevation / temperature chart :
    Distance: 96km. Climbing: 1830m. Highest: 2205m.
    Temperature: around 18 to 20 to start, climbing into the mid 20s during the climb, then high 30s on the return ride to Saint-Savin.
    In the map, Saint-Savin is at the north end of the route and Col de Tentes at the south end, with Luz-Saint-Sauveur in the middle.

    The road climbs very gently between Luz-Saint-Sauveur and Gavarnie, and it's only after Gavarnie that the grade stays around 10% for the next 10km until Col de Tentes. The river gorge provided plenty of nice scenery along the way.

    Pont Napoleon, on the D921 about 1km south of Luz-Saint-Sauveur :

    River gorge next to the D921 :

    Partway between Luz-Saint-Sauveur and Gedre, I saw another one of the "share the road" signs I've seen on various roads in France (or at least in the areas containing the popular cycling cols). It's a shame Australia doesn't have more of these.

    Share the road sign :

    At Gedre, I took the road heading towards the southwest to continue on to Gavarnie. The road heading to the southeast takes you to another very popular cycling destination: the Cirque du Troumouse which is at about 2100m, and on the road to that is a short side-trip (a few km) to the Barrage des Gloriettes, showing the Lac des Gloriettes, a beautiful alpine lake at about 1600 to 1700m. I'd like to ride up that way one day: yet another reason to return to the Pyrénées.:smile:

    View of Gedre from hill to its north :

    As I got closer to Gavarnie, my final goal started showing itself, with the high mountain peaks still covered in snow (perhaps they have some all year around?).

    Mountains near Col de Tentes in the distance :

    After reaching Gavarnie, I had lunch there at a bar / restaurant, and by the time I'd finished it, the rain had stopped, and I got rained on no more that day. A popular tourist attraction near Gavarnie, about 3.5km south of it, is the Cirque du Gavarnie, an ampitheatre-like valley formed from glacial erosion, and apparently very spectacular (it's rated one of the Pyrénées top tourist attractions), so I'd like to see that some day, too. A lot of the road, and walking path, to it is unsealed, though, so it wasn't suitable for me to visit on the hire road bike I had.

    Cirque de Gavarnie viewed from Gavarnie :

    After lunch, I rode out of Gavarnie, and started the proper climb, where the road's grade stays around 10% for about 10km until the Col de Tentes. Close to Gavarnie, there are numerous large waterfalls to be seen.

    Waterfall near Gavarnie :

    Waterfall near Gavarnie :

    Above Gavarnie, and very obvious from the road north and uphill of Gavarnie, is the statue named Notre Dame des Neiges (aka 'Our Lady of the Snows), which overlooks the town, as it sits on a high hilltop.

    Notre Dame des Neiges statue above Gavarnie :

    On the early parts of the climb past Gavarnie, the road winds its way past some sheer cliffs, and I wasted no time riding past one of these (2nd photo below), as it was right next to the road, and was covered in strong wire netting and various other restraints, so it was clearly a bit unstable, so I didn't want to hang around there too long. :ph34r:

    Cliffs past Gavarnie :

    Cliffs past Gavarnie :

    The view back down the river valley got more impressive, the higher I got. The river, by the way, is called Ruisseau de Holle (ruisseau = stream).

    View back down river valley, near Col de Tentes :

    Only about 1km before the col, there is a small lake, which appears to have been there for some years, because I also saw it in a Google StreetView image of this point dated back to 2008.

    Lake near Col de Tentes :

    On the road just before Col de Tentes, if you look left you see the Pic des Tentes, a mountain peak that is only 100m higher than the col, and unremarkable to look at (although I bet the views from it are impressive).

    Pic des Tentes, viewed from road near Col de Tentes :

    After I reached the col, I stayed there briefly and took a few photos before heading down. There's nothing up there except a few signs, not even a cyclists' col sign, and no buildings either. I would have liked to ride the bike a bit farther, as the Spanish border was only about 3km farther south (and a bit higher) than the col, but the path leading there is unsealed, and a bit rocky, so not suitable for the hire road bike I had with me, and I didn't really have time to walk it. So that's yet another excuse to return to this area. :okay:

    View south to Spanish border from Col de Tentes :

    Cliffs near Col de Tentes :

    Mountains near Col de Tentes :

    View back down river valley from Col de Tentes :

    View back down river valley from partway back down from Col de Tentes :

    I then rode back down to Gavarnie, Gedre, and then Luz-Saint-Sauveur. About 2km down the road from the col, I saw several marmots by the side of the road, which I describe in the Animals post, 3 posts farther on in this trip report. After reaching Pierrefitte-Nestalas, and the bottom of the descending part of the ride, instead of turning off to the road leading up to Saint-Savin, I continued on the main road, and headed to Argèles-Gazost, and then to Ayzac-Ost north of it, where I dropped the hire bike off at the Velo Peloton bike hire shop, as this was my last ride of this trip, and it was time to return the bike.

    Paddy very generously rang Olive, and she drove to Ayzac-Ost to give me a lift back to the B&B in the mid 30s heat, even though I told Paddy I'd be happy to walk back. Very nice of them both, I thought. :okay: :smile:

    I recorded the descent from the Col de Tentes back to Ayzac-Ost using my helmet-mounted GoPro Hero3+ video camera, and uploaded the col to Luz-Saint-Sauveur part of it to Youtube.

    Col de Tentes descent to Luz-Saint-Sauveur :

    I had one final dinner there that evening, and then started packing my 2 bags in preparation for the long trip home tomorrow, which started with a taxi trip to Lourdes (more details on that in the next post, the Conclusion post).

    [ Prev: Day 13 - Luz Ardiden ]
    [ Next: Heading home, and Conclusion ]
    Last edited: 19 Aug 2017
    HLaB and Rickshaw Phil like this.
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