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Km 25-70: Rebenac to Lourdes
Early Tests Early Rewards
At Rebenac, the course turns onto the D936 and the fast peloton will instantly blow apart. To keep your attention, on the other side of the village lies a 400m ramp at 7%. Then, after a brief descent, the road snakes up through woods and pasture and, weather gods permitting, into the sun for the 5km to Les Pindats. The climb isn’t hard but it will slow you down after the express train from Pau. It’s essential that you ride at your own pace here and certainly well below your lactic threshold.
The good news is that these 12km offer cycling perfection. With views to the Pyrenees, the riding here, through rolling, bucolic countryside is as good as anyone could hope for. Mountain flowers grow among the fruit trees, to a soundtrack of cow bells and tractors. Pray for a clear day and watch out for a solitary palm on the left – it heralds a truly wonderful view. A stand of pine trees marks the top of the climb from where, to the right, you can see the Aubisque and views of Bigorre. Interestingly, this climb doesn’t even make it on to the official course profile and was also missed out by Mike Cotty and cyclefilm.com when they shot their recce in November. Their loss, it’s beautiful.
The 5km descent is equally delightful but take care. The road is bumpy in parts, with some sharp turns. At this early stage there will still be racers shooting past on your left – “A droite!” – and they will accelerate away over the second slight rise, before the road flattens into the town of Nay and left, over the River Pau.
These faster roads are a good time to find another group to join. Leaving Nay, the course takes a small diversion, around the train station, to avoid a dangerous level crossing. Then the D936 straightens out, across a wide flood plain to Benejacq. It will still be early morning and your speed will be high. No doubt you’ll be looking forward to sheltering in your group all the way to the first feed station, at Lourdes.
At 471m, the climb to Labatmale isn’t long or steep but annoyingly it may put paid to your little peloton. The short climb starts with two sharp hairpins to gain some height, then settles down into a straight drag of 5%. On any other day you might treat this as a ‘power climb’ and stomp up it in the big ring. But this early in the Etape it would be foolhardy to try to keep up with a fast group on a 3km climb. Better to keep your heart rate in check and keep things steady. Tap a rhythm out on the small ring and relax.
At Labatmale your reward is a swift, sweeping descent to Pontacq. The course then joins the D940, a fast main road heading south and straight for the mountains. You should be able to get back into a group here. The road is slightly downhill for the 13km to Lourdes and the pace will be very fast. Find the right group and you’ll be able to soft pedal all the way.
The holy shrine of Lourdes and its legions of trinket sellers welcomes thousands of believers and invalids each year from all over the world. The speeding procession of wheeled pilgrims on 6th July will have little time for the famous Grotto and Basilica. Indeed, the descent into Lourdes is so fast you’ll be lucky even to catch a glimpse of the famous citadel. Again, be careful. You will dive right, over a level crossing, and descend into the main city before taking another sharp right and plunging down a steep alley to Boulevard du Lapacca. Here you take a sharp left between the cafes and souvenir shops. Once you’ve passed under the bridge carrying the main road above you, the road opens out on the right, with a large parking area likely to be filled with pilgrims’ coaches. It is here you’ll find the first feed station of this year’s Etape and one well positioned at 70km.