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Rapha Randonnées: A Day in the Life
The Fiat 500, my downsized rental vehicle, sat in bay 054 at Toulouse airport grinning. With cargo of a bike box, backpack and hold-all of Rapha products I was doubtful. After several struggles to fit the box inside this tiny car via different angles I stopped and breathed a sigh. Then I noticed it was a soft-top.
I reached the foot of the Peyresourde in Bagnères-de-Luchon a couple of hours later with my bike box sticking out the roof and the fresh Pyrenean air wafting through. At the top I lifted the box out of the roof, kitted up and left the Cinquecento to stay as I descended on two wheels towards Col d’Aspin.
My objective was to meet the Rapha randonneurs in St. Savin, on the western side of the Tourmalet. I was then to ride back the way I'd come to Luchon the next day on stage three of the journey from Biarritz to Collioure.
The Aspin was tougher than I expected, especially as the sun was still hot and the backpack I had taken added unwanted kilos to my shoulders. Excuses aside, it’s a lovely climb and the Pyrenees in late-summer looked incredible. A flapjack at the crest, a smooth twisting descent and then it was time to face the Giant of the Pyrenees as the afternoon fell away.
I had ridden this side of the Tourmalet in 2008 and my memories were cloudy flashbacks of the bridges just before La Mongie covered in mist and awfully steep ramps at the top littered with sheep turd. On this ride the weather was far better than two years before and I could look back down below to see the shimmering landscape. I agreed with my increasingly incoherent inner monologue that this side is the toughest. Perhaps it was the backpack…
It also dawned on me that I’d ridden a 1/5th of the 1910 Challenge route and already felt it was time for a beer. Llamas lounging at the side of the road didn’t seem to care as I struggled to the summit with my eyeballs popping and the sun beginning to sink. I phoned La Fuga’s Anton to tell him I was on top of the Col du Tourmalet and was on my way to St. Savin, hopefully before nightfall. The descent was a beautiful way to spend a Wednesday evening. As I popped over the last crest of the day up to St. Savin I was grateful to see the lights of the town in the dusk.
At dinner in Michelin-starred Le Viscos I met the riders and we discussed the best aspects of riding across the Pyrenees. I listened to talk of escaping on two wheels, being in the mountains, riding at altitude, enjoying the best night’s sleep in years and ‘fighting the climbs’. The randonneurs had tackled their second day transitioning over the Marie Blanque, the Aubisque and the Soulor. Brazilian rider Isabelle, the only female and possibly the strongest climber of the group, suggested she enjoyed the ascent of the brutal Marie Blanque whilst everyone else agreed the descent was better. Isabelle’s boyfriend Marco, a triathlete, seemed tired…
We set off the next day at 8am. As we rode back along a gorge towards the Tourmalet and increased our altitude I chatted to Brett from Melbourne about cycling in Oz and the camaraderie of riding, it seemed this group was all about exactly that, no unnecessary attacks and big ring masochism (thankfully). We spun past a couple of cyclo-tourists pulling trailers and I suddenly felt pathetic complaining about riding with a backpack that contained little more than my toothbrush and pyjamas. We passed the hairpin where Mr. C Pearch came a cropper earlier in the year. We also pass an old-boy whose wife is driving a support car to take his jacket and encourage him upwards. He sports a Banesto jersey and knee length socks. As we pass I say "allez Monsieur Indurain", he doesn’t respond, perhaps he’s in the zone or doesn't speak French either.
After negotiating a herd of sheep the mountain opened out to display its awesome physique. The classic way up the Tourmalet and the road paint from this year’s edition of the Tour was still vivid against the greens and greys of the landscape. Isabelle was first to the top and had already managed to do some shopping by the time I wheezed over the last ramp.
Photo opportunities were taken, rain jackets and legwarmers donned and we quickly descended to a coffee stop. Then it was time for the Aspin. Cloud cover made the temperature perfect for a pasty Englander and the climb had a newly laid surface. As we ascended I chatted to Murray from New York about Brooklyn and the wonderful world of Garmin computers.
Jarad of La Fuga, and the guy who told me about Man versus Horse (Google it), had prepared lunch at the top of the Aspin for us, including a selection of delights from a patisserie in the next valley. A big rain cloud sat waiting in the distance, just above our final obstacle of the day, the Peyresourde, as we refuelled and laughed off the fatigue. By the time we reached the Peyresourde 80km was in the legs and the drizzle had started. Isabelle and Marco, Team Brasil, charged to the top first and second respectively. A massive headwind for the last 2km to the summit really made everyone dig in. My Fiat 500 was still there at the top sitting pretty.
In Luchon a long-awaited dinner in a bussling brasserie where Ross, La Fuga founder and ex-Rapha Condor racer, discusses the next stage. Everyone is fatigued but satisfied from a testing day so a few faces seem apprehensive after registering the following day’s stage has even more climbing. I assure people they’ll only get stronger through the week as I scoff steak tartare.
I’m disappointed to leave early Friday morning, to be out in the Pyrenees riding every day taking in classic and beautiful climbs, enjoying great food, conversation and testing yourself on a bike is a wonderful experience. Hats off to La Fuga and the Rapha Randonneurs of 2010.
"Day 5 was seriously tough with over 10hrs on the road, but the final day was 25 degrees and sunshine all the way to the Med, which made up for it. Everyone is talking about coming back for the Alps next year, at the moment."
Steve Hennings (2010 Rapha Randonneur)
- RT @roadcc: Rapha Alpe d’Quiz starts today with prizes to be won @rapharacing #cycling | road.cc http://t.co/tTdEEWjf8k
- RT @RaphaCycleClub: LDN: great to have @DanMartin86 as guest barista in the club this afternoon. http://t.co/IeCC0HKuKr
- Part Two from @RigoZimmerman's series, ‘The Winter’ is now available to read → http://t.co/GIl5Kj9Sfy • Part One → http://t.co/8IclbHCHcc
- As teased at the weekend, Rapha is pleased to welcome the return of Alpe d’Quiz, three weeks of… http://t.co/od3pWXomm9
- The 2013 edition of Alpe d’Quiz is now underway. For a chance to win a Rapha Backpack + Rain Cover, enter here → http://t.co/3n8XlqiNYq
- Inspired by the 21 bends of Alpe d'Huez, we bring back Alpe d’Quiz with a Rapha prize to be won each day. Enter now → http://t.co/3n8XlqiNYq
- @joneaves No problem Jon, we do our best. Thanks for the feedback.
- Our very own "Super-knecht" @grutte_bear leaves us today to return to his homeland of Holland. So, we… http://t.co/sSULSkWcRw
- RT @RaphaCycleClub: NYC: The new @rapharacing Cross Transfer Jacket has great details. Which is why we’ll take #oneoftheseplease http://t.…
- While we are on the Rapha x Raeburn collection. Read this fantastic interview with Chris and Graeme by @JohnProlly http://t.co/TDg48zHfVS