Pyrennean Pounding – Will, Geoff and Simon Battle across the Pyrennes

Will (White), Geoff (Caton) and Simon (Kirwan) ride across the Pyrennes – words by Geoff, pictures by Simon (and a couple from Geoff) creaking by Will

Pyrenean Pounding

 Sunday Day 1.

Who would get up at 3:30, drive to Birmingham, get a flight to Biarritz, arrive at 1pm, and start a 130k/6000 ft ride in 30 degrees of French sunshine? Yes, Simon, Will and I. Quite simply one hell of a day..the conditions took their toll on the group as we reached for 34 and 36s only to find we had 28s. 3 ‘minor’ climbs accomplished…a bit like the Dive Centre climb, then back of Hunters, then Ashurst. If only! We have agreed to rethink our training strategy for next year.

We’ve got 3 Aussies in the group…good lads who would fit in well in SCC…they like beer, do all their training on the flatlands of Western Australia and struggle on hills, except Frank who rocks up them.There’s also a young French lad, but we don’t talk to him as he can’t speak English, but also because he’s usually too far ahead of us. It’s early days, however, and our TT specialist might ruffle his feathers later in the week.

Tomorrow we’re off up the Marie Blanque (9k at 8%)…this should warm us nicely for the Aubisque (Will wanted to know why were cycling to a restaurant in Southport) which apparently is 17k at 7%. Be prepared for endless perfectly framed snaps of our exploits on these classic climbs…it was only yesterday that Froome, Quinta and Contador were taking lumps out of each other on the Aubisque…will tomorrow see a similarly epic battle?


Fresh Geoff on day 1


Will meets the Aussies


The SCC Peleton in full flow


Our image maker captured


Col d’Aubisque


Col de Marie Blanque

 Pyrenean Pounding Day 2.

Temperatures still rising and some of the group flagging (me)…. another day of 30+ degree temperatures, gallons of water and salt tablets. I’m already beginning to think wistfully of riding into a headwind on Curlew Lane with frozen fingers and icicles on my beard. The grass isn’t always greener.

And so the Marie Blanque…..great to see all the names written on the tarmac: Contador, Quinta, Valverde but no ‘Froomes’ ‘Whites’ or ‘Kirwans’……I don’t think us British cyclists are too popular in these parts. Evidence the Vuelta had been here everywhere…..newly tarmaced roads and discarded drinks bottles (we should get Ken over here, he’d have a field day). A delightful climb that kept upping the ante….sections of 8% followed by 9% followed by 10%… you gat the picture.
A spot of lunch….the usual French fare…ham, cheese and snickers….and then off to the Aubisque which turned out to be 18k, not the 11k our guide had told us. A long relentless climb which saw Simon disappear into the distance as he tapped out a solid rhythm…the climb was gentle at the bottom before kicking off for the last 10k, rather a pity as I was knackered with 10k to go. Simon and Will kindly waited for me at the top, apparently they had time for a 3 course meal. All worth it for the 20k descent at 35-40 mph, spoiled by Will’s road rage at the cars that wouldn’t pull over as he sped past them on his CC – Creaking Canondale.

The CC is a favourite discussion topic on our rides as cyclists and mechanics scratch their heads in disbelief that a new bike creaks. All suggestions gratefully received, just email Will.
And tomorrow? The Tourmalet and more pain and creaks.


Will says “Where’s the cheese?”


Will’s wheel with sellotape addition

Pyrenean Pounding Day 3.

We ripped into the Tourmalet today at 6mph but soon throttled it back. Looks so easy on the telly when Froome and Quinta are on the case. I’ll let Simon Warren (100 best climbs of the Tour de France) describe the final kilometres of this beast.
‘The slope just keeps hitting you hard – the more dramatic the scenery the more violent the incline – back and forth you grind up the road as it cuts its way through the savagely primeval landscape. Delivering the killer blow, the final punishing kilometre – set on an average 10% – takes you to the summit’.
I think he means it’s hard and I agree with him. Will regained his mojo and moved smoothly up the mountain, Simon followed and I admired them….19km of sheer delight and pain.
Next we nipped up the Col d’Aspin where we assaulted by a group of marauding cows, threatened by a German motor cyclists who invaded our side of the road and generally had a good time as it was only 10k and 7%.
But what about Will and CC? He would like to thank you all for your helpful suggestions but we have discovered, to my and Simon’s great delight, the source. Apparently the click is coming from the rear wheel which he has put on back to front!
And so it continues tomorrow…more hills….more heat…which are bearable….and more singing from Will, which is less bearable.


Col du Tourmalet


Geoff meets the hairy bikers


Col d’Aspin


Will takes a rest


Will and Geoff herding the livestock


Col des Ares

 Pyrenean Pounding Day 4.
Another day under a merciless sun….it’s getting hotter and hotter here. Slightly easier riding with just a couple of cols, the Peyresourde and the Col des Ares. Nice to only have to do 6,000 ft of climbing instead of the 8,000 ft we’ve been doing previously.
We had a major incident on the Col des Ares when Simon developed a nose bleed and we had to summon our support vehicle to deal with this crisis. Xavier, the party leader, arrived to find a distraught Simon pointing to the blood stain on his Bianchi kit and mumbling something about losing his reputation as the ‘fashionista’ of the club, and that he couldn’t possibly ride any further in such a state. Fortunately a quick wipe with a wet one, and some positive reassurance that his position as the club’s fashionista would not be challenged, and that he could visit Cedar Farm again and he went merrily on his way.
For those of you who know that there’s more to life than cycling, this is a stunning area in which to cycle. Apart from the mountains the villages, like St Ligier where we are staying tonight are often spectacular, we’ve met plenty of animals, quite literally, on the roads: wild horses, belligerent cows, obstinate sheep and one adder (but I’m not sure if it counts). What we haven’t met is too many belligerent motorists, a far cry from England, but then again we haven’t met many cars except when our guide briefly led us off piste and onto a motorway. A rather anxious couple of moments as we tried to pedal backwards to get off it!
As for CC, it may have gone but Will was up the road so I’ve been able to check. Anyone know the French for ‘Knock a kilometre off’?


Col de Peyresoude


Geoff in full flow on a flat bit

 Pyrenean Pounding Day 5 And at last the rains came. I’ll never moan again about a wet ride to Cedar. Pure bliss to feel the rain in your face, spray from Will’s wheel spattering you and clouds on all the peaks. Even better news was that today’s 12k climb up the Col de Porte averaged a more 5%. Thereafter the clouds lifted and we had a stunning ride along the Route de Corniches – the ride took us along a ridge with sensational views of the valleys below, through tiny ancient villages that haven’t changed for centuries, with condors circling above, and rather sadly, geese in the fields being fattened up for foie gras.

And the picture? We’re staying in the spa town of Aix les Thermes and so we decided to take the waters along with the other pensioners. Anyone recognise these feet….from the contrasting tones it’s clear that their owner spends more time cycling than….well, anything.
Thanks for all the comments and interest in 3 old men living the dream….final report tomorrow from Perpignan.


Will’s bed


Simon’s bed

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Col de Port de Pailheires


Col de Jau

 Pyrenean Pounding Day 6.
And they saved the toughest to the last! Straight out of the hotel this morning into a 19k climb up the Col de Pailheres…1300 metres of ascent to the summit at 2001 mtrs (suspicious figure?). Initially a gentle climb as we wound our way past a lake, shrouded in the early morning mist, and we waved merrily to the farm workers as they started their day in the fields. Onwards, upwards besides a babbling brook with birds dipping in and out for an early morning drink, the banks festooned with an array of wild flowers whose scent brought a welcome relief from the odour of my cycling companions.
Too good to last? Of course. This early morning bliss was shattered by a shout of ‘I’ve got cow shit in my calipers’. For most grimpeurs this would have been an everyday occurrence to be shrugged off in a jiffy. But this was no ordinary grimpeur nor was it an ordinary bike…this was Simon on his beloved Bianchi, which he has lovingly cleaned each morning. And what a sorry sight….if you’ve ever ridden into fresh cow shit you will know that it’s like changing a nappy….the stuff gets everywhere. Unable to bear the thought of being photographed at the summit in such a state, our fashionista disappeared into the babbling brook armed with his wet ones, whilst roundly abusing the bemused cows who were merely showing an interest in his dilemma. All of this rather begs the question ‘Why didn’t you ride round the dollop like the rest of us?’.
Following this incident everything went downhill, or rather uphill very steeply. The babbling brook went, to be replaced by babbling cyclists as the gradient cranked up to 8,9,10 and 11%. A stunning climb which had everything.
Thereafter we rocked up a couple more peaks…Col du Garavel (1260 mtrs) and Col de Jau (1500 mtrs)…and only then, after we had climbed over 8,000 ft, did we get our dinner.
And so downhill to Perpignan….another lovely, leisurely, sweeping descent through yet more incredible villages perched on rocky outcrops, through mountains gorges with tumultuous streams racing through them, and ruined Cathar Castles around every corner…..until we reached the Ibis in Perpignan(well you can’t have everything).




Col du Garavel

At the start of the week we agreed that this event wouldn’t be a competition…..but if it had been:

Grimpeur of the week: Jointly award to Simon for his spinning prowess, a man at one with his machine, and Will for his sudden bursts of raw power which would see him disappearing from sight quicker than certain SCC members when it’s their turn to buy a drink.
And the Lantern Rouge? C’est moi.

The boring stuff:
We cycled 690 kilometres.
We climbed about 40000 ft.
We didn’t have a single argument.

Would we recommend it? Yes, to everyone. Pyrenees are fantastic…not just the cycling but everything that goes with it. For me, tougher than the Alps, but very rewarding….it’s great training for a ride to Cedar