26 June 2006

Epic France — Day 1

Pau to Col du Soulor.

I’d like to say a few words about Ian Wright and his wife Julie who live here in the Pyrenees. They’ve bought a chalet in Luscan near St. Gaudens with plenty of rooms for guest accommodation and their place is right in the heart of the Pyrenees. Gordo and Monica have stayed with them already just prior to the camp and will be going back there again prior to going over to Penticton in August. Ian’s along as support crew for us and we would be in quite a bit of strife without his help and guidance on this trip. They run a business called Pyrenees Multisport and know the entire area very well having ridden most of it. For example Ian let me know that many of the little scenic roads that I picked out on the map prior to our camp are nothing more than tiny pot-holed jeep tracks! He has a super 10-seater van and has some sweet Look carbon bikes he rents out. In short they have all a person needs to have a brilliant trip based on riding in this area. Traveling with just your bike shoes and clothes is a huge plus these days especially with the rigid weight restrictions on flights. So if you are ever considering coming over here to ride or train then you’ll do well to consider getting in touch with Ian and Julie first at: PyreneesMultisport.com

Col de Ishere, Col de Marie Blanque, Col de Aubisque are on the menu today. There are quite a few big rollers en-route to our first col so it all adds up to about 10,500 feet of climbing on the bike.

Once a climb starts to go over 6% grade there’s no more cruising. If you don’t put out a significant amount of power you will come to a stop. So keep that in mind when reading these updates. I’ll get some power data from the guys with power meters later so you can see what I’m talking about.

We started the day with a lake swim of 2km. Gordo decided to keep out opening session tradition intact and make it a race. So John Newsom mapped out a course and put out a couple of orange buoys and we went at it. Wetsuit swim. But no points were awarded this camp so my hard earned victory was only worth a bit of pride this time. I think I got a bit jipped! Monica Byrn hasn’t been training much since finishing 5th at IM Brazil a month ago so she graciously let me lead the way.

We had a mellow first hour out of town with Gordo doing a good job of keeping the group together as usual. With his motor-pacing us on all of the flat sections we were able to average 25km/hour for the entire ride (for the fast guys). Without him sitting on the front for all of those sections I’m sure we would have added about 20+ minutes to our ride time. We covered 150km with Mike Montgomery finishing comfortably in first with 6 hours of ride time and I think every one will concur that the mountains are actually harder than we thought they would be. The Marie Blanque was a bitch! They have signs here every km on the big climbs that say how far to go to the summit and the average grade of the incline for he next km. At 6-8% its pretty hard work but when we hit 11-13% it’s a hell of a job to keep moving. I brought a 34 x 27 for my easiest gear for this trip and I honestly didn’t think I would use it much. Well me and that 27 are already very good pals! Michael Peters who weighs 165lbs was riding at 300 Watts which got him all of 6 miles an hour on the steep sections. For those of you thinking about doing a trip over here I suggest you bring either compact cranks with a 34 in front and 27-28 in back or better yet bring a triple in front. You’ll have a much more enjoyable trip.
The road of the Marie Blanque was getting a fresh coat of tarmac so it was essentially closed. No traffic at all. With the mist and absence of cars it was pretty spooky. Deathly quiet.

Just after the Marie Blanque we stopped for a fantastic picnic lunch part way down the other side so we could digest it a bit before hitting the col de Abisque which is a 17km climb with about 4500ft of vertical gain. It’s a damn relentless sucker too with the last 10km hitting at least 6% the entire way with not one meter of flat road to take a break on. I had to stop every km the last 5km to get off my bike to straighten up my poor old back which I hope won’t cause me any more grief than it did today.

All of the mountains were surrounded by super thick cloud all day. Visibility was about 20-50 meters up high. Descending in those conditions is pretty hairy but we did see a lot of cyclists on the road for a Monday. And most of them weren’t wearing helmets! Helmet-less riding still seems to be the norm over here for those who consider themselves “real” cyclists.

Not long after getting to our accom. at the Chalet du Soulor we headed out onto the x-country ski trails out the back. Between the fatigue, the hills, thick mist and altitude I was feeling pretty average! We will be doing at least 10km or 50 minutes (which ever comes first) every day on the camp and most of these runs will be pretty tough. We’re right at 5,000ft now.

It was nice to be finished today. I think every one is starting to get a good idea of what their in for over the next 11 days and hopefully we’ll all be able to do all the rides at the very least. We had a nice dinner and John Ellis who is along to do support and massage gave some rubs. Some people are still adjusting to the time differences so the fridge was raided through-out the night. I know I did my share of looting. I’m sure the people running this Chalet are wondering how the hell all that food disappeared!