Feature by Sam Burrows
After a Covid enforced hiatus, the annual Fiasco mountain trip was back. The planning committee had settled on the Pyrenees, with the small town of Bagernes de Luchon the chosen base. The town is perfectly situated in the mountains with immediate access to various Cols on its doorstep. A cyclists dream.
A delayed flight out of Gatwick led to several Fiascii to attempt to empty the airport of Peroni. It was quite a site as the collection of empty bottles grew. Sadly for the drinking elite, the gate was called and to team headed off to board the flight. The delayed arrival into Toulouse airport led to a mad dash through security to get hire cars sorted before the rental company closed for the night. With cars secured, all that was left was a two hour drive through the darkness and a very late arrival into Hotel Alti in Luchon.
Pulling back of the curtains in the morning gave the depressing sight of grey skies and rain. Not what anyone wanted. Despite the weather, spirits were high at breakfast with everyone excited to get up into the mountains. Bikes were hired from Luchon Mountain Bike which was a short walk from the hotel. The shop was well prepared and had the bikes racked outside ready for the faffing to begin as pedals were changed, GPS mounts installed, seat heights changed, water bottles purchased, bikes swapped and e-bike batteries changed. A varied selection of bikes were hired, Massi Shadows and Giant Defys for the generalists, with the stunning looking Massi Team Race for the elite riders. The Massi Team Race bikes got several envious looks from those not on them. There was a debut for a Fiasco tour in the form of two Whistle Flow Fazua e-bikes for those carrying injuries. Given the incredible weight of the bikes, battery management was going to be key. With the faffing completed, a warning from a local not to ride in the mountains in the continuing inclement weather completely ignored, the group rolled out of town.
Peyresourde's 11km of ascent ticked by as the drizzle eased off and the weather improved. The sense of following in the wheels of TDF legends was heightened when the Jumbo Visma team bus and cars overtook the Fiasco peleton heading off up the mountain. All were thankful that the initial worry that we were on a race stage was shortlived.
As the group fragmented on the climb, the rear echelons somehow took a wrong turn. An impressive achievement on a straight road and with about six Garmin/Wahoo/Karoo bike computers showing the route. The mistake was finally realised when the road ended. The mistake added an 300m of climbing onto what was already going to be a massive day in the saddle. At the summit of Peyresourde shelter was taken in the world famous Crepe house, in which coffees, cokes and dozens of crepes were consumed to fuel the main push of the day over to Col d'Aspin.
Confusion was rife upon leaving the crepe house, with some taking the turn to head off up to the ski station. A noble idea, but given two mountains still had to be climbed the consensus was to head down the mountain towards the town of Arreau and Col d'Aspin. The sun was now out, drying the road to make the descent less life threatening. It's fairly straight and fast down from Peyresourde, the good views of the road allowing for the fastest lines to be taken. The only moment of worry on the way down was provided by an impressive stag and his females crossing the road ahead of the Fiasco train. Arrival into the town of Arreau presented the group with some challenges. The ebikes were low on battery after being overly zealous with the super charge button on the way up Peyresourde. Genuine concern surrounded the batteries, and the ability of them to power the bikes up Col D'Aspin and then back up Peyresourde to get back to the hotel. A sensible decision was reached, the e-bikers would have lunch in Arreau, wait for some of the group to go up and down Col d'Aspin and then head home.
The remaining ten Fiascii headed off and began the clubs first ever climb of the legendary Col d'Aspin. As per the previous climb, the group splintered on the lower slopes as everyone settled into their own rhythm to tackle the 12km climb. It was around this time that the weather improved dramatically, with the sun beating down and warming up the slopes. The near winter riding gear most had taken now seemed massively excessive. Sweat was pouring, kit was being stripped off and the road kept going up. After a few kilometers the trees gave way to lush green fields and stunning views of the surrounding snow capped mountains. The road was quiet which added to the peaceful atmosphere on the glorious climb up. The few switch backs on the climb gave sweeping views back down the valley in one direction and of the high mountain peaks in the other.
Nearing the summit a small batch of cloud rolled down across the road, riding though which gave much welcome relief from the sun. This was short lived as the cloud rolled away, leaving the final few kilometers to the top in uninterrupted sunshine. Coming round the final bend and up to the small car park the view is stunning, the snow covered peaks of the mountains in the distance slowly come into view just as the summit is reached.
As well as the view, riders were met with the strong, cold wind blowing in from the windward side of the mountain. The first up grabbed some pictures, took shelter on the leeward side of a Ford transit van and played the classic game of 'Who will be next to the top?'. It turned out to be not that many. Only a fearless six summited. A mix of bad backs, tired legs and general not feeling too good meant four were forced to turn around and retreat back down the mountain to have some lunch with the ebike gang. With a sparsity of options for lunch, a local deli run by someone who appeared to like a daytime drink was raided for supplies. Fuelled up, the group of six saddled up and set off back towards the hotel and beer. The way back was up the road recently descended, climbing Peyresourde from the eastern side, with fingers crossed that backs and batteries would hold out.
Over on Col d'Aspin six Fiascii reallised no one else was coming, and so donned the winter gear (leggings, arm warmers, winter jackets, buffs, gloves) and descended down to Arreau. A quick bite to eat was purchased and consumed from the now barren deli. Arreau seemingly does not seem to bothered about catering for the masses on a Friday lunchtime. The pre-planned route back did not go straight back up Peyresourde, but instead diverted east on the outskirts of town to take in Col d'Lancon. What in planning was deemed a nice alternative to riding back up on the main road, was anything but nice. Google Earth and Streetview did not do the climb justice. While the road surface was again superb, the pine forests on either side a nice change of scenery, the gradient and weather was unrelenting. The temperature ramped up as much as the road, with the supposed pleasant detour covering 7km at a lung busting 9.5% gradient. Morale plummeted in the Aspin group, with the route master being told in no uncertain terms what everyone thought of him and his detour.
The top of Col d'Lancon finally arrived and a quick pit stop was taken in a meadow, with the remaining pick n mix shared around. Worse was still to come as the descent just earned, was a complete disaster. Large sections of the road had just been relayed, with a thick layer of loose gravel for the most part. The group went down about the same speed they came up.
All agreed that the climb up Peyresourde from the east was not particularly spectacular. Vans and cars bombing past at 70kph wasn't the most relaxing experience for anyone. Back at the crepe house, there was time for one more photo stop of the view down to Luchon, before the getting into the super tuck and flying down to town.
A long day out. Three and half mountains climbed and 100km in the legs.