The morning after the day before...
Weary bodies collected in the hotel restaurant for breakfast after Friday's big day of climbing. All tried to refuel for not only the day ahead, but also to try and shift some of the alcohol induced haziness from Friday nights activities (Fiasco 2022 arm wrestling championship).
The plan for the day was to ride Port de Bales in the morning, descending back into Bagnéres-de-Luchon for a light lunch, and then ride up the imposing Superbagneres. Well, that was the plan anyway. With breakfast consumed, bikes were collected, e-bike batteries checked, register taken outside the hotel, and then it was off to the mountains.
The start of the climb follows the same route as if climbing Col du Pereysourde, but after about 4km on the main road, a right turn is taken and you are off to Port de Bales. Rental bike performance was discussed in the peloton, with the Massi Team Race getting rave reviews.
The weather had turned from the previous day's chilly drizzle/late sunshine, to a glorious day of hot sunshine. Most of those riding had expected a bit of a morning chill, and so once again, most were somewhat overdressed and already getting a healthy sweat on while still on the lower slopes. Shelter from the sun was given by the forest to begin, but once through the town of Saint-Paul-d'Oueil, the tress gave way to never ending sunshine and stunning views in every direction.
At this point the almost 19km long climb starts to heavily reward those grinding their way up the gloriously smooth tarmac. The views are breath taking, many remarking they found few other Cols comparable in beauty. The middle section of the ascent has relaxed gradients, a few almost flat sections, and even one or two small, welcome drops into more secluded French mountain villages. But this relief was short lived, as once the town of Bourg d'Oueil was passed, the road kicked back up with 8% plus for the majority of the remaining 6km.
The beautifully smooth tarmac, continues to relieve any pain and tiredness with a peaceful ride and more stunning views. It is easy to understand why this area is a national park. The surroundings become more and more unpopulated and remote, birds of prey swoop and glide along the valley, while more sluggish wildlife can be found meandering along road. Nothing denotes a climb high into the mountains more than the local cattle roaming along the road, mostly ignoring those passing on bikes.
The final few kilometres are beautiful push through the last of the hairpins up to the summit. Surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks, only heavy breathing ride companions and distant cow bells break the silence. It all culminates in a feeling that almost makes the previous 18km of questioning the endeavour feel like it didn't happen. The stillness and views are almost other worldly at the summit.
Not only were the views incredible, the weather at the top was simply stunning, sunbathing was the order of the day for the early finishers whilst waiting for the rest of the group to make their way up.
The spare time at the top was used for a minor excursion on foot. Leaving the bikes behind it was a short trek up the hill and through the field off to the south east. The reward from here was 360 degree views of the whole mountain range, as well as a glimpse of the flat lands of France to the north through a gap in the peaks.
Once the whole group made it to the top, the obligatory team photo was taken, with smiles all round. The remaining Haribo stashes were shared out, gilets and arm warmers donned, and then all descended back down to Bagnéres-de-Luchon. The ride back down allows for more appreciation of the epic scenery, one the most beautiful mountain descents out there.
Arrival back into town was later than planned, finding a restaurant open at 14:00 on a Saturday afternoon was not as straightforward as assumed. The search up and down the main avenue resulted in a table for 11 at Bistrot des Allées. The incredibly accommodating staff kept the kitchen open and served up a monstrous supply of pizzas, beer and fries. It was at this point, the planned second climb of the day up Superbagneres was abandoned. All that was left for the day was a freshen up at the hotel, dinner in town and then the annual Fiasco 50m sprint final. The cheating and skulduggery in this seemingly simple concept deserves its own write up....
An epic day on one of the best climbs around.