The third and final day of riding in the Pyrenees was upon us, and Fiasco awoke to clear blue skies and promises of an absolute scorcher. The route for the day was an immediate climb up Col du Portillon, a descent into Spain for a tapas lunch, and then ride a flatish route anticlockwise through the valley back to town. The Peleton was a bit of a shambles on the start line, with back injuries rife, troubled stomachs and general tiredness. With a solid supply of high strength painkillers, loo roll and sun cream the group rolled out.
A gentle ride along the towns main avenue and within a few minutes the climbing up Col du Portillon begins. After the previous two days hard effort, the group was looking forward to the more manageable 7.8km of Portillon Cat 2 climb. After the staggering vistas provided by Port de Bales the previous day, Col du Portillon was a different experience. From bottom to top the climb is through the forest, with rare glimpses of the mountains on offer. As with the previous days rides, everyone settled into their own pace, while the two e-bikers 'went purple' and vanished off up the mountain.
While not offering much in the way of panoramic views, the climb gives subtle nods to nature with small waterfalls, and two dodgy poachers with their catch.
The road ramped up at the end, with the last couple of bends putting a bit of a sting in the tale. The early finishers chose to roll back a couple of bends to take advantage of a viewing point through the trees, through which the ski station of Superbagneres can be viewed. This caused some overly keen Fiasco riders to think this was the finish and put their sprint to the line in, only to be told there were two more bends to go. The group reformed at the summit for the obligatory photo on the France/Spain border, before dropping down the opposite side into Spain for lunch.
The Spanish side of Portillon is a contrast to the French. Wide view of the valleys are on offer, as well as a smooth new layer of tarmac. A couple of sweeping hairpins take you down past the animal park to the viewing platform Mirador de Bossost. Most stopped here to take some pictures of the valley views as well as to look at the cycling monument to Spanish TDF winners.
With photos taken the remaining descent passed in a couple of minutes and the group rolled into the town of Bossost. The alarming high police presence in town (one car doing laps of the high street) a tapas bar was located and way to much food ordered. The mixture of English/French/Spanish being spoken didn't seem to deter the staff who kept a steady supply of Cokes and tapas coming. Many questions of how much climbing was left on the route followed, with route director confirming that it was basically a fast flat ride round the valley back to the hotel. This was apparently fake news.
What followed was an initial 23km of -1% fast flowing mountain valley road. It was a site to behold. The 11 man Fiasco Blue Train lined out in full TTT mode hauling coal down the valley. Some rotated pulls on the front to keep the speed up, while others sat in and enjoyed the ride, finding time to take photos while flying along.
The anticlockwise route headed north up to the town of Sant Beat, turning West to Marignac before heading south back to Bagneres de Luchon. It could be argued the sensible thing to do from Marignac is to stay on the main road on the east of river Le Pique and keep the speed high all the way home. However, the Fiasco peloton was diverted by the route director to get on to the backroads to the west of the river for a more traffic free ride back. This decision led to what was believed to be a small riser, in fact being a 3km climb with sections over 11%. The blue train was derailed, riders littered the road, profanities filled the air, insults were thrown. A true misery window had opened. A mere 20 minutes or so later, the climbing was over and all that remained was the 10km of false flat back.
Tired legs rolled into town, with a common need for refreshments given the scorching temperatures. Once again, the time of day allied to the fact it was a Sunday meant next to nothing was open. A small bar was found at the far end of town for welcome glasses of Orangina and beer. With thirsts quenched, it was a trip to the other end of town to return hire bikes, 12 men showered and changed in two hotel rooms, then hire cars, McDonalds and airport.
All agreed it was a great trip, the climbing hard, scenery stunning, with Port de Bales the undoubted jewel in the crown.