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Classic Cols of the Tour de France

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Day 2 Foix to Oust

The day’s Cols:
• Col du Port (1250m) 2nd Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’97, ’98 & ’02

• Col D’Agnes (1570m) 1st Cat –

We all leave Foix in one peloton, it’s the first day and the weather looks a bit grim. The valley road is long and flat. The first Col of the trip is the modestly sized Col du Port and we all spread across the road. The accomodation in Oust is ‘rustic’ and the meal in the evening was a long time after we arrived at the hotel. However it was a hearty feast and we’re all pretty tired

The highlight of the day had to be Phil’s Belgium champions jersey.

Day 3 – Oust to Audressein

The day’s Cols:
• Col de Latrap (1110m) 3rd Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’95, ’03 & ’04

• Guzet Neige (1520m) 1st Cat

• Col de la Core (1395m) 1st Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’98, ’02, ’03 & ’04

Day 4 – Audressein to Luchon

The day’s Cols:
• Col du Portet d’Aspet (1075m) 2nd Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’95, ’97, ’98, ’02, ’03, ’04 & ’05

• Col de Mente (1345m) 1st Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’95, ’98, ’01, ’02, ’03 & ’05

• Col de Portilon (1293m)

The Col de Portilon means we have to leave France for a while and venture into Spain, not that you’d notice.
Luchon has shops and bars, so we’re all very excited.

Day 5 – Rest(?!) day – Luchon-Supebagneres-Luchon

The day’s Col:
• Superbagneres (1100m)

OK so it’s not far… We leave Luchon and before too long you’re climbing again. We are going very slowly today – trying to have a recovery spin… Superbagneres is a beautiful climb with views across the whole range of mountains and towards the flat lands beyond. You can see the curvature of the earth from up here, that’s how good a view it is. Although no one is in a rush we make the summit in an hour or so. David Stanton screams something inaudible as he comes down the hill with Phil (they’d left early) he is going very fast, smiling. Another ski resort at the summit and no cafe! so it’s straight back down to Luchon. A very fast descent with rolling hills at the base of the climb towards Luchon, with warmer legs and a Col in the bag we get back to the cafes of Luchon pretty quickly.

Lunchtime in Luchon lasted hours, we’re chatting and watching Bradley Wiggins in the Worlds TT, he’s doing pretty well. Our ‘Re-go’ is a rather nice bottle of vin rouge, steak, salad, crepes and chocolate sauce. The rest of the day is spent washing and at the Internet cafe… Then a big meal at a fabulous Restaurant at the end of the high street. A great day.

Day 6 – Luchon to St. Marie de Campan

The day’s Cols:
• Col de Peyresourde (1565m) 1st Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’95, ’98, ’01, ’03 & ’05

• Col d’Aspin (1490m) 1st Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’95, ’98, ’01, ’03 & ’04

Hangovers are all round this morning as we (sadly) leave Luchon behind us. Seeing as Luchon is in a valley we’re climbing almost immediately. The Col de Peyresorde is a stinker, especially with lead legs and a need for more caffeine. The descent is open and fast, like most pyrennean descents you have a mixture of open fast curves and cambered hairpins, it’s like it was made for cyclists, which in a sense it was as the Tour has paid for many local authorites to metal the roads over the years, these are our hills, they belong to cyclists and cycling folklore.

We’re on a three Col day and next up is the Pla D’Adet – Armstrong famously kicked the crap out of the peloton here and Dave Duffield shouted it’s name and Armstong’s over and over. Guy P does a great impression. On the way up the earlier group are coming down and they’re looking happy, or perhaps that’s a grimace…

Going off in small groups is a great idea, you can ride at your pace this way, however fast or slow you want to go. Most of us are medium paced plodders but the groups mean that there is no need for re-grouping and we all know were we are heading. The highlight of the day is the steady climb up to the picturesque Col D’Aspin, it’s a lush green hillside with great views. The late afternoon and late summer golden sun casts long shadows across the road.

Day 7 – St. Marie de Campan to Argeles Gazost

The day’s Cols:
• Col de Tourmalet (2115m) H Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’95, ’98, ’01 & ’03

• Luz-Ardiden (1000m) H Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’01 & ’03

• Hautacam (1618m) H Cat – Recent Tour battleground: ’00

This is a part of that stage two years ago when Ullrich attacked on the Tourmalet and Armstrong crashed on Luz. The Tourmalet is hell. From the hostel it’s 18kms to the top. The signs that mark the kilometres and percentage of gradient start early today. We ride through La Mongie on the way to the top, it’s a dump. The Tourmalet is long and the pace means holding a wheel is a desperate struggle.

At the top it’s 10 degrees colder (at least) and there’s a brisk wind to add to the fun. The cafe is suitably warming and suitably overpriced. The descent from the Tourmalet to Luz isn’t the nicest experience as you are fighting the wind and cold as well as your tiring brake fingers. It’s very fast through Luz to the bottom of Luz Ardidien. This is the climb that did for Ullrich in 2003, it all happened here and we’re trying to spot the places where riders were dropped and where Armstrong fell off… What’s amazing is the point where he attacked and the the distance from the top it is. It sums up the confidence that Lance must have had that he could get rid of the group and climb alone for so long. Luz is steep and long and quite hot. It’s also pretty pointless as se turn around at the top to descend to lunch. Which is an excellent 3 course slap-up in Luz.

James Thompson
Our ride guide was James from Marmot Tours who works for Exodus on these Classic Col trips. He knows the area inside out. He waited at the top of the middle Col of the day for all the riders to arrive and made sure that we all had water and enough clothes for the very chilly descents. He made sure our luggage was delivered to the hotel in the evenings ordered the wine and food and generally helped us through the day. His experience of adventure trips is vast, from dog sledding and snoe shoe-ing to hill walking and the Argieose bike marathon, he’s covered it all. Living locally means he can be on call all the time. He made our trip run very smoothly, he was never rushed or stressed and always had a smile. Thanks James!

Conclusion
All in all it was a great week of riding. The point to point nature of the trip means we tackled all the major Cols we wanted to making the trip feel like a mini Tour de France. All of these hills are etched with history and most still show the names of the riders that have passed by. We all seemed to have a favourite Col too (Col D’Aspin for me) and also a least favourite (Col de la Core). As a pre-cursor to next year’s Etape it was spot on as all of us improved our descending and we came back tired but no doubt fitter.

Obviously for all of us on the trip the memories are tinged with a degree of sadness, Ibbo’s passing away on our return was a shock for all of us. He made his mark on every member of the party – which says a lot about the man he was. Chapeau Ibbo.


experience the true Tour de France challenge

The route takes in all the main climbs

For more information please contact:
Vanessa Fowler at Exodus or call 020 8772 3929

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