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19/10/2012 // INFO Leave a comment

Day five on the Raid Pyrenees

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Col de Pailheres Summit

Day five of our cycle from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean began in Aleu and ended 124km away in Axat. Along the route we climbed the gentle 13km of the Col de Port and the more aggressive and unrelenting Col de Pailheres (19km at 7%).

The charmed October weather we have enjoyed since the rain-fest of day one continued and the group went through their now instinctive morning ritual of loading the van, checking their bikes and undertaking final preparations for the day ahead under clear skies and in a pleasant temperature. It felt like a day for a gilet but arm and knee warmers were consigned to the day-bag in the van.

After a gentle 11km along the valley floor we passed through the town of Massat and rolled onto the lower slopes of the Col de Port. With dramatic views back towards the big mountains we climbed at a steady pace and reached the summit at 1250m in good time. The gradient was consistent, without steep sections, and never more than 8%.

A long descent into Tarascon preceded a 25km section along the N20 to Ax les Thermes. The N20 is the main road to Andorra and not ideal territory for 10 cyclists. The vans, lorries and cars sped past without incident (apart from one puncture) and we lunched in Ax at the foot of the Col de Pailheres.

After four and a half days of cycling the prospect of 20km of cycling uphill was not appealing to any in the group. It was hot in the town (upper 20s) but reports were of high winds up the mountain and rain threatening.

The Western ascent of the Col de Pailheres was not a classic. Or at least that was how I felt about it. There were sections through colourful autumnal forest but also large sections of barren land and straight unforgivingly steep tarmac. The wind picked up and swirled aggressively and the rain slowly began to fall.

Finally, after over two hours of climbing we reached the summit at 2001m. Hats, gloves and soft-shells were put on and we pointed down a technical and twisty descent. The descent continued all the way to Axat and went through the stunning Gorge de St Georges, where the sides of the canyon reach high above a thin stretch of (newlay laid) tarmac and the cliff overhangs the road. You almost expect the road to open up to a hidden city.

The forecast for our sixth and final day is for rain but with only the Col de Garavel to climb and with the rest of the 120km route downhill the group are in confident mood.

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