St Savin to St Lary, 90km, Col de Tourmalet and Hourquette d’Ancizan
Day three of our Raid Pyrenees was an epic day that almost never was. The Col de Tourmalet and the Hourquette d’Ancizan were on the cards but we woke to reports that the Tourmalet remained shut due to snow.
Undertaking the Raid Pyreneen without conquering the highest road pass in Pyrenees (2115m) was not a thought that anyone wanted to complete and so, with the skies clear and the temperature rising, we decided to take our chances and pedalled in the direction of Luz St Saveur and the Tourmalet.
It was uphill all the way from our hotel in St Savin. The gradient was gentle to start but gradually got more severe. Initially we cycled along a gorge, with steep rock faces on either side and a river below. At this point we passed a sign indicating the Tourmalet was open. We pushed on to the top.
The Tourmalet is long and the gradient is rarely less than 7%. However, it is consistent and it’s possible to get into a rhythm and grind out the kilometres. Out of Barreges (12 km from the top) there are a couple of kilometres of 10% but the scenery more than made up for the increasing strain in the legs. Overall the climb felt less severe than the Aubisque, which we climbed the previous day, but every bit as monumental.
We crested the col, took the necessary photos and then settled in to a restaurant in La Mongie to refill on Tartiflettes and Assiettes of Charcuterie. After a beautiful and fast descent to St Marie de Campan we turned right onto the road up to the Col d’Aspin but then darted off to the right up the Hourquette d’Ancizan.
This is an up and down climb with inconsistent gradient but stunning scenery. Similar to the col d’Aspin in that it is not rugged and barren but open and meadow. At the summit you can see the route up to the Aspin but the Hourquette (ridden up for the first time in the Tour in 2011) is over 100m higher than it’s more famous and close climb.
The descent to the valley was technical and cool (as the sun set behind the mountains) but on hitting the valley floor we only had a five kilometre ride to St Lary. Tomorrow the Peyresourde and Portet d’Aspet await.
A few more ailements reared their heads today. Knees have proved susceptible to pain but fortunately we have two chiropractors in the group and they have been able to patch us up and send us on our way. We also had one blow out today…and so need to visit one of the two bike stores in St Lary to buy a new tyre.
Cafe at the top of the Tourmalet (closed)
Valley view two thirds of the way up the Col de Tourmalet
The famous snow tunnels on the Eastern side of the Tourmalet
Summiting the Hourquette