Friday 20 September 2013

The Haute Route Diaries Part 4: Cold, hot, hurty.

Stage 4 brought a few new challenges.

  • In the morning, it would be cold, cold, cold.
  • In the day, it would be hot, hot, hot.
  • During the stage, we would ride through Luchon twice - which is where our overnight stay was
There was also the usual challenge, this time 120km with 3300m (ish) of climbing. Col de Portillon, Port de Bales and Superbagneres.

You can see from the map that we passed through Luchon after Col de Portillon, before looping round to climb Port de Bales, back to Luchon and up to the finish at Superbag (as it swiftly became known).

Tempting to hide in Luchon

See that downhill bit at the start?
We had a 7:30am stage start, so assembled from 7am. It was mildly chilly as we stood around, although some had arm-warmers, jackets, thicker gloves. I had a light gilet. There was a 14km downhill before the first climb which was controlled and untimed - so pretty much freewheeling for half an hour. There is a simple sum to do here.

(Cold (9C) - windchill (30kph) + effort (0, freewheeling) + extra clothing (light gilet)) x 30 minutes.

The answer? I couldn't feel my hands, feet or face and my teeth were chattering like this.

We were almost thankful for the first climb to begin. Happily it was one of the best of the trip - I'd done it from the other direction a couple of years ago and I remembered it was tight, twisty and not too tough. The descent was a real rush, and I managed to overtake a fair number of people, with an older Frenchman hanging on my back wheel. When we got to the valley he even gave my descending skills a "Tres bon!" and a thumbs up. Either that or he liked my bottom.
That was during the first pass through Luchon. I hooked up with Darren, Kirsty and a few others and we had a good group working through the valley until the start of Port de Bales. I can't say I enjoyed PdB, but at least it was pretty - lush woodland, rocky outcrops, stunningly quiet roads only interrupted by the curses of cyclists wishing they'd fitted that 12-32 cassette on the back.

Or was that just me?

I can't remember the descent, I do remember coming back through Luchon again (and deciding that I should really have hidden in a cafe for two hours)

And then the climb to Superbag. By now the temperature was in the 30's and no-one was looking chirpy. The climb was a real drag - it went on and on and on with no noticeable let up in steepness. I remember a feed stop, the American/Finnish couple on Orbeas (go team Orca!) and then the final few kilometres where the trees fell back and you could see the top and it wasn't getting any nearer... Oh, that last km, still at 10% or so... and then the ramp to the finish line, seeing Phill taking a picture and Darren leaning against the railing.

Relax. That. Was. Tough.

We took our time at the top. Nic arrived, and she had the presence of mind to suggest some photos on the way back down (yes, another ride down to a town at the end of a stage).

Which is why I have this fantastic picture.

The bike must be very, very light

Luchon was another great place (note - can these towns be moved to the Haute Route Alps?). We'd had some tips from the locals and somehow ended up in the bistro they recommended. After a hard day, with another hard one to follow, we had to be very careful what we ate and drank.

Meat sticks and beer people, meat sticks and beer.

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