Sunday 6 October 2013

The Haute Route Diaries Part 7: It's the little differences

Stage 6 was slightly different to the others as we were now nearing the edge of the mountains and actually included a long, rolling section. One big climb (Aubisque from the Soler side), 100km, 2200m of climbing.

We also had a difference in the weather - the top half of Soler/Aubisque was under low cloud, with very poor visibility. There was a sensible, late decision to neutralise the descent, the only issue being that the first 100 or so people over the top didn't know this - the cloud closed in during the morning and the change was made during the stage. This meant that some people raced the downhill and first flat section whilst other (like me) could take some time to recover.

Still, those not in the top 100 probably needed the recovery more.

Anyway, once racing started again on the rolling section I managed to pick up a group of about 15 people (by virtue of waiting until they caught me up). It all got a little fighty from that point. The route was like Southern England - rolling shortish hills, sharp little punchy climbs, even some UK standard terrible tarmac. It was a case of "sprint up the climb", "recover for a minute", "sprint up the climb", "get spat out the back", "chase back on", "get dropped again".

Yep, I was dropped. 20km or so to go, but at least I had a handy Frenchman who'd also been dropped. His mates were in the group - I heard him shouting at them ("don't leave me you bastards!", probably). We were sensible enough to work together the whole way to the finish, swapping turns at the front every minute or so. I quite enjoyed it, through the taste of blood and tear-soaked eyes.

We finished in Pau - a city of 85,000 people. It had shops, buses, bars, humanity! I think this was the main difference between the Alps last year and the Pyrenees event. In the Alps we were staying mainly in out of season ski villages. Very few shops, bars, restaurants. Getting fed in the evening was a major challenge that we barely scraped through.

In the Pyrenees we stayed in little towns. This was mainly positive - the afternoons and evenings could be spent chilling out watching the Vuelta in a bar, hunting for ice cream or exploring a series of fascinating museums and art galleries. Eating every night was simple. Wander around the town. Read some menus. Pick a restaurant. They all had food, staff and even special "cyclist" deals.

The possible downside was that we often finished the timed stages either at the top of a nearby mountain, or some distance out of town. Almost every stage had an untimed section at the end - either rolling down the mountain we'd just raced up, or a gentle 10km of flat. For me this was a positive. Rather than a sudden transition from maximum effort to stopped completely there was the chance to cool down with a gentle 30-60 minutes of riding.

So, Pau. That evening we dined on giant burgers, beer, desserts and cognac. The end was in sight. We'd also found out that due to bad weather the organisers had decided to change the route of the final stage - thunderstorms were predicted. The first big climb was cut and there was a chance the second (and final) one could go as well.

Fingers crossed. For the shorter route, obviously.

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