It is an understatement to say that riding a bike through the Pyrenees is a cyclist’s dream. These mountains, which traverse the 400 kilometer distance between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean in the south of France and north of Spain invite, or rather demand, exploration by bike. The Pyrenees present a diversity of landscape unequaled in Europe – lush meadows, peaks crowned with permanent ice or draped in velvety green, thick forests, and hidden valleys at the foot of sheer sun-baked cliffs. The Pyrenees’ history of human habitation goes back thousands of years before it was ever recorded, and in our travels we will encounter prehistoric caves with their well-preserved cave drawings, not to mention countless castles and their rich history of warfare. We will also interact with a fascinating variety of cultures, dialects and traditions, and FOOD. Our routes will be for the most part on the smallest and least traveled roads, taking us to incredible sights (and heights!) off the beaten path.
This year our route takes us to the very east end of the Pyrenees Mountains, almost to the Mediterranean. The big snow covered mountains are far to the west, here there are high hills punctuated by deep gorges and hills topped with limestone cliffs. Many of the cliffs are topped with towering castles, guarding the ever changing boarder between France and Spain. This was also the center of the Cathar Religion and the castles were their last bastion as Catholicism spread across France.
These mountains, generally rounded and crumbling, are more of a seductive challenge than an intimidating one, and their peaks and passes are attainable to cyclists of decent experience and fitness. However, in keeping with our tradition of spirited cycle tours, and to maximize our coverage of this spectacular region, we promise the option of just about every climb and awesome descent ever challenged by the Tour de France. Each day will have at least 2 route options ranging from moderately challenging to intense. Riders can choose their routes as form and desire demand!
July 6th, L’Isle Jourdain
We will meet you at the Toulouse airport and take you to our hotel in L’Isle Jourdain. You’ll have the afternoon to assemble bikes, sightsee and perhaps take a nap or even a bike ride. Later we will gather to have a few beers before our get-acquainted dinner tonight, which will include an overview of the tour.
For those who arrive a day early, and would like to have an enjoyable bike ride today, we have two maps to help you explore the region. The route is up to you
July 7th, Foix 79mi, 2700ft, or 87 mi, 4000ft
Leaving our hotel, we head south over the rolling green hills, towards the looming peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains in the distance. Today is only a warm up for the hard climbing yet to come. Low hills, green pastures and small villages give way to bigger hills and long valleys. A small cycling treat awaits us at the Grote du Mas d’Azil, where the roads follows the river into a large cave, and pops out the other side. Foix is an old city, its position near Spain and Andora to the south and France to the north have made it historically very strategic. The highest place in town is the castle, it is well worth a little exploring.
July 8th, Couiza 60mi, 4800ft, or 89mi, 6800ft
Today we start our venture into the Pyrenees Oriental. There are no big mountains, but lots of hills, small passes, deep valleys and deep forests, all connected by small hidden roads. At the top of one climb we cycle beneath the high walls of one of the more famous ‘Cathar’ castles. One can even explore the castle on foot for a nice change of pace. Perhaps the best part of the day will be our opportunity to explore some narrow, high mountain roads thru forests and over open plains. At the end of the ride we get to enjoy a very special treat, our destination is a 16th century castle, very well kept, and is now a wonderful hotel/restaurant.
July 9th, Peyrepertuse 42mi, 3300ft, or 79mi 4600ft, or 86mi, 7200ft
We will continue to cycle into the foothills and mountains of the Pyrenees Orientales. The first 20 miles climbs gently through the forests, but as we summit the first climb and start the descent the landscape becomes much drier, and the views become very big as we look across the valley at our next climb. We have entered a dry, rather remote area, and although there are many river valleys, most are dry or still trickling from the long gone spring run-off. The villages are few and far between, water and food are hard to find. Still this is a very beautiful cycling area. As we near our destination in Peyrepertuse, we encounter two amazing, hill top castles, one perched on the highest hill around and one towering above Peyrepertuse. Although the castles in this area have been built and rebuilt over the ages and used by many different entities, they are usually referred to as Cathar castles. Our short route is designed to give people a chance to explore one or both of these castles.
July 10th, Ax les Thermes 64mi, 5060ft, or 61mi, 6700ft, or 73mi, 9500ft
We start the day with an easy warm up, but suddenly we enter one of nature’s nice little surprises, the Gorges de Galamus. The road is chiseled into the vertical rock faces and winds along with each corner bringing a new awesome view. Bursting out into the open, we have great views and a long descent to the valley floor. Our only big challenge of the day is the long climb of the second highest pass in the Pyrenees, the Port de Pailfheres. A long climb also means a long descent to the spa town of Ax les Thermes.
July 11th, St Girons 61mi, 4900ft, or 79mi, 7000ft
No rest for weary legs, we start the day climbing immediately out of the hotel, 1500 feet. But once we reach the high point, we have amazing ride as we traverse along the ridge of mountains, high above the valley, generally heading downhill for the next 18 miles. Next comes the 2300 foot climb of the Col de Port, followed by 8 miles of incredible descending. The final wooded cruise down the Gorges de Ribaouto to the hotel is just icing on the cake. The long route begins with almost 3000 feet climbing upon leaving the hotel, making for a big day of wonderful cycling
July 12th, St Girons Loop rides
Sleep in this morning and take the whole day off, explore town and have a nice lunch or even create an easy loop with lunch as the sole destination. The center piece for today’s riding is the Col d’Agnes. This is a small road over a beautiful pass, used by the Tour de France for the first time eight years ago and then again three year ago. This is followed by the Col de Latrape and a 37km downhill to St Giron. If you rode the long route yesterday then today would be a good time to ride the Col de Port with its wonderful descent. Today is designed as an easy day to appease our tired legs, and whatever ride you choose, there is still plenty of time to sit by the pool and enjoy some well-earned relaxation.
July 13th, Sauveterre (Gesset) 39mi, 3300ft, or 62mi, 7000ft, or 66mi, 8200ft,
We start the day spinning our tired legs along the river, but soon we turn off on a small shaded lane that climbs through the forest to a small village. Here it opens up to farm land and high meadows with larger peaks visible in the distance. The Tour de France rarely ventures onto roads this small, but it is perfect for us. After descending from the Col de la Core we climb the Col de Portet d’Aspet, then after three small cols, Col de Buret, Col de Ares, and Col Bouchet, we descend to our pleasant, and very elegant, country inn, near Sauveterre. This is a great place to relax, the staff is wonderful and the evening meal is one of the best.
July 14th, Sauveterre (Gesset) Loop rides
One of our favorite climbs in the Pyrenees has been the Port de Bales, the big problem being that it ended at the summit, with only a rudimentary rocky road descending to the next small village below. Recently the road was finished and the Tour de France organizers were quick to take advantage of this beautiful climb including it in the 2007 Tour. It is easy to understand why this has become a ‘Tour’ regular since then. After a wonderful descent brings us to Luchon, we will have time for a typical French lunch at one of the many small restaurants in town. After lunch we climb the Clo de Portillon from the west (tomorrow we climb from the east). There are a number of other options for today so feel free to mix and match.
July 15th, St Lary-Soulan 74mi, 10,300ft (Tour de France route), 60mi, 7500ft (3 climbs), or 55mi, 6200 (2 climbs)
This includes the Col de Portillon, the Col de Peyresourde, the Col d’Azet, and our optional climb of the Pla d’Adet. After a very winding descent, we immediately tackle the Col de Peyresourde. Be sure to stop at the little restaurant at the top and try the wonderful crepes. The record for our tours is 6 crepes by one cyclist. The third climb is the Col d’Azet. Once we are in St Lary it will be very hard to pass up a cold beer by the pool but it is not often we can duke it out with the pros on a full course. We are on our own for dinner tonight.
July 16th, Argeles Gazost 55mi, 7300ft
Today is another ‘Tour’ like day, featuring the 6980 foot, Col du Tourmalet. This is the second biggest climbing gain of our tour, nearly 4500 feet from our side (Pailheres is 5200ft) (5300 feet from the other side of the Tourmalet), and is one of the biggest climbs most years in the Tour de France. But first we have a nice warm up ride up the Hourquette d’Ancizan. This is an occasional ‘Tour’ climb, and one of the most beautiful passes in the Pyrenees. The gradual descent through meadows, and park like forests lulls us into thinking this will be an easy day, but soon the Tourmalet looms high above, casting a shadow over all who venture forth. But in the end we have a great descent, including the Gorge de Luz, on the way to our hotel in Argeles Gazost.
July 17th, Argeles Gazost
For today’s ride there are a number of great options. The Tour de France has a stage finish on the Hautacam, if you haven’t climbed it before, this would be a good opportunity. One of the great climbs of the ‘Tour’ is the Col d’Aubisque. The traverse from the Col du Soulor is a spectacular stretch of road, and well worth the effort. The Col du Soulor - Lordes loop is also a very scenic ride. There are a couple small dead end roads up the Vallee d’Arrens that would be fun to explore. Another very interesting option is the seldom ridden Col de Spandelles when combined with the Col du Soulor makes for an awesome ride. Of course a rest day might also be a good choice, with a short ride to a lunch destination. We will be on our own for dinner tonight.
July 18th, Sauveterre 65 mi, 3600 ft, or 90mi, 10,800ft, or 76mi, 8000ft,
Continuing in the vein of cycling the grand climbs of the Pyrenees, we will have the chance to tackle three regular Tour de France climbs, the Col duTourmalet, the Col d’Aspin, and the Col de Peyresourde (remember to stop for the cheap, delicious crepes). In case you are a bit fatigued all three are only optional. However there is another option for a truly memorable day’s ride. Whereas the climbing route is on roads made famous by the Tour de France, the other is on small roads that have never been used by the Tour. The easier (?) route follows the hills and valleys along the base of the mountains and climbs up and down, traversing the sides of these giant foothills. But what makes this route so special, is something that captures the essence of rural France; small farming roads connecting ancient villages, roads winding past neat stone farm houses, through pastures and over hills, an excursion showing us a way of life that is hard working but slow paced and rewarding.
July 19th, L’Isle Jourdain 74mi 1900ft
By our standards, today is a very easy ride. Almost the entire ride is through farm lands using the small village to village roads. Much of the ride is hilly, but only small rolling hills. This will be a great day for pace lining. With less than 2000 feet of climbing, there should be plenty of time to have a nice lunch along the way and still get back to the hotel and pack bikes before relaxing with a good drink and reminiscing about the last two weeks.
July 20th Departure
We’ll be shuttling back to the Toulouse airport with a heartfelt farewell, thanks for spending 2 weeks with us.