It seemed easy enough in the beginning – at least the thought of it. 845 kilometres and over 16,150 metres of elevation gain were always going to sit prettier in the head when basking in Mediterranean sunshine than the cold reality of actually doing it.
We had planned a warm-up ride over the infamous Ratpenat and then we were reminded of the vagaries of the Spanish weather. I don’t think even Juan Antonio Flecha would have ventured out on Ratpenat on a day like that. Sunshine turned to torrential rain and thunderstorms which cleared back to sunshine and there was barely enough time for the roads to dry and for us to reschedule the route. We hoped this was not going to set the tone for the rest of the week and we were, in the most part, very lucky.
The Mediterranean and the start of the Trans-Pyrenees Challenge
Heading up on Day 2
Day 2 and the cycling adventure proper started. We headed to Solsona in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The day would see us initiated into the Pyrenean experience and taken over some moderate hills like Coll de Castell? and some short sharp ones. The ride was long – 150 km – and would be a great chance for the group to get to know each other and for the legs to understand the level of commitment needed to finish this demanding ride.
Climbing to Santuari de Sant Pin?s
The medieval town of Solsona is nestled a stone throw away from the cols of Boixols and Jou. These two cols are a must-do on the itinerary of anyone cycling in the area. Both cols are hard climbs and close together but you will be rewarded both times with superb fast sweeping roads. The Col de Boixols descent is like a fair ground ride with technical broad curves and tunnels thrown in for good measure.
Tunnels coming off the Col de Boixols
Riding in formation and heading into the hills again
With hidden cols like Boixols and their more famous cousins like the Portillon and the Bonaigua this ride is designed to pass over lesser known routes but still take in the mountains roads that the professional cyclists race over. The Bonaigua is 23 kilometres long and 2070 metres high and on day 4 would take us, via the col du Portillon, to France.
Admiring the views – Day 4
Riding out of the Canyon
The climb of the Bonaigua
We needed the miles and those cols to warm our legs up for Day 5. We were about to embark on the longest day of the week and probably the hardest. Peyresourde, Aspin and Tourmalet – 120 kilometres and 3,400 metres of elevation gain. Cool clear skies awaited the riders and we set off with over 20 riders split into 3 groups for the demanding Queen stage of the Trans-Pyrenees Challenge.
Climbing the Aspin
Racing up the Tourmalet
The weather was holding out and some prayers were made for the next day when we would be taking on the Cols of the Aubisque, Marie Blanque and Ichere – 2130 metres of elevation gain. Prayers were unanswered as we approached the Aubisque but we were in for a real delight. The clouds remained low so we were treated to spectacular cloud inversions. We could not see the Cirque de Litor but the low lying clouds created an impressive panorama for the riders. Another day completed and we were 105 kilometres closer to the Atlantic coast. The cyclists were anticipating the excitement of the final day and the roll over to the St. Jean de Luz on the Atlantic coast.
Approach to the Aubisque
No clear skies but spectacular views between Soulor and Aubisque
So close now to the Atlantic that the weather systems were being dominated by fronts sweeping in from the ocean. We started in rain and the whole of day 7 was dominated by showers and sparkles of sunshine. This was to be a hard day of cycling (2nd hardest statistically in the week) which took in the cols of Bagargui, Ispeguy and Otxondo. Bagargui is a hard climb. I glanced occasionally at the VDO computer to check the gradients on it and there was a long section when it didn’t go below 15%.
Out of the mist an eagle has landed and is wondering about all the fuss!
Eagles and vultures soared around us in the mist – sometimes our only companions as we strung out on the hard slopes. Ispeguy and Otxondo were the last climbs of the day and the challenge. Any normal cycling day and these would be punched over without much fuss but invoices were being collected and legs were almost spent. The last few miles to the Atlantic were weary but filled with an enormous amount of satisfaction. We had just ridden our bikes across the entire Pyrenees Mountain Range – 845 kilometres and over 16,150 metres of elevation gain in 1 week. A great week of epic cycling and a massive congratulations to all who participated in it!
Some of the riders after arriving at the Atlantic