Saturday, September 06, 2014

Day 6 - 2014 Haute Route Pyrenees - Cows and Horses

Day 6 - Argelès-Gazost to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port
150 km / 3350 m+ / 3600 m-

Finally had a good night sleep only waking a few times coughing. Lugged my baggage down the twisty narrow 3 flights of stairs in the hotel. I was cutting the time close to get to the startline for the 7:30 start.
Happy up a climb! - photo courtesy of
Neutral section was a few km to get us out of town. Starting the first long climb up Col du Soulor (967m altitude gain over 18.5km), the pace slowly picked up. The lead pack got away. I was content in the 2nd peloton. The pace was quick and it felt good.

My peloton had around 18 riders. We rode thru a few cute villages. The grade was mostly 7% average. The peloton stayed together on the short descent.
On the ridge going thru the mountain! - photo Manu Molle
Next ascent up the Col d’Aubisque (240m altitude gain over 10km) was short though scenic, especially closer to the top on the ridge. Last year, we rode in fog with barely 10m visibility. Our peloton dwindled to a solid group of 9.  Good pace again.

I laughed seeing the sign warning of the upcoming “Passage Canadien”… i.e. cattle gate crossing.

Long descent. I started without waiting for all the guys who stopped at the feedzone knowing they would catch up. Many sharp corners with a few cow-patties to watch out for. As I could now see the tight turns, I was amazed at the speed we descended last year in the fog.

Around one corner there was a herd of cows on the road. It took a little maneuvering to figure out which way to go around the stubborn creatures. I made it safely, then continued down quickly. I flew solo!

Made it most of the way down before Tom from Switzerland caught up to me. I was amazed how fast he went and tucked into his draft. Apparently he had 53x12 gearing.

going up Col de Marie-Blanque - photo Manu Molle
 Slowly the peloton reformed. Together we climbed Col de Marie-Blanque (577m altitude gain over 11.5km). A few riders stopped at the top to refuel. I continued on the descent.

With a peloton of 9 forming again, we worked together under Jon Bula’s helpful instruction on the next 40 km section of rolling terrain.

Into the start of the 4th climb Col d’Ahusquy (833m altitude gain over 14.5km) I hovered at the back of our group. The grade started with a range of 11% to 15% quite consistently, ouch!

Sweat-Laden! - photo Haute Route
I was sweating profusely and my jersey was soaked. The temp had been low 20C and now only 25C. The effort was great! Before halfway, I dropped off and hung back with Triple Crown rider Paul, then dropped off his pace.

2013 photo of same climb - photo Will Levy (while he was racing!)
We did this climb last year in the fog and on wet rainy roads. This year, the climb looked more menacing with the clear daylight.

At the feedzone midway, I was happy to stop and grab a couple orange slices. The next section was flat before the final steep grade to the top. It boggles the mind to know the climb is considered 5% average grade with so many super steep sections!

The road was rough and narrow, Canadian bike path-size, with a yellow line painted down the middle for guidance not so much that a car width actually fit on one side. The landscape was lush green with hills very close together. Felt like the Pyrenean back-country! A road that seemed barely used. Cows were free to roam all over.

I continued at a reasonable pace. With a few kms left, the grade went down to 4% though the wind picked up. The ridge-top road rolled over green hills to the stop timing mat.

I refilled my water bottle then made the neutral descent on a super cow crappy bumpy road. Descent was an 11% grade that required braking due to the narrow road and unexpected bumps. Braking took its toll on my neck muscles.

I saw similar horses though huge herds of them on the road. It would hurt to hit one of them! Photo is of Alain Guimond from Quebec giving a lasso motion - photo Manu Molle
On-route, I passed another stubborn herd of cows. Dodged them safely. Around another corner, was a herd of wild horses. I yelled out to them “hey hey hey”. They all looked up, gathered to one side looking towards me for direction. Awesome creatures!

Finally made the descent to find Bill Hewlett from UK and Tom Kaminski from CH kindly waiting for me to join them for the last 11 km timed section. The others from our small peloton already left.

We waited for more riders to gather. It was hot waiting in the sun. Finally a huge group of 20 riders arrived. We all flew into town together.

Gael, the amazing osteopath that kept me going!
I had another amazing treatment from Gael the osteopath, and tried out the massage guy Fabrice for my sore neck muscles. Osteopath treatment is not so common at home in Canada. It is a mix of manipulative therapies like chiro, physio, and intuition to put the body back into alignment. It was a treat to have access to the osteopath treatments at this event.

Lunch had amazing grilled chicken skewers which were appealing after the day’s effort. Bummer the grilled veggies were so over-cooked and tough to differentiate. I put the lunch in a bowl to take away to eat later. I preferred my own recovery foods first.

The village we were in, St Jean Pied du Port, had an old medieval town with a stone wall and cobblestone streets. It was a very cool place to check out. 

My accommodation was 1 km away though seemed longer with the steep hills. I was happy to see we were staying at a vacation facility of condo-like buildings. We had a kitchen again which was great to cook up some real food. No internet available again. Kept so busy each day, it was tough to find a moment to jot down a race update.

Excitement with Andrea Nicosia and Paul Hamblett working together. Andrea now has the Leader's jersey and Paul (Triple challenge rider) is in 2nd overall GC - photo courtesy
Back at awards, there was an exciting turn of events in the men’s race with a new race leader and a tight race for top 3. Check out Paul's story for that stage.

I lost my camera somewhere in the race village, doh. Bummer, I lost my photos of the old medieval town.

The Lanterne Rouge had a run-in with a pony in that neutral descent section. The pony darted out at the last minute. Fergus flew over the pony with the bike landing without harm. Pony whinny-ed and was ok. Fergus hurt his side and collarbone, though finished. He was a trooper and even completed Day 7.

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