Heaven is a long distance cycle ride, by Nicole Stewart
Following on from last year’s epic voyage from Egginton to the village of Massat in the French Pyrenees, we decided we could not survive 2013 without another multi-day cycle ride.
So, planning started one rainy Saturday afternoon in January. Paul, Kathy and I, numerous maps, two computers and lots of cups of tea. Several hours later the route was planned, the accommodation en route chosen and emails fired off to try and secure the bookings.
Having gone north to south down France last year, this year the route was to take us west to east across the Pyrenees to Massat then northeast through Languedoc-Roussillon into Provence finishing on the summit of Mont Ventoux. And it isn’t just me that thinks this sort of trip is heaven because the same team as last year were ‘game on’ for this trip too.
Starting on September 8th from Hendaye (the border town between Fance and Spain on the Atlantic coast) our route took us over the big Tour de France cols including the Aubisque, Soulor, Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde and the Portet d’Aspet . The day we tackled the Aubisque the rain came down hard but to be honest, for the climb, it was absolutely fine. As for the descent – my poor little fingers – frozen solid. Paul did the ultimate husbandly gesture of allowing me to put my bare hands under his bare armpits to bring them back to life. Thankfully this was our only rainy day out of eleven days cycling, so we did okay.
The Pyreneen cols are just fantastic to ride. For those booked on the Pyrenees trip next May, you are in for a treat. Seeing Kathy summit the Tourmalet was brill. A flock of Llamas were there to welcome her too. The climbs varied in length from 5km ish to 22km ish and steepness also obviously, but the pleasure of cycling uphill for a good long distance is just stunning. I love it.
Leaving the Pyrenees, and the heavy mountain days behind, we had lovely cycling through the rolling countryside and then…. on a bend in the road just outside our night stop town of Anduze, we saw Mont Ventoux in the distance. Of course, Paul and I had to stop and wait for Kathy and Hugh to show it to them! Wouldn’t want them to miss seeing the finishing line!
We got to the foot of Mont Ventoux a couple of days later. It is the most stunningly beautiful and atmospheric mountain. It stands on its own and looms over Provence. It’s called the Giant of Provence for good reason. And we were not alone. Bikes and riders of all shapes and sizes were enjoying the views from the road winding up the north side. 22km from Malaucene to the summit.
Glorious weather apart from the thick fog and cold wind over the last few K. It has its steepest section in the middle, from about the 12k to go mark to the 8k mark causing, apparently, Kathy to utter expletives beginning with ‘F’ at one point!
Hopefully these few pictures and these words will entice you to plan your own multi-day cycle journey. Beats a circular route hands down any day of the week. And if you are lucky enough to bag yourself a support driver to carry all your kit, then you really will be in heaven.
PS: One member of our group, a friend from London, is still out there. She cycled from Santander to meet us in Hendaye, left us the day before Ventoux, crossed into Italy and is now in Croatia en route to Turkey. One bike, two sets of panniers, no mobile phone and an EasyJet ticket back to the UK from Istanbul early November. Rock hard!
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