On the road of Le Tour

Day 294, Toulouse, 17.377 km

There was the alpine stage, with Sandrine and Le B this fall. And there was the Pyrenean stage in spring, this time alone and without the sweater (lost in Sevilla) nor the tie (I had borrowed the one from Le B at the time). The purists will point out that the stage took place on a Tuesday, and that the “Pull-Cravate” is only required on Fridays, but the gesture would have been appreciated anyway, I guess. Without Eve’s help to carry the heaviest luggage either. I was able to recognize part of the route of the Tour de France this summer: I can confirm that the roads are passable, sometimes even new. On the other hand, I am not sure if I will be able to finish in the required time…

So I leave Pau in the early morning, after a champion’s breakfast. The weather is nice, not too hot, there is a little wind at the back, the conditions are ideal. The day’s program is rough: the Tourmalet pass, then the Aspin pass before a forest corner to bivouac somewhere in the Neste valley. I follow a bike path after the exit of Pau that is supposed to take me to Lourdes. But it makes a little too many turns and detours for my taste so I fall back on the departmental road: I am not in the mood to stroll in the fields along the Gave but my legs are itching at the idea of climbing the Tourmalet. Straight to Lourdes! I take a short break in a bakery in the city center and get back on the road. The bike path is straight this time, and I can see the snowy peaks of the Pyrenees in the distance, the excitement is building up! I take another break in Pierrefitte-Nestalas before starting the climb! 

The Gave in Nay
Pierrefitte and the approaching mountains

At the exit of the village, I see a sign that says: « Col du Tourmalet: Closed ». It is written in capital letters, in red, impossible to miss. I look a bit on the internet, the Aspin pass seems to be closed too. Bloody hell. Looking a bit further, I read that the Tourmalet is closed because a ski resort uses the space (including roads) during the winter. As for the Aspin, it is often because of the weather conditions that it is blocked. I tell myself that the weather has been nice for a few days, and that today’s sun will have melted any residual snow, and I certainly don’t want to turn back. So I decide to continue to climb the pass until the road is blocked and then I’ll see what happens…

I first go through some nice gorges to get to Luz-Saint-Sauveur. The road doesn’t go up too much and I even have the wind at my back. Easy. Then begins the real ascent of the pass. It climbs quite regularly, it’s straight, and I have the snowy summits in my back and in front of me. A real treat. Some cars pass me, sign that the road is not blocked right away, some gendarmes too, who come back down a little later… A man in a car stops and reminds me that the pass is closed. I ask him if there is not a path or a small road that allows to go through anyway. He answers me « You surely know better than me… ». Well precisely no, that’s why I ask… I pass a large parking lot and a cable car, but still no barrier that blocks the road. The slope gets a little harder but remains regular. I go up…

These mountains still looking at me…
We enter in the heart of the subject

At 5km from the summit, the dreaded barrier finally arrives. Red and white, with signs forbidding cars, bikes and pedestrians to pass. It’s hard to pretend not to have seen it… The road looks clear, clean. I hesitate to pass. There is a man in his truck who is cleaning the edges. I start the conversation: « Hello sir, I see that the road is closed, but do you think it would be possible to pass? I come from far away, and if I don’t make this pass today, I don’t know if I’ll make it one day… – It’s at your own risk. The road is clean, and moreover today the weather is good. On the other hand, if you meet the gendarmes, you’ll have to handle responsibility. Driving on a closed road, the fine may be high. Especially since it will reopen tomorrow…  » It’s 16:30, I don’t want to pitch my tent and wait for the next day. Moreover the landscapes are already magnificent, and I feel that the rest of the road will be even better. And then, one more ban to brave, it will not be the first, nor probably the last time that it happens. And if I meet the police, at best I could manage to convince them with my story, at worst I pay the fine. Good decision, the end of the climb is amazing… Incredible… Wonderful…

I arrive at the top of the pass, the view is unfortunately a bit blocked on the other side. And the ski resort of La Mongie is not the most beautiful to see either: a huge building in the middle of the valley. Not so nice. I put on my coat and start the descent. A treat. And a little rest for the legs before starting the Aspin pass. And above all, not a gendarme on the horizon. I turn off at Sainte-Marie de Campan and start the climb. I meet some cyclists to whom I ask if we can go through the pass. Apparently yes. It seems that luck is on my side today!

The pass is a bit strange, it goes up, very hard, then it’s flat, it goes down again, it goes up a bit more then it’s flat again. I have a bit of trouble to get into a rhythm. Then comes a new barrier, this time without a sign. If someone asks, I will say that I thought that the ban was only valid for cars… I also start the hardest part of the climb: twists and turns in the forest, twists and turns again and again. But I am encouraged by wild animals: deers, squirrels, birds, which pass on the road while watching me giving blood, sweat and tears to hoist Jay on top of the pass…

The end of the climb
Nice view on the Neste valley

The reason for the closure of the pass becomes clear when I reach the top: roadworks. Apparently the Tour de France is coming this summer so the road has to be refurbished. And new it is, in the first 8 km of the descent. So I let off the brakes and enjoy. Long straight lines on the still warm asphalt. Not bad. I arrive in the valley, find a water point to fill my bottles. I start looking for a place to sleep at night when I meet Alex: « Do you know where you are going? – Toulouse – And tonight? I’m going to find a place a little further in the forest I think – Come to sleep at home if you want! « . Alex, Charles and Germain live in Sarrancolin, they like red wine, pasta with pesto and board games, they even have hot water and a free bed, all the ingredients are gathered to spend an excellent evening!

The theme of the next day: F.L.A.T. Looking at my little notebook, I realized that I had just completed 17 (!!) stages with more than 1.000m of ascent per day. And the stage of the day announces 600m of climb for 1.000m of descent. I sign with both hands. I leave the Neste valley and find the Garonne. I have the impression to have the wind at my back all the time. But no, it’s the effect of riding on the flat. I follow the Garonne cycle route, but I almost never see the river. Except when I cross it.

Crossing the Garonne at Couladère
Straight and flat…

A bit of wind at the end of the stage, but the prospect of meeting friends and family, and spending a weekend of rest in Toulouse gives me wings and I arrive at Diana and Alex’s house in less time than it takes to write this. Extended weekend now!

To finish I’ll give you another dose of Tourmalet, I think I’m still in shock…

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