2016 The Pyrenees

Day 5: Berga to Barcelona

17th June 2016

Why on earth do street sweepers with very noisy blowers have to start work at 5.30 in the morning? It must drive people wanting a lie in or those with small kids, to distraction. The plus side, I suppose is that the alarm at 5.45 wasn’t exactly a surprise or shock. We had firm instructions to have our luggage in the lobby by 6.25, with departure at 07.30.

It can be chilly at 07.30 in the morning, even when you’re so far south & I was really cold by the time we’d done the first 5 kms or so, most of which was downhill, However, the first ascent took care of that problem and from then on it was hot/cold dependent upon which way we were heading. ‘Long undulations’ would probably best describe the roads but there was little traffic; the tarmac was good, the countryside beautiful and the birds singing. What’s not to like.

The first water stop was really quite pleasant at Sant Feliu Sassera as Judith & Michelle had sussed out a good café in the town square which was fine until they couldn’t re-locate it, so we had 30 odd cyclists winding around the cobbled back streets looking for a caffeine fix which we finally achieved (& it was good!). The locals in the café were utterly traumatized by the onslaught but we were all now well set for the next stage.

As we went towards midday, the scenery became more Mediterranean & the temperatures began to rise. The scenery was stunning, with fabulous mountain ranges, way in the distance. However, the aching legs were testament to the continuous rise in elevation, which continued up until & beyond lunch, which was a very welcome side of the road affair. Nobby’s welcome-in music & megaphone was wonderfully encouraging, as always. The man is a star – he drives the van to & from Jersey, with all our bags, supports & encourages us, every inch of the way.

Pay back came shortly after lunch in the way of a long descent although with lovely scenery giving way to the industry & heavy traffic, in & around Sabadell, which I think many in the Group found quite harrowing. Whilst I don’t particularly enjoy going through busy towns, I do find that it takes my mind of the aches & pains & somehow the miles done in those conditions don’t seem so arduous.

When we discussed the contour map at lunch time, we were encouraged that shortly after lunch, we had a fairly long descent although before the entry into Barcelona there was a rather ominous ‘bump’ on the map. Ominous indeed it was, as by 100 kms the aches & pains are setting in, the weather was hot & humid & the road to the top was quite busy. What a relief it was to get to the top, to see the magnificent sight of Barcelona down below & enjoy a water stop & re-group part way on the descent. The general plan was to go down as a group, DA David was to lead us in (which he did, on the cycle lanes, which was tortuously slow with all the traffic lights) and we were to gather for pictures at the front of the magnificent Gaudi cathedral (200 years & still not finished!!) & then onto the hotel.

All went to plan apart from a puncture for Bill & we lost Karen, but the hotel Granados was most welcoming especially as Nobby had the van parked outside & the bike packing commenced, the minute we stepped out of our cleats.

The Hotel really is great & well recommended for the lovely staff, great position & quirky design. Almost everyone headed to the roof top terrace where cava was provided & congratulations offered, all around. We then had a first in my cycling career; Paul proposed to Sylvana, our lovely BV’s cycling mates. What emotions, what joy, how good these two are for each other & what a lovely ending to the trip.

The evenings dinner was great – an intro from Pam, a thank you & talk about Macmillan Jersey from me & a wonderful sketch from Trevor, which parodied practically every person on the trip. He was very funny & provided a suitable ending to a most wonderful trip.

Statistics for the Day;
81.5 miles
13.1 mph average
1731 metres of climbing
5 hours 12 minutes in the saddle

Accumulated Statistics
258.3 miles (415 Kms)
7780 metres of climbing (25525 feet)
20 hours 45 Minutes in the saddle

2016 The Pyrenees

Day 4: Seu d’Urgell to Berga

16th June 2016

In giving the briefing for today’s ride, the DA lead said that she would chose today’s ride over any other, single day ride she knew of, because of the challenging cols/mountain climbs, the stunning downhills, the magnificent scenery & the lack of traffic. She was 100% correct on all counts!

We were breakfasting at 7.30 and left to lovely weather by 08.30 and in the entire day saw very little traffic & in fact, very few people.

The first climb, which came shortly after we left the hotel, was long & hard & mindful that there were three others to climb, I studiously kept my pace slow & used the low gears a lot. The first water stop was about 1km from the top of Fornols, which had a magnificent vista viewpoint, & there are group photographs, from this viewpoint, which will appear at some time on a communal photo sharing site. The temperature, as expected, was significantly lower than our start point so we all donned extra clothes (I added 2 lightweight jackets & winter gloves), in preparation for the upcoming descent.

Whilst the road surfaces on the way up were pretty sub standard, to our surprise & delight, the downhill section was faultless although there was some rock fall in a couple of places. This section of the ride is virtually indescribable in that the sun was shining, there was little development, other the odd stunning hilltop villa or small settlement, virtually no traffic & the ability to see, thousands of feet below, a continuous ribbon of steep winding roads – cycling heaven!

What I did do was stop at fairly regular intervals to take photographs, share a big grin with some of the others & also try to ensure it all didn’t end too soon.

What goes up & all that!! The problem with such descents is of course that they come to an end & invariably at that time, the legs have begun to seize up and the fatigue of the last couple of days sets in. Everyone seems to feel this & the initial reaction is to see if a brake is catching or a tyre has gone flat. Add this factor to a long, long relentless climb to Tuixen at 1658 metres & it all added up to some very tired riders at lunch, where once again the cold weather kicked in & the hot soup was oh so welcome.

Downhill number two was again quite wonderful & seemed to go on forever & although such a run needs little in the way of leg power, it nevertheless seems to set the heart racing & I think everyone is aware that when you rely on two skinny tyres at 35-45 mph then it’s not sensible to lose concentration. I was certainly blessing my new bike at this stage of the ride (A Cannondale Synapse, a present for my 70th) as it has slighter wider tyres & also disc brakes, the latter such a wonderful innovation & so much better on long, steep descents.

We had a set water stop in the village of Sat Llorenç de Morunys where there was also a coffee shop. How attractive that coffee shop seemed, but clearly only to me. Everyone wanted to press on, so I reluctantly followed, as we headed out for the final third of the day & the last col. Oh those poor legs & that overworked lower gear, it just seemed to go on and on. At one point I was doing some mental arithmetic with the distances & converting miles to kilometers, when I decided that another 2 miles would see me at the top. Within minutes of this exercise I was in a tunnel & at the other end, there was a water stop & mountain peak. How very, very welcome was that & the third descent proved no less exciting than the other two.

So here we are at Berga & the very pleasant HCC Cuitat de Berga AND to the joy of some & dismay of others, England have just beaten Wales 2-1. I suspect both sides will evidence such joy/dismay in the usual way tonight, which is not the most highly recommended way to approach a final day, which I think will run to about 130 kms, although with hopefully less climbing (today being the most to date).

Statistics for the Day;
60.9 miles
10.6 mph average
2267 metres of climbing
5 hours 43 minutes in the saddle

2016 The Pyrenees

Day 3: Ax-les-Thermes to Seu d’Urgell

15th June 2016

The ride today was one of the most dramatic, certainly one of the most tiring, I have ever done and involved three countries; France, Andorra & Spain.

We started breakfast at 07.30 & everyone seemed in good spirits although there were some tired legs from the previous day & a degree of trepidation about the day ahead which we were told was a day of two halves; the first part up & the second part down!

The ‘up’ bit started straight away as we left the very pleasant Hotel Le Chalet at 08.30. This was after I’d fixed a rear flat as my tyre seemed to have lost air overnight & was virtually empty of air. That fixed, dirty hands cleaned, we were off.

The road we were on was the main route into Andorra so we were all mindful of the traffic and tried to stay in the bike lane although this was often far too gritty to trust & the very thing to almost guarantee more punctures.

The first water stop at around half way up our morning climb saw most riders fairly relaxed & somewhat relieved at the gradients, which although they saw us clocking up the metres, were not too tiring on the legs.

The second half of the climb was somewhat different, as we got progressively higher & colder, with glimpses of snow ahead & waterfalls cascading dramatically around us & into deep gorges below. However the view, looking back was amazing & I think we all marveled at where we’d come from, the long road up the valley & the switchback up to the peak.

At around 2,000 metres we met the wind, which became progressively worse, mostly in our face & I would estimate blowing at force 7, at times. It made for very difficult & dispiriting climbing, not least as we kept meeting false summits, whilst being painfully aware of a building at the top of the mountain & each time thinking ‘it can’t be that one, surely’ (& of course it was). I’m sure as a ski resort, this area is both popular & fun but the buildings are pretty grim – either multi coloured and rather weird or dark grey stone & forbidding looking. We did see the Canondale official bike team car parked there & it’s not difficult to see why they would choose this area for cycle training.

The feelings, upon reaching Port d’Envalira (the highest paved road in Europe & regular feature of the Tour de France) at 2,408 metres was one of huge relief but also the awareness that we were instantly very cold & staring at a long descent which would make us much colder, so we were all frantically searching our day bags for extra layers, long fingered gloves and wind proofed jackets.

The descent was nothing short of tremendous, but the strong winds, which affected us according to the direction of travel made it essential to keep the bike balanced & upright & at times, even on steep descents, meant we had to pedal to keep up any sort of speed.

Ever resourceful, the lead group found a café, half way down the first main descent & the coffees & hot chocolates tasted like nectar. It took Sylvana fully 20 minutes to stop shivering even though by now there was intermittent sunshine on the terrace. You might ask why we didn’t go inside but it would have been a shame to miss the opportunity to soak up the dramatic mountain scenery.

Lunch was by a dramatic waterfall, at a picnic area, where there was the usual impressive spread. The only problem was that the wind was by now simply howling & playing havoc with our lunches and body temperature so blankets were passed around, shelter sought in the van & every means used, to keep warm & stoke up on food. Hot tomato soup was a firm favourite. Judith at this point asked where my helmet was. The answer ‘on my head where it should be’ would have been a wrong one although that’s where I thought it was. I’d left it at the café & had cycled down at high speed with nothing more than a skullcap for protection – gulp. The support angels were good enough to drive back & hopefully make me DA compliant & just a little more protected.

Our transfer back into Spain was pretty un-dramatic although our small group was asked for passports, where many of the others, even those in cars, were not. The question ‘en vacance’? seemed to me particularly daft, although I don’t suppose it’s beyond comprehension (not!) that we were part of some professional cycling group.

Even with all the traffic (& one major accident that had just occurred), I enjoyed the ride through Andorra’s main town as the road surfaces were good, it was mostly down hill & fast & we were beginning to see the end of the day’s ride.

Our hotel is a ‘Parador’, one of many government run hotels in Spain, mainly in historic/character buildings. Ours (Paradores Seu d’Urgell) is particularly pleasant with a lock up for the cars & bikes & it appears we’re sharing it with an English veteran car group who have an impressive bunch of old Rileys, Austins & one particularly lovely Lagonda, all from around the 1920’s.

So, in a rather nice room, bathed, rested and having done my diary, it’s time to go & meet the Group for a little R&R!

Statistics for the Day;
51.6 miles
11.4 mph average
1833 metres of climbing
4 hours 30 minutes in the saddle

2016 The Pyrenees

Day 2: Carcassonne to Ax-les-Thermes

14th June 2016

The morning was blustery & overcast but spirits were high and there was a group photograph in front of the castle, before we set off at 8.00.

Although we started out on pretty lanes with a smattering of ‘normal’ roads, much of the day was spent on the former & the scenery ranged from lovely wine growing terrain to undeveloped mountainsides & deep, green valleys. Our journey took us South & West via LimouxPuivert & onto Ax-les-Thermes, the latter, as the name suggests a spa town although the ‘baths’ were closed when we got there (the French really don’t seem to like working these days do they!).

It was a mixed bag of riding with some flat, some undulating, some very long, quite steep climbs & some spectacular downhills. What was common throughout the day, was the fabulous scenery and the relatively quiet to very quiet roads. There were wonderful vineyards, pretty small towns & villages & great mountain scenery. As we had climbed about 1700 metres, we also saw snow on the mountaintops, which left us with no illusions as to how high we had climbed & how cold it could get – this is a ski area, after all!

There was a great lunch stop at Puivert where there was a café with a very nice terrace, by a man made lake & where we all gathered for a coffee, chat & talk about the morning. Lunch was actually courtesy of DA & out of the van, but good food, good variety & very welcome.

Knowing that post lunch had some heavy climbing (as in fact had pre lunch), I didn’t hang around too long & was soon, once again grinding low gears & feeling all the familiar areas begin to ache, seize up or both.

With around 10 kms to go we had a quick water stop & decided to don jackets as the air was beginning to get very cold & there was promise of a downhill, to end the day. The downhill didn’t come before a fairly brutal bit of climbing but when it came, oh how good it was!! I flew!! About 8 kms switch backing down hill with little traffic, superb scenery & a pretty decent road surface right in to the gorgeous town of Ax-les Thermes with its raging river, pretty buildings & mountain backdrop. A flow of e-mails from the Group suggests that the town (or at least its bars, has them in its spell). The Group is in two hotels & we are in Le Chalet, which is quite delightful & we have a nice room, with balcony overlooking the river, the Spa building and the mountains.

Statistics for the Day;
64.3 miles
12.00 mph average
1949 metres of climbing
5 hours 20 minutes in the saddle
(I would like to disclose top speed down the mountain but modesty & a Judith backlash says I must desist!)

2016 The Pyrenees

Day 1: Majorca to Carcassonne

13 June 2016

We were up at 6.30 in Puerta Pollenca, Majorca, in order to get sorted & off to Barcelona on the 10.20 from Palma. All very smooth & we managed to leave without waking Amy, George & the girls.

We had a smooth flight & decided to go to the Plaça Espanya & visit the converted bullring, a very ornate building, which has a 360 degrees roof terrace & some wonderful views of the City & a good selection of restaurants. We had a surprisingly good meal at Quino Quinto which we stretched out for a couple of hours & we then took a taxi to the railway station.

Whilst there we decided to check to see if our tickets were in order & ask about the procedure for boarding as they were obviously exercising serious security checks, pre boarding. We were told our fast TGV was cancelled – no warning messages, no notification & all due to French industrial action (expletives deleted!).

We were fortunate in getting a train to Perpignan at 4.45 & Michelle & Michael agreed to pick us up there & take us to Carcassonne. We also took along a fellow passenger (Baden – a Welsh Guy with a house in Carcassonne) who was in a similar situation.

The wind was howling in Perpignan & gave me reservations as to how we would cope, were it to continue into the ride.

Dinner in Carcassonne was way out of town, in a trading estate at a restaurant called ‘L’Olivero’ or similar. This seemed a typical Discover Adventure move although I suppose they do have trouble finding the right priced restaurant for about 40, but such a shame in a beauty spot like Carcassonne. We were just in time & tucked into a 3-course meal & some red wine (so much for that vow!).

The Hotel (Cerise) was fine & our luggage & the bike were in the room. After laying out all my gear, packing a ‘day’ bag we went to bed & set the alarm for 6.00 with a view to meeting the 6.45 breakfast call & departure at 7.30.