Thursday, August 02, 2007

Port de Bales

It starts to climb about 2-3 miles from the house. Ian has warned us that it is the toughest climb in the Tour de France, and to expect it to be chilly at the top.

I'm thinking 'not a problem' this should be tough, but it can't be much harder than the climbs we make up into Skyline Drive.

Talk about being naive! First sign post we see tells us that we have 19km to go to the peak. And as time goes on we see more and more signs that tell us the grade of climb and how much further we needed to go.

Let me say that it was a great day! Perfect weather, nice and warm in lower 80's, and no humidity. So climbing here is a bit easier than in Virginia. But not that much when it comes to over 12k with most of it being at 6-10 percent grade.

For those of you who live in Fredericksburg, just think Bubba on Lee Drive.....only 10 miles long!

I feel good going up this monster as we occasionally get a 100 meter respite occasionally on the way up (or I stop and take a picture). But the closer we get to the top, the more I start to think......


I'm still pedaling away with only 2,000 meters to go to the top when I spot Jack on the side of the road. His face is covered in sweat, and he looks almost gray. He doesn't feel well at all, and is trying to rationalize continuing with the climb.

At this point I want to finish what I started because the climbing was tough, but I knew it was do-able. It was just the fact that I would have to go back down this twisty/turning road all the way down.

I start to attempt to get back on my bike (try doing this on a 10% grade), and almost fall off. I stop and pause. Again I am really getting scared about the ride back down. So I made the executive decision. I was going to turn around and go back.

And Jack rightly joins me. We meet Aimee (who was behind us at this point) and told her of our decision so that she could tell Ian and Louisa so they wouldn't freeze waiting around for us.

By now the temps are colder because a cloud has covered the mountain overhead. Plus you get the wind in your face going down. I don my arm warmers, and then it's a crawl to the bottom.

You see....I think I actually went down as slow as I went up. At one stop where Karen was with Jack I had him massage my hands. They were almost welded onto the brakes.

I was going so slow that I could almost have flipped over my bike bars at points of the ride down. I could read all the writing on the road for the Tour racers, and contemplate walking down. Heck, I could probably slide down faster on my bike cleats than I was riding.

But no matter....I obviously made my way down safely, and of course then beat myself up for becoming such a chicken.

Up on a hilltop a lonely goat herd......


1800 meters of climbing the Port de Bales, the toughest climb on the Tour de France course, and Ian takes us on it on our third day in France. Did anyone ever tell him how evil he is?

Where am I?

Luscan, France at the Pyrenees Multi-Sport Camp owned by Julie and Ian Wright (aka 'The Wrighties'). I am coaching a small women's tri camp, and I have some excellent athletes that I've gotten to know and really enjoy.

First there is Louisa - 22 - from the UK. Occupation - Student (far left/blonde)
Next is Aimee - 19 - also from UK, and daughter of Ian/Julie. Occupation Student (far right)
Then there is Maya - 21 - from Lebanon. Occupation - Student (second)
And Karen from the Burg, or should I say transplanted to Mississippi (third).

Picture is from a hike up into the mountains to view this lake, but as you can see it got quite misty!

And of course there is Julie, and I must find a picture of her!

Saturday we arrive, and then drive to our home port of Luscan from Toulouse. From here we get taken out right away on a ride through the countryside for 28 miles with Aimee as our guide. Karen's plane got in late, and she needed a nap. So I went out with her later in the day, and of course I couldn't re-produce the route we went earlier in the day. But oh well.....we just followed some random arrows out, and returned the same way back.

Day 2 - get up early to run, and since I'm slightly injured I was relegated to the mountain bike. The mountain bike with the seat set too low, and the front brakes made this high pitched whine that wouldn't stop no matter what. So I followed the ladies for 3 miles with this noise and my knees up to my ears.

Then it is off for a nice ride up our first 'Cols' in the Pyrenees with Aimee as our Guide. Julie stayed behind to help Maya get used to a road bike. This was a really great ride, not that hard to get up (790 meters), and a lot of fun to go down. At the top of the mountain we had a little lunch, then it was off on our bikes back to the house.

Off to the local lake where we swam in open water for about 30 minutes or so. Nothing like a nice cool mountain fed lake that isn't loaded with muck and duck poop.