Saturday, August 27, 2011

Day 9 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Col du Chioula

Just a brief post today. Unfortunately, our last day was a wash again. After Thursday's 210km ride, we planned a 100km route on the French side of the Pyrenees that would take us over 2 cols (Col du Chioula and Col du Pailheres) and a mountain finish at Ax-3 Domaines. The weather packed in as we descended Chioula and we were forced to turn back. It was a bummer, but we've had more than our fair share of awesome rides this week. I'll save Pailheres and Ax-3 for another trip. So, here a just a few pictures from today's ride.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 8 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Tres Nations (Andorra - France - Spain)

Today turned into an epic ride. We were looking for some big climbs on our second to last day of riding, and we sure got it. The ride was 210km and 4,200 meters. Our initial plan was to ride three out-and-back climbs centered in Andorra la Vella. Instead, we found a great loop that took us up all three climbs, plus one more, by way of Andorra, France and Spain. The four climbs, in sequence, were Port d'Envalira (the highest pass in the Pyrenees), Col de Puymorens, La Rabassa, and finally, Vallnord-Pal. 

Its too late to write much more, so I'll just include the Garmin file and a few photos.

By the way, Day-7 was a forced rest-day. It rained all day in Basque, so we drove back to the Pyrenees and found a hotel in Andorra. We are staying here tonight, but we drive to France in the morning for our final ride before returning to Barcelona on Friday evening.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Day 6 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Stage 4 of the 2010 Tour of the Basque Country

Today we rode stage 4 of the 2010 Tour of the Basque Country. Dave and I joined the course just prior to the first climb (we rode 125km). I really enjoyed the climbs, although many of the flatter sections in the valleys were on major roads. Here are some pictures with captions:

Researching the course prior to our ride.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Day 5 Pyrenees & Euskadi: San Sebastian

San Sebastian: culinary capital of the world. And not too shabby for a ride either. Today was an easy day. Dave and I rode a tiki-tour in and around the city of San Sebastian. We started in the hills just to the east of San Sebastian overlooking the coastline, before chowing down a superb 3-course lunch (I ordered gazpacho, duck and crema Catalana). Then we headed back to the Old City, the beach, and the nearby hills. San Sebastian is a beautiful city with excellent food (try the pintxos). I highly recommend visiting. Tomorrow, we'll be back in the big ring.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 4 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Puerto de Elosua and Alto de Aztira

Dave and I explored a little of Euskadi today. We hit several passes that took us from valley to valley and town to town. Basque Country is very different than Catalonia. The land is green and full of rolling hills. And the architecture is quite different too - all the buildings look like they were built in the last 20 years. Its hard to believe that is the case, since people have lived here for thousands of years (and Basques believe they speak the original European language).

Anyway, here are some pictures from today's 100km ride. Tomorrow, we hit San Sebastian and the coast.

Day 3 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Puerto del Portillon and Superbagneres

It was another super hot day today in the Pyrenees. Temps were ~35c/90f and I feel over-cooked right now. We opted for a slightly easier day with just 95km and 2000m of climbing. First climb on the docket was Puerto del Portillon. To get there, we rode a loop around a mountain range and crossed into Spain. We found Portillon out the back of a small village and ascended into the wooded mountains. It was just a cat-1 climb but very enjoyable.

We then quickly headed down into the town of Bagneres to begin the 1200m climb to reach the ski station at Superbagneres. The Tour has been here a half dozen times but not since 1991. Superbagneres was very hard, especially with the high temps. After 90 minutes of hard slog I reached the summit. Totally worthwhile as usual; the views are amazing.

Anyway, today was our last day in the Pyrenees. After the ride, we packed up the car and drove 400km to Basque Country (Euskadi) which is where I am now.

Tomorrow will be an adventure. Basques are into cycling big-time so I am keen to check out the local scene.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Day 2 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Port de Bales and Col de Peyresourde

Today was a hot, hot day in France. The forecast was for fairly cool temps, but by midday the sun was beating down at ~35c/95f. We set out this morning on a 155km cyclosportif route. The first ~70km took us on a clockwise loop north and then east through the Pyrenean foothills. The sportifs really know how to pick the best rides. 

Our first climb was Col des Ares. Its a TDF regular, but nothing too serious; just a warm-up really. The big climb of the day was Port de Bales. It was a 1200 meter beast taking us up to 1800 meters. Bales is most famous for the Schleck/Contador chain incident in the 2010 TDF. Just a few seconds after Schleck attacked, his chain fell off and he lost 38 seconds while putting it back on. Contador took off, left Schleck behind, and went on to win the Tour by, coincidentally, 38 seconds. Some people argued that cycling etiquette dictates cyclists should not take advantage of misfortune (e.g. a mechanical mishap). Others say that Contador had no choice since several other GC contenders responded to Schleck's attack. I agree with Contador. The race was 'on' at that point. 

Anyway, Bales was damn hard. In fact, I would say it was much harder that Tourmalet. We climbed sustained 10-11% sections. It was all very worthwhile, though, as the above-treeline summit was quite spectacular. 

The descent was awesome (fast and dangerous), and then we hit Col de Peyresourde. It wasn't too challenging (10km at 7-8%) but it was a very nice climb through a wide, green valley. Jan Ullrich crashed descending Peyresourde in 2001. He overshot the first switchback and tumbled down a small grass ditch (he was ok). And today I could see how it happened. The descent is very fast and the first switchback appears out of nowhere. Luckily, my Garmin warns me of tight turns ahead.

All in all, it was a long and epic ride: 155km and 2800 meters. Tomorrow is our last day in the Pyrenees before driving over to the Basque Country (Euskadi).

In the Pyrenean foothills early in the day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Day 1 Pyrenees & Euskadi: Col du Tourmalet

Today was our prologue ride. We had to go easy, knowing what lies ahead. The day started with a beautiful climb up the southeast side of Col d'Aspin followed by a descent down to the valley. We then began the day's big climb; Col du Tourmalet. I climbed the west side of Tourmalet last month during the Tour, but wanted to experience the west side. It was just as hard. The sun was beating down today (80-90f) and the pitch was a constant 8%-9% for 12+km. 

After a quick lunch we made our way back to Saint-Lary-Soulan via a cat-1 climb, Hourquette d'Ancizan. It turned out to be a hidden gem. Ancizan appears occasionally in the Tour, but its not well known. We climbed the north side through a stunning valley. In some ways, this little surprise was the highlight of the day. Here are some pictures from Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, and Hourquette d'Ancizan.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

La Marmotte con Pave

I went back to Marmotte this weekend. A group of guys from Pave bike shop in Barcelona were making the trip and were kind enough to invite me. There were nine of us in total: Javier, Raphael, Gordi, Luis, Gerard, Carlos, David, Valentin and myself. 

Saturday was a really long day. The 700km drive to the Alpes took about 11 hours, thanks to horrendous French traffic and frequent toll stops.

Anyway, we finally arrived and ate a great dinner in Bourg d’Oisan. Unfortunately, Sunday’s weather was cold and wet. I think I was spoiled by the weather when I spent a week here in June; it was hot and sunny everyday. We spent a good chunk of today’s ride in the rain and cold. It was quite miserable at times, but luckily, Galibier - the highest pass at 2,645 meters - was kind to us.

All the Spaniards turned out to be very strong cyclists. Back in the US, I can hold my own on climbs. But here in Europe, I pretty much get nailed every day. I hoped to be mid-pack on this ride, but I was consistently towards the back on every climb.

If you didn’t see my June posting, La Marmotte is one of the world’s toughest rides. Its 175km and 5,000m of vertical over 3 hors categorie climbs and a cat-1 (Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier, and finally, Alpe D’Huez. Stage 19 of this year’s Tour went over the final three. It was one of the most exciting stages: Contador attacked early on Telegraphe but couldn’t hold it; a French rider, Pierre Roland, won the stage at Alpe d'Huez; and Thomas Voeckler lost the maillot jaune after 10 days of leading the General Classification.

And, if you are looking for a high-end bike shop in Barcelona, check out Pave ( Javier Mayo is the person you want to see.

Here are some pictures from the trip:
Warming up after Col du Glandon.

This Week's Cycling Adventure: The Pyrenees and Euskadi

My friend from Boston, Dave Andersen, arrives in Barcelona tomorrow. We're heading up to The Pyrenees and Basque Country for a litte bike ride or two.

Here is the loose plan:
  • Wednesday: Dave arrives and we drive to Saint-Lary-Soulan on the French side of the Pyrenees
  • Thursday: Horquette d'Ancizan, Col du Tourmalet, and Col d'Aspin (174km and 3200 meters)
  • Friday: Col des Ares, Port de Bales, and Col de Peyresourde (152km and ~3000 meters)
  • Saturday: likely Superbagnares, Puerto de Portillon, and Portet d'Aspet. 
  • Sunday: we'll drive to Euskadi (Basque Country) for several days of riding. Zumarraga will be our base, as its close to many of the Tour of The Basque Country routes and climbs. 
  • Tuesday through Friday: TBD. We have everything we need for Northern Spain (bikes, routes, Garmin, cash and credit cards), so we'll just take it day-by-day.
  • Saturday: Dave flies back to Boston. 
Stay posted for photos/videos.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Stelvio Footage

I had some time this week to edit my Passo Stelvio footage. Seriously, its one of the most beautiful passes I've seen in Europe (and one of the biggest - 1800 meters on the north side). BBC's Top Gear ranked Stelvio the world's greatest driving road, until they found the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania. 

For a bit more background, you can read my full Stelvio blog post here: 


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Girona & The Costa Brava

I took a (flatter) ride today around Girona and the Costa Brava. It was a nice to see more of Spain's countryside.

Girona was home to many North American professional cyclists in the late 1990s and 2000s including Lance Armstrong, George Hincapie, and Tyler Hamilton. I'm not sure why. Of course, the weather is great, but Girona barely sits at the foothills of the Pyrenees. Its a decent drive to get to the real climbs.

Girona had a very large Jewish population until the Inquisition. I rode around the Jewish Quarter (see pictures below) today, which reminded me of Jerusalem's Old City (perhaps no surprise).

As for the Costa Brava, well, its very nice. I desperately wanted to jump in for a swim, but no one was there to watch my bici.

The day turned out to be much, much longer than expected. I was counting on ~110km, but I botched Google maps in my research last night. The actual distance today was 180km. That is a big difference. I was borderline bonking in the last hour (two cans of Coke to the rescue). And I was quite worried I would miss the last train back to Barcelona (especially because my Garmin ran out of batteries - after nearly 10 hrs. I needed the Garmin to find a small town called Sils where I planned to catch the train).

Anyway, everything turned out fine (worst-case scenario: hitchhike to Barcelona). I got home at 10pm after a 90 minute train ride during which I devoured 3 bottles of chocolate milk, a huge sandwich, and a muffin. Now I am diving into the ice-cream.

Here are some pictures from Girona and Costa Brava:

Girona's Jewish Quarter.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

La Leggendaria Charly Gaul Gran Fondo

I raced in another cyclosportif (or Gran Fondo, as they are known in Italy) last week. This was a 138km race with 3,200 meters of climbing, and there were only two climbs! The event started in Trento and finished on nearby Monte Bondone, the highest mountain in the area. Both climbs were up Monte Bondone; the first up the southern slope and the second on the northern slope.

The event is named after Charly Gaul. He won the Tour de France in 1958, as well as the Giro d'Italia in 1956 and 1959.  

Here is footage from the race. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Passo Mortirolo and Passo Gavia

Two massive passes: Passo Mortirolo and Passo Gavia. Mortirolo is known as the hardest climb in Italy. It gains 1,300 meters over 12km, averages 11%, and peaks at 18%. Armstrong said its the toughest climb he's ever done, and within the professional peloton Mortirolo is known as the "Queen Climb of Europe."

Mortirolo was a typical Italian pass, beginning with a narrow road that quietly leads out the back of a small village. The road looked more like a hillside villa driveway than a legendary mountain pass.  Many Italian passes are hidden in the woods and you cannot really see much for most of the ascent (Stelvio and many of the Dolomite passes are the exception). Mortirolo immediately aimed for the sky, and stayed that way until the last few kms. I really enjoyed the climb. It hurt - more than i realized - because I could feel the fatigue once I got to Passo Gavia.

Gavia is another legendary Italian pass. It is a Giro d'Italia regular and Gavia is best known for Andy Hampsten’s attack in the 1988 Giro (he went on to win the Giro that year). Although it was June, a fierce snowstorm enveloped Gavia. Apparently, the Europeans in the peloton pleaded with Hampsten not to attack as everyone was wearing their summer kits and no one was prepared for below freezing temperatures. He ignored them and gained precious time. The storm was so bad that team cars and race officials were unable to escort the cyclists up Gavia. YouTube has videos of the racers once they reached the finish in Bormio. They are almost frozen solid, unable to speak, and their exposed skin is a glossy bright red.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Gavia. I read several ride reports and watched a handful of YouTube videos, but still waters run deep and I had the feeling that Gavia would be quite a ride. About half-way up the 1,363m climb, the clouds moved in, from above and below. In some ways, the clouds ruined the views, however, I got some spectacular cloud formations, and the sun still poked through occasionally. The climb became more and more surreal as I got closer to the 2,652 meter summit: modern guardrails on the lower slopes turned to nothing more than rope and string, a pitch-black 1km tunnel that I had to navigate with my hands (see photos below), and a road surface that felt like it was built by the Roman Empire. But that was all part of “The Gavia Experience”, a climb I could really only describe as “unbelievable."

The customary pre-ride espresso. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Passo Stelvio

Passo Stelvio is one of the best climbs I've done. I would put it up on the list next to Col du Galibier in the French Alps. I rode both sides (north, then south) of Stelvio today. Its the highest pass in the eastern Alps at 2,757 meters.

The pass was completed in 1825 by the Austrians and its route has not changed since. The north ascent is the more famous route. It has 48 switchbacks up a steep wall. Ascending the south was just as awesome (38 switchbacks), but the scenery is quite different. In fact, the southern side had a wide, green valley that reminded me of Col du Tourmalet and Col du Galibier.

Once I finished the southern ascent, I descended a few kilometers back to Passo Umbrail. It sits on Stelvio's shoulder (so I didn't need to climb) and then descended ~1200 meters into Switzerland. From Santa Maria, it was a 20km loop back to my hotel in Gomagoi, Italy.

Switchback #40 (the northern side has 48). Only 39 to go.