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.|
|Climbing Col des Ares.|
|In the valley on the way to Port de Bales.|
|Port de Bales.|
|It took over an hour of climbing to reach the treeline.|
|With approx 3-4km to the summit.|
|Col de Peyresourde.|