Day 3: Monday
The day did not start out the way we wanted. With a planned 160km of riding we were looking forward to a hearty breakfast. Instead we were presented with a basket of pastries, and some coffee or juice. No protein. Nada. I know it’s France and the French way but the half of our group that stayed in the other hotel had a full buffet breakfast with bacon, eggs, sausage, potatoes, deli meats, cheeses, cereals, etc.
There was also a lot of confusion and chaos surrounding what to do with the bags and bike boxes. Maybe it’s just the French way… Eventually things got worked out but we stood around for more than an hour.
Once we got that sorted I checked the route guide book for the day only to find that the turn-by-turn directions were based on starting at a different hotel – not the hotel we were staying at but the one that the other group were in! Very disappointing as I wanted to pre-program my Garmin with the directions so I could ride the route at my own pace instead of sitting behind the tour guide.
Further compounding the issue was that the destination for the day in my guide was not actually where we were going! Chaos!! Oh well the people on the trip are great, the weather is great, and I’m riding my bike.
Lunch was at a shady restaurant and not very good. Location was excellent – right at start line. Sadly we missed the majority of the ceremony around the start and most of the sign ins, etc. Also didn’t get to take in town festival present at all start towns. This was because we stood around for more than an hour while we waited for the guides to arrive. Yes we were early – getting to town at 11:00, but the guides didn’t show up until 12:15. Our meeting time was 11:30.
Samatan was the destination as it was the start of Stage 15 of Le Tour. The start city of a Tour de France stage is completely transformed into a carnival. Media trucks, team trucks, buses, tour groups and thousands of fans and cyclists. The start provides a great opportunity to get up close to the riders and grab a photo or an autograph.
After Le Tour departed we got back on our bikes to ride to the town of St Gaudens. In St. Gaudens we could choose to get on the van and be shuttled to the hotel for the evening, or ride the additional 50k or so. I chose the van (Part A & Part B). Steve chose to ride (Part A & Part B).
Day 4: Tuesday
Col de Peyrasourde & Col d’Aspin. Oh yea!
Route was great (Strava Chris & Steve). Climbs were great. Picnic at the top of Aspin was excellent. Great location, great food selection. Some umbrellas and blankets are needed – no shade from burning sun, and the area is an open cattle grazing field… so there were lots of cow patties to avoid. But thankfully the van was there with food, water and snacks for everyone. A great way to spend a few hours while waiting for the rest of the group to make their way to the top.
Post-lunch we hit the road for a wicked fast ride down the mountain to the town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre, complete with a stop to put our feet in a mountain river. We were hoping for icy cold mountain water but it was more like refreshing and cool pool water. Regardless of the temperature it felt nice and was a good break after the climbing and descending.
Late that evening we went to dinner at a cool restaurant with a patio in the backyard surrounded by a lush vegetable garden. Dinner was fish and mushroom soup to start, with duck as main course. Not good for a guy like me that doesn’t like duck or mushrooms. But for the rest of the group they seemed to enjoy it.
Day 5: Wednesday
100k loop to do Tourmalet. Van support was terrific. Route was excellent. Ride was a challenge but with a 50,000 or so fans lining the 18km route it was easy to feel like a pro.
After the riders passed us and flew down the back-side of the climb we hopped on our bikes and gave chase. It’s a thrill to ride downhill at 70km/h and not have to fear oncoming traffic or obstacles. The roads had been immaculately prepared for Le Tour.
At the bottom of the pass we found a bar and settled in to watch the finish of the stage on TV. It’s a cool feeling to ride into a bar with 50 other cyclists, grab a round of beer for the table (2.50 Euros each!) and watch the finale. The international make-up of the tourist riders here is astounding – but we are all here because of our love of cycling, and Le Tour.
The bar was in a town called Campan, about 5km from our hotel. This meant we had a furiously fast downhill 5km ride with a couple beers in our bellies. FUN! I think I should start drinking a couple beers before every ride as I finished the 5km stretch with an average speed of 48.6km/h!! (Strava segment link)
Late in the evening we boarded the bus to head out into the country for dinner. We made a few wrong turns along the way but eventually arrived and were met with a wonderful evening of music and food. If you like caribou.