13 July 2010

Magnificent day in the Haute-Pyrenees

Today was(is) a great day in France

Stage 9 of the Tour de France was really good to watch today, I am a fan of Andy Schleck. Again there were more changes in the GC order and some surprises (poor Cadel Evans - it looked like his loss of the yellow jersey today hurt in both mind and body). Plus any day I see Paddy Sweeney on the road in the Pyrenees is a good day! 

My day started with homemade yogurt at the very nice charme Chambre d'Hote Chez Annie et Loic where I am staying in Guchan. I then headed out the front door, on my bike, in the cool morning mist. A few km down the road I began the climb up the Hourquettes d'Ancizan. The Hourquettes is a small feeder road that adjoins the Col d'Aspin, I had heard about the climb over the years and never managed to do it until today. It was well worth the wait. Combined with a loop ride up and down the Col d'Apsin, this is now one of my favorite climbs in France (third to Mount Ventoux, and the combo of Col du Soulor and Col d'Aubisque).

It was a great day on the bike. Two very nice fit Belgian men came upon me on the climb and decided they would pace me to the top. I sat on their wheel and felt perfectly cared for. We all shouted out in celebration at the summit. On top I again saw a nice French man who had passed me earlier in the climb. We had chatted for a bit because we had the same bike (a Scott CR1). I waved to him at the top and as he passed me again on the descent, he came by and exclaimed loudly, "I love you! You are very very nice". I burst out in laughter trying to steady my bike. The Horquettes are surprisingly beautiful, definitely one of my new favorite places. 

As the road joined onto the West side of the Col d'Aspin, I happened upon a small collection of cafes, ready for a coke, I pulled over. I heard a clear, "Karen!", I looked over to see Paddy Sweeney from VeloPeloton in Saint Savin where I stayed 2 weeks ago (don't get this place confused with VeloPyrenees. VeloPeloton.com = great, VeloPyrenees.com = terrible). I was so happy to see Paddy again. He is certainly a comfort to be around and seems to turn up in the best places. 

I sat with Paddy and some of his guests on the Raid Pyrenees tour he was leading (pictures from the Raid). In perfect weather I felt no need to rush on. After a good rest, the group headed toward the east side of the Tourmalet and I headed up the west side of the Col d'Aspin. At the top of the Col I had a flat tire (my first of the trip). Again a very nice Belgium man helped me with my tire and chatted. He said that this is the way of cyclists; that we help each other. The descent off the East side of the Col d'Aspin is fantastic (although I wish I could have gone at full speed, but without knowing the real pressure of my tires, I took it easy).
Horquettes Ancizan to Col d Aspin loop bike ride
Ancizan to Col d Aspin to Arreau - a perfect loop ride

Location of the ride in the French Pyrenees

I returned to the Chambre, prepared a lunch, and happily watched the Tour de France online. It was a great race today. 

Some pictures from the day:
Looking down from the Hourquettes to the town of Guchan where I am currently staying (middle left of the photo). St-Lary-Soulan is down valley. Pla d'Adet (think George Hincapie's big TDF win in 2005) is up to the right. Loudenvielle and Col d'Azet is over to the left. 

One (1of 3) of the nice men from Belgium descending the Hourquettes d'Ancizan on the way to the Col d'Aspin:
A nice hidden gem of a road (the locals want to keep this a secret from the TDF):

I should have taken a picture of Paddy and his tour crew. I also should have taken a picture of me covered in road dirt and grease after changing my innertube. Not the cleanest tire repair job I've ever done, but memorable. 

So far I have really enjoyed the Irish, Dutch, and Belgians I have met, plus every French person always says Bonjour! I have only met one other American cyclist during my 3 week span in France. One of the Belgian men asked me today, "Do the Americans come here to ride?", "no, they stay home," I said. Then we laughed. I feel really fortunate to be here.
[I will add a post later tonight about my last 3 days, since I was off the grid with very limited internet for awhile. And also had a not so good day yesterday. At least today made up for the last few days.]

*post post note: here are some pictures from the VeloPeloton.com Raid Pyrenees Tour