By Matt Coghlan
First of all, thanks to my wife Claire for looking after 3 kids 8 and under while I went cycling in France – the deal was a 2 week family holiday in advance which was great, but did not help with training as it mostly involved eating cheese and drinking red wine[I do not understand, surely this is perfect training for a riding trip in France? Ed.].
I had always been keen to cycle in France and see Le Tour and decided on a 5 day – King of the Mountains trip in the Pyrenees with Thomson Cycling Tours. The tour was 5 days of cycling including 2 days where we rode part of the tour route and then watched. The tour allowed you to select your group and a bit like Starbucks who do not want anyone to order a small coffee, there were 2 options each day – Performance (nuts) or Extreme (completely insane). My training had been limited, but given I have seen Bruce Swales had climbed the Tourmalet after a heart attack, I assumed I would be OK.
We were based in St Lary Soulan which was a beautiful village in the Southern Pyrenees. Day 1 was a quick warm up with about 500m of climbing which had me worried as I was huffing and puffing like the Big Bad wolf, but I put this down to living at 1000m elevation compared to Singapore.
Day 2 – 62km and 1760m of climbing including Col D’Azet Val Louron and Col de Peyresourde. It was only a week ago, but I actually can’t remember much of these other than the scenery.
Day 3 – Col D’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet in the morning of the Tour, so 1st category climb followed by HC.. Aspin was a beautiful ride and it was fun to ride past the spectators setting up their picnic tables before the race came through. Then on to Tourmalet, 17kms and 7.5% average gradient, 1300m vertical. This was tough following the Aspin earlier, but lots of activity as you rode to the summit. I was finished by the top of the climb, but was happy to get my photo and then make it back to our viewing point at 1km where we say the riders go past. It was great to be so close and see the pros also suffering.
Day 4 – Plateau de Beille. We were riding the last 23kms of the stage to the summit finish. It was also 38c in the shade, so a hot day. The climb is about 17kms with the first 7 or so kms the toughest, so a real grind to get through those. By the time we reached the summit, they weren’t letting riders through, so I had to make do with a photo 500m from the top. It also meant I couldn’t compare my stats to J Rodriguez (Purito) who won the stage, although I averaged about 8km/h and the pros did it in 20km/h. We watched the end of the race and then rode down the mountain with most of the pros (the team leaders and jersey holders went down in the team cars). I contemplated following one of the Pros lines down the hill, but came to my senses as I would like to get home in one piece.
Day 5 was a lazy 55km with 1425m of climbing to finish the week
The Pyrenees scenery and riding were spectacular and I would highly recommend it. Thomson tours were also outstanding with great organization, ride leaders and everything else you need for support. Food and hotel were also excellent. We had about 28 riders in total and it was also a great group.