BIKETART DOES : LE CIRQUE DE GAVARNIE
A group of friends and I have been lucky enough to travel down to our house in the Haute Pyrenees at a tiny commune called Sauveterre. After a delay on the Eurotunnel, we arrived 12 hours later at the very bottom of France at the foothill of some beautiful mountains. The dreary scenery of Northern France came and went with the passing rain and – as ever – the French locals have already emblazoned us with incredible stories. At one service station we were asked if we were a Pro team by an old French man. We spoke about our exploits and were lucky enough to hear that he had been standing on Mont Ventoux when Tom Simpson died. A real relic.
On Monday the 18th May we decided to take the trip to Luz-Saint Saveur, only 20km from the summit of Cirque de Gavarnie, one of Europe’s biggest waterfalls. The drive through Argeles-Gazost and Tarbes is a familiar one to my family and I as we usually do a bit of touristy parts around the old Bastille towns. Our Friends joked that they couldn’t see the mountains as a characteristically cloudy day had shrouded the great mountains. Once at Luz-Saint Saveur, we unpacked and kitted up. The car park is situated 1km into the climb of the Col du Tourmalet, a ride we’re hoping to climb later in the week. We were skeptical of the temperature at the top of Gavarnie so packed an enormous amount of jackets, gloves and scarves and braced the worst as we descended quickly and swung left into Saint Saveur at the base of the climb.
The climb up to Gavarnie is around 20km long, although we believed it to be 30km at 4% which gave us some fright to the length. At the first ramp up a gentle 4% graced our legs and we had a quick opportunity to group up and shake the lactic out. Wide and stunning views were slapping us bang in the face, the hot sun beaming down on us. I’d opted for a long sleeve baselayer, although I have to say I was baking hot. Me and David Pearce rode together for the first 10km, sweeping ramps never creeping over 7% which gave a lung tester but not something incredibly difficult. In terms of heart rate, my BPM never went over 165 in the first 10km which gave me good hope for putting in some harder efforts further up the climb. The climb is a Unesco world heritage site so is incredibly beautiful. It is not used by the Tour de France at this stage because of it’s protected status, and rightly so.
Sweeping hairpins and incredibly scenic views gave way to rushes of water, the torrents bashing on ancient rocks in the valley to my right. I’d distanced the group of riders (The Tourists) and was nearing my threshold and really pacing on. One corner turned and graced me with a deafening headwind from the peaks above as snow capped mountains dipped in and out of sight to the ebbing and flowing of my pedal stroke. Utilising the aero position I managed to find that extra 1/2 km/h. Time trial onwards.
The 7% ramps were getting more and more frequent and the climb was around a 4-5/10 on the hardness scale. I found my legs tiring and fatigued but I was never gasping for breath. Towards the last 5km I knew the end was coming and I’d swept up through a beautiful church and the EDF Hydroelectric power station. The force of the water distracted me from the searing lactate and my paced breaths on the climb. A last bout of energy gave me the strength to power on and eventually I crested into a beautiful town which was Gavarnie. The backdrop of mountains was in touching reach and the incredible scenery was panoramic behind my lenses. I stopped the Garmin at 1 hour 6 minutes. When the team re-grouped we rode up to the gravel track and took beautiful photos of the climb. I loved the luscious track and Waterfall and it was amazing to see beautiful Donkeys ready to hoist people up to the foot of the Cirque. An incredible ride.
I was lucky enough to get the 5th Fastest time this year on the Cirque de Gavarnie segment, something I am really happy with considering the progress! It was great to be out and fly the Biketart flag, and I will be building for the Col du Tourmalet later this week!