BIKETART DOES: LE COL DU SOULOR
Following on from my special segments on the Pyrenees, our final climb of the week came to be the Col du Soulor. Forming the first half of the Aubisque climb, we could not finish the whole mountain due to Time Constraints (and some tired legs) so we conquered only the first Col. Starting from Argeles-Gazost, this climb is around 19km long and is an average of 4%. This sounds quite gentle but the reality of the climb can be a bit harsher than it sounds. On Friday 22nd May we made our way towards Argeles and got unpacked in the town square. The weather had been particularly inclement and the previous day had seen blisteringly cold temperatures atop the Col du Tourmalet – We wouldn’t be climbing as high, but cold temperatures aren’t uncommon at Soulor’s 1,474 metres.
From Argeles we set off with tired legs, GoPros and virbs at the ready. I went off the front and pushed on, expecting a somewhat less challenging day than the Tourmalet. The first couple of Kilometres scratch between 4 and 8% which can sap the legs. After the first settling and picturesque views the climb levels out and stays around 3-4% which allowed me to get on the drops and really push on. I had no company at this point and already had a bit of a burning hunger which suggests, for me, I’m a bit too tired for riding. I sucked in an energy gel and kept the pace high as the now piercing sun crept out from behind the clouds. I wish my base layer was off.
Eventually you come to a flatter section (and even some downhill) at the entrance to Arrens-Marsous. The small principality-looking town had barely anyone on it’s streets, lying just below the cuffs of the beautiful Pyrenees landscape. I gritted my teeth and pushed over a tiny cobbled sector (this is France, not Flanders!) and saw the road jot out to the right above me. 8km to go. The real climb.
The beating rays drenched my back in sweat as the climb started for real. The final 8-9km does not dip below 8% pretty much the whole way, and low the day old Lactate – uncleared from the Tourmalet – was re-searing my muscles. The air was remarkably thinner (I put this down to the heat and humidity) as I scratched for my breath. A swooping right glance to the hairpins below never revealed a soul behind me. A sign informed of this climb’s inclusion in the tour way before my time in the early 1900’s. The history on this mountain is irrevocable, yet I’m climbing on a carbon machine. Oh, the days of cotton and amphetamines.
With 4km to go, a nasty 16% ramp before a cattle grid sapped even the last bits of energy out of my legs. I knew I could climb the rest, but the mental torture of best times and diet had rid my exhausted mind of the mental capacity to drive on. Still, my legs turned and my lungs expanded, pushing the machine and it’s tired compatriot forward, to the summit. Some of the more interesting hairpins were swept up by Caravans and Spectators in the Tour, but were now strikingly pronounced under the weight of my Bike and I. A tractor pushed to over take me and I was convinced I had more horsepower left than it did. What a place to nurture a farm.
The final Kilometre sign came with utmost relief. A slight chill and headwind had graced my damp legs as beads of sweat trickled underneath my helmet. I’d opted to wear my Met vented helmet for the climbs, otherwise I would of cooked in an aero machine. The peaks and snow-capped crests were coming into startling views as the last metres were eaten up by my legs. A Canadian cattle grid halted my progress, the metal parts jutting out and stopping my progress. Alas, the summit was upon me as the last dredges of energy summoned relief from my tired lungs as I rolled over the top. End.
Once at the top, a refuel and drink came in beautifully. From here, the Cirque de Litor becomes visible in panoramic wonder, the clouds blocking out the view of the Aubisque. We stopped for a Cafe Creme and Matt Green was the next man up to me, 15 minutes back. I was pleased with my time of 1 hour 22 minutes. I’d recommend this climb to most riders but will warn of the last 8km at 8%, it’s really hairy and can be touch and go at some points on tired legs. We suited up and descended back into Argeles, before returning to England the next day. I’ve had a fantastic week and come away with some really good results! The next section of my season is going to be concentrated on time trialling.