BIKETART DOES: LE COL DU TOURMALET
We shook our legs out after a hilly run yesterday to Montaner, a tiny Chateau village with a restaurant and Cafe. Rising today, the 21st May, we have the biggest challenge of the week so far. After scoring a 5th Fastest time up the Cirque de Gavarnie, I was hopeful to get in a better performance on last year’s Tourmalet ascent and beat a best time.
The climb of the Tourmalet starts in Luz-Saint Saveur, a common place for the mountains we have done and planned this week. The climb starts just out of the Mairie car park, and is relatively gentle in the first Kilometres. At around 18km long, the climb is around 7% average and ramps up to 12% in places. We were skeptical of the conditions and we kitted up and took the bikes off – there’d been a thick dusting of snow at around 1400 metres and we were travelling all the way up to 2,100!
I had packed my Pakajak, leg warmers and some gels and food. I knew the climb from last year, earning myself a 1 hour 40. We turned out onto the road, clicking our GoPro’s and Virbs and set off. I paced off the front, averaging 15km/h on the 6% slope for the first 3km. You head out of Luz all the way to Barege, over beautiful sweeping switchbacks surrounded by deserted chalet houses for the Ski season. The season may have been over, but the oh-so recent dusting was just in eye view. Cold awaited.
The sun was beating down on my head and arms as I rolled up my base layer. My under jersey was dampened by the hot surroundings and I knew this would spell trouble for the later descent. The 2-3 kilometres out of Bareges (A town only housing ski hotels and bars) is notoriously steep, never dipping below 10%. I felt fatigued here and wolfed down a bar in between my gasping of air. 175bpm. Threshold. Onwards.
After Bareges and halfway through the climb, I felt well and had averaged 13km/h up to here. The pace was good and I looked up to see I had just crested the snow line. A couple of days of dusting had given Dutch skiers (who shouted hi to me) the chance to re-wax their snowboards and hit to the slopes just at Super-Bareges, the lower of the two ski stations. I found retreat in the large cliff hair pins here and dipped onto my drops, squeezing the last dreads of the energy barrel into the pedal strokes. Nearly empty.
With 3km to go, I took my music out and focused on the job at hand. I was on point to beat my best time, but now was no moment for hesitation. I resisted the urge to slow, stood forward and rode up the tarmac, icy patches dotting the surface of the beaten terrain. Ghoulish views of the Cafe above scared me into a sense of finishing, yet the last kilometre is the longest of my life. The final kilometre is graced with beautiful hairpins up to the summit, but with a relentless 14% incline. I managed to drag myself up and launch for the sprint, somehow dragging 700 watts out of my legs. I paused the Garmin across from some Motorcyclists and glanced down. 1 hour 30!
I was joined 15 minutes later by David Pearce. We quickly descended and had to stop to warm our gloves up, for we had never been so cold in our lives. The temperature must of been below 0 degrees, and we stopped down at Bareges for Coffee and Chips. Apart from the descent, It was a beautiful ride but definitely better in the warmer climes of summer. We’re planning to do the Aubisque and Soulor tomorrow, an interesting loop from Argeles-Gazost.
I managed 11th overall this year on a 45 minute segment and managed 4.65 Watts per KG the whole climb which I am incredibly happy with – this puts the average wattage at 360~ Watts just below threshold!
The Tourmalet is fabled and the most used climb in the Tour de France. It”s a must do for any racing cyclist. All I have to conquer now is Alpe d’Huez and I will of done the “Big 3”, including Tourmalet and Mont Ventoux.