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Friday, September 05, 2008

Arreau to St. Lary

From Screen Captures

We woke up to sunny skies, and proceeded down the road towards Col de
Peyresourde (1569). The Col was marked on my Michelin map as a double chevron, supposedly well above 8%, but the reality was that the road was straight and didn't feel very steep at all, with nice tail wind helping us push all the way to the top. The only real challenge was a deliberately set brush fire that generated a ton of smoke which forced us to sprint through it. The summit had a cafe where a couple of British cyclists were sitting down, having passed us unloaded. Being friendly, we sat down with them and ordered lunch and had a good chat.

The two of them had done the full Raid tour the year before, and hence could give me information about the surrounding areas. My GPS-set route had us going South from Bagneres-de-Luchon into Spain, but my companions still did not want to brave the hospitality industry in Spain. It turned out that the road I was trying to ride around, D125 had wide bike lanes, so we didn't have to route around it. I also spotted a white road (as described in Raising the Bar). This wasn't on the official Raid tour, but since we couldn't give a rat's ass about that anyway, and the OCD guide gave it good reviews, we decided to go for it and ignore the rest of my carefully routed GPS routes.

The descent from Col de Peyresourde turned out to be just as fast as all the previous Cols, and we arrived in Bagneres-de-Luchon delighted to find a tailwind waiting for us. We quickly rode the flat 18km to Marignac, and turned off onto D44 towards St. Beat. The warm day had left Roberto already with empty water bottles, so he filled up at a cafe in St. Beat despite the owner's unhappiness at not making money off the transaction. The climb up Col de Mente(1349m) felt quite a bit tougher than Col de Peyresourde, ranging above 8% most of the time, but fortunately the sky chose to cloud up at that moment, which made the climb relatively cool.

At the top, I put on a jacket, arm and leg warmers and ate my apple. When everyone had showed up, we first looked at the lodging available right at the top of the Col --- it turned out that while they had rooms, they had no food, so we began the descent towards Col de Portet d'Aspet (1069). All through the descent we tried to find lodging but had no luck because I had stupidly thought that France's area code was 43, rather than 33, so every phone number at every B&B returned a busy signal.

Well, we thus had no choice but to climb the Col, riding past the memorial for Fabio Casartelli. By the time we arrived at the top, Mike was out of water, I was nearly out as well, and Roberto was still climbing. So Mike dumped his saddlebag, filled up bottles at the fountain, and went down to get Roberto. On the climb, I noticed an advertisement for a Logis de France hotel in St. Lary, so I knew we could find something if we kept going. Riding down to St. Lary, we followed the signs to a very nice hotel. This was doubly surprising because the advertisements had announced that it was not just a hotel, but also a bar and a tobacco shop. We ordered the demi-pension, and got a nice suite much better than the 65 Euro charge would have implied. The waitress was also quite pretty, so Roberto went back to the hotel room to get his camera so he could take pictures with her.

Of all the days we had while riding, this felt the most like a day in the alps: 84.5km, 2204m climb.

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