We’re back in Madrid after the second part of the Cima Coppi Tour. This was a 5-day-long stretch which took us into the Pyrenees and originally had planned to cross some 9 cols including the Col du Tourmalet, Aubisque and Marie Blanque.
Unfortunately, the day which included the Tourmalet, Aubisque and Soulor was poorly planned on my behalf and had to be axed from the itinerary. Let it be known that the security measures of the Tour de France have increased significantly and the idea of pre-riding the Tour is much more difficult than before. If you want to ride in the same direction as the Tour de France, I’m certainly not going to tell you it’s impossible. However, if you want to ride toward the oncoming riders, the day of the Tour de France, you will be met with massive resistance from the French police. This was a silly over-site on my part thinking that we could ride up to the Tourmalet the same day, something I did in the Giro, albeit in the same direction as the pros. I think it still could have been done, if you wanted to be sneaky, but we didn’t want the battle.
The first day of the 5 day leg of the tour, and what I’m calling Day 3 was as follows:
Sunday the 18th we took the train to Huesca about 70km’s north of Zaragoza and spent the night in the frying pan of the north of Spain. I am telling you, it was crazy hot and difficult to sleep. The next day, the 19th, we departed for Laruns in France from Huesca, a 135km first ‘stage’ which took us over the 1280m Puerto de Monrepos and then over the 1794m Col du Pourtalet into France.
This 3rd day of riding in Spain was a real challenge and certainly pressed us to the limits. First, it was hot…super hot, we’re talking 35-38C kinda hot at around 2pm. The morning was humid, and we left late around 9:30am, and there were these clouds of tiny flies everywhere that would just cover you as you rode unassuming into them. The road in the morning however was fine from Huesca to Nueno because we could use the secondary highway (N-330) for that stretch. At Nueno, things got tough as the roads merged and the only option was the E-7/A-23/N-330 which had construction the entire way up to the Monrepos. We had but a sliver of a lane and massive transport trucks zooming by in a hurry to deliver goods to Jaca. The climb up the Monrepos is about 21km long from Nueno, but not very difficult, however, the conditions made it mentally tough. Near the top there are two tunnels, the first being 1.4km long and the second 600m. Both allow bicycles, but there is absolutely no lane on the side of the road. We were fortunate that one of the three lanes was closed for construction vehicles use so we chose to ride in that lane into oncoming dump-truck traffic to avoid the proper side of the road. When a truck came zooming towards us we jumped of the bikes, stood on the emergency walking ‘sidewalk’ and squeezed against the side of the tunnel and closed our eyes. This should be a measure of how bad it would be riding through those tunnelson the proper side of the road with transport trucks less than a foot away for 1.4km when the tunnel is in normal operation. It is not something I would recommmend, but it’s possible.
The top of the Monrepos is scenic and has beautiful look-outs with Golden Flowers throughout the hills, and that is where the beauty ends. The descent down the Monrepos is horrendous, and possibly worse than the ascent. The shoulder of the road is concrete in many places and divided by a massive crack from the asphalt highway. This crack at times is wider than a 23C bike tire and probably about 30cm deep. If you were to ride over this crack, the results would be horrendous. Add to that, the fact that you then have to choose either the shoulder, which is broken, irregular and narrow, or the highway which is packed with trucks and cars travelling in access of 80kmph. The descent was awful and terrifying…the worst I have experienced, but we survived. I will never ride this stretch of highway again in my life unless there is no other option, or there are no vehicles.
We were strung-out at this point and took a long and much-deserved rest in Sabiñanigo which marked the halfway point to the Puerto into France at about 55km. After the break we were off to Biescas and the heat was starting to grind on Patricia. We took another break in Biescas but pushed on for fear of doing the climb at the hottest part of the day. Well, even with our best intentions, this is what happened, and midway up the climb to Sallent de Gállego near Panticosa we pulled over and scrambled for shade. Patricia was really over-heating and I was right there with her. I think I was on my fourth bottle at this point in about 1.5 hours. After a short rest, we pushed on and had ice cream in Escarilla at the ski resort with another 14km looming large.
The climb to Pourtalet is hard, it’s super windy…or at least was for us and there are short 200-300m ramps of what seemed like 12 or 13% grades. The climb is inconsistent averaging around 6%, but there are many flat portions and many steep portions. Near the top, we had our fill. Thankfully, as with nearly every Puerto/Col in Europe there is a restaurant …or five, at the top where we could eat, drink and watch the Tour de France.
The descent to Laruns was about 30kms and was busy with traffic and went by without too much trouble, although there were many impatient drivers stuck behind motorhomes. We arrived in Laruns, way later than planned around 4:30 along with every other Tour de France fan in France. We had a great couchsurfing host in Laruns and ate fine food for an excellent end to a stressful day.