2010 Cima Coppi Tour – Day 12 – Pamplona > Laruns

The love affair was over. Everything was different now. I struggled up the broken asphalt slopes of the ridiculously steep first km’s of the 735m Col’Haritxarte from Urhandia towards the heavy, thick and grey sky which enveloped the coming 841m Bestako Lepoa, 905m Ilhareko Lepoa, 1029m Col Inharpu and finally the descent to the 966m Col d’Ibarburia. Then, it would be further down into the valley only to go back up once again to the 832m Col de Lecharria (Arangaitz). This road, although seemingly consistent on the map profiles, is tough, it’s more than tough, and I later understood why there were 6 separately labeled Cols within about 18km.

I had already checked off two Cols (801m Erro and 922m Mezkiritz) earlier that day as I climbed up and shot down the roller-coaster slopes toward France and out of the warm, sun baked hillsides of Spain from Pamplona. The top of the 1029m Col d’Ibañeta, was the third col, where I proudly displayed three fingers in the photo for each of my conquests that day, before descending the other side toward the dark, wet and gloomy French frontier. After the relatively flat trek through Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port and onto Bastida toward Mendive I, suddenly, was lost. I didn’t take long at all under the cold and dark sky in France to grow impatient with my way-finding, or lack thereof. I rode on and then doubled back, adding about 15km to the day. I was looking for the D417 and only after asking locals where to go, and being warned that I didn’t want to go that way, I found it. Now, my enthusiasm was gone. The love affair was over. My cocky ‘displaying-of-fingers’ seemed childish in hindsight. As my legs screamed for respite, again and again, against my will, my mind thumped the words “Please. Flatten. OUT”.

Final Numbers for the day
Pamplona > Laruns: 190km (717km – 5 days)
10 Cols – 801m, 922m, 1057m, 735m, 841m, 905m, 1029m, 966m, 832m, 1035m (3250m gain)
Average speed: 26.4kmph avg.
Time: 7hr12min.
Bike Map: 636851

What. The. Hell? How do they even pave roads like this anyway? Do they use a helicopter to lift the machine to the top of the slope, fill it with asphalt, release the brakes and kamikaze down the hill? I tried to think of more positive things. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I had the pleasure of being caught between two cars headed in opposite directions on a road that could only fit one. I pulled off to the side and after a few seconds of maneuvering and the downhill car carrying on, I had the pleasure of seeing the uphill heading car progressively make it’s way downhill. Backwards. With every attempt to further it’s progress up the hill, burning clutch and e-brake riding, I took unfortunate solace in the fact I wasn’t the only person cursing this blasted hill. I could no longer see the car behind me as I continued up, and it never passed me, so I don’t know where it ended up, but perhaps he gave up.

Up and down the road climbed up. Flattening out and then ramping up. I tried to not think about the impending west ascent of the Col de Marie-Blanque, and it’s final three km’s that averaged 11.5, 13 and the final km @ 12%, that was to come later that day. I tried to think of good things — the new Arcade Fire album, the tickets I bought to their show for Patricia’s birthday, anything. But. It didn’t work when the road went up.

I finally crested the top of the Inharpu exhausted. It had been 100kms now, and either that road was twice as hard as the profile and numbers suggested, or I was just running out of gas. So, I stopped to eat a giant bocadillo. I started feeling weird, and not in a good way. I felt a heat growing on the back of my neck, like I was over-heating and couldn’t control it, it was warm and humid. I turned around and, practically jumped out of my lycra, as right behind me was a massive wild horse, breathing down on me, probably wanting to eat my sandwich. Fortunately it didn’t stomp me into the ground when I freaked out, because it freaked out as well and ran for the hills. I picked up my bike and relocated, only to learn that I was blocking the path sitting where I had been. This things was the size of a Clydesdale and I guess he thought at about 2000lbs he could tip-toe past me. I’m just glad he didn’t kill me.

I descended into the valley below and tore across the flats toward Escot. A couple of short climbs en route and I was back on the N134 highway heading toward what eventually becomes the Col du Somport into Spain. I knew the road and I was nearing Escot, the tiny village at the bottom of the Marie-Blanque.

I wanted to kill the Marie-Blanque, and I thought at only 9km I could. I knew how steep it was. I’ve climbed steeper slopes before. In fact, I believe I climbed steeper slopes earlier that day. Cars easily go up the Marie-Blanque. Hell, RV’s go up the Marie-Blanque, I thought. Bam, I was in Escot and I had a second wind. I tore into the first of 9 ever-steeper km’s like a rocket.

The Col du Marie-Blanque is like an exponential curve. It starts out flat, and like some sick torture-instrument of a road it ramps up. Sure, the last km at 12% is one less than the penultimate km at 13%, but that’s splitting hairs. The Marie-Blanque has appeared in the Tour de France 14 times, first in 1978, and it was in that year when Bernard Thevenet later said “I feared [Marie-Blanque] because I didn’t know it, though friends had told me how hard it was. On that climb I went through one of the worst experiences in my life.”

I was still flying, as the road ramped up to 5%, but I wasn’t feeling as confident now, not because it was steep, at this point 5% is not, but because I felt tired. It had been a long day and I was approaching 150km now. If I had a second wind, it was but a gust.

Spanish cyclist Fernando Escartin, and winner of the king of the mountains jersey said of the Marie-Blanque “As far as the Pyrenean climbs go, I think the Marie Blanque is one of the hardest there is. It’s only 10km long but there are 4 or 5kms that really make you suffer.”

Now, I pounded into km 5 and the sign on the side of the road let me know I was at 7% for the next 1000m. I was still spinning fast, but slowing, I pushed with my finger on my ergo-lever and it pushed back. What? No way. I looked back and found it was true. I was already in my 25 tooth cog. My last of 10 cogs. I was spinning well, but I was in trouble. With four km’s left I was not longer spinning quickly, I was grinding up the greater than 10% grade, and with two km’s to go, at 13% I was in survival mode. After 6 hours of riding and some 2800m of climbing, my legs were done, and Marie-Blanque was beating me while I was down.

I wanted to do the Marie-Blanque in 30 minutes. At 9km I thought… ok, 18kmph average with the first four km’s pretty tame, I can do that. No even close. With two km’s to go it was Triplets of Belleville time, five to eight rotations sitting, and then three to six standing. My hands were so sweaty, I could hardly hang on to the bars without them slipping. As I climbed slowly past the last km sign, I was broken. Down to watching the km’s tick by on the computer I gave it everything I had, but with it reading 149.21, 149.22, 149.23 and on and on. It was tough going.

With 250m to go, I sprinted it out to get it over with. It probably looked like I was trying to show off, but I just wanted the pain to end. I collapsed under the sign at the top 42minutes and 9km after I turned right onto the road up in Escot. It was horrible, but it was over. The names Aubisque, Soulor and Tourmalet were now ringing through my head, reminding me that tomorrow the climbing really turned up another notch. I cruised into Laruns 7hours and 12 minutes of riding time, and 190km after I left Pamplona. I slept very well that night.

Final Numbers for the day
Pamplona > Laruns: 190km (717km – 4 days)
10 Cols – 801m, 922m, 1057m, 735m, 841m, 905m, 1029m, 966m, 832m, 1035m (3250m gain)
Average speed: 26.4kmph avg.
Time: 7hr12min.
Bike Map: 636851

The first of the day
The first. Erro.
The second. These short ones came and went quickly.
The third, and still feeling good.
This part was very steep. You can tell by the house, and by the fact cars go backwards here.
...and up and up. SUV's obviously got through.
Getting up there now.
Not quite in the clouds yet, and still going up.
Had there been signs, I would have known this I'd done cols 4, 5, 6, 7 and this was 8
...and this magic number nine.
And finally, number 10, the brutal Marie-Blanque
The road signs list the last two km as 13% and 12.5% Not sure whats more accurate.

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