Final Numbers for the day
Saint-Girons, FR > La Seu d’Urgell, ES: 175km (1114km – 8 days)
1 Col – 2408m (2980m+ gain)
Average speed: N/A
Time: ~?? (With all the stops, it took all day)
Bike Map: 714322
Seven miles greater than an imperial century, and over 10,000ft of climbing, touching three distinct countries. The penultimate day of the 2010 tour was an excellent expression of the entire trip in one long day. Although I didn’t have 21 days of riding available to me, I tired to structure the solo portion of the tour, days 8 through 16, in similar fashion to a grand tour. Today was my equivalent of the decisive final climb before the rolling stage into Paris, Madrid or Rome. Only, for me the climb wasn’t Bola del Mundo, Angliru or Ventoux, it was the highest road in the Pyrenees – the 29km, 2408m (7900ft) Port d’Envalira.
Andorra is a rather odd country and that is meant in a complimentary nature. A tiny sloping valley through the Pyrenees, the country was owned at one point or another in co-sovereignty by the Bishops of Urgell in Spain and Foix in France. That was until a massive dispute that fractured their little friendship and in 1278 it was granted independence, country status and amongst all other bizarre things co-sovereignty to be shareed amongst the Bishops of Foix and Urgell. Strange? Perhaps I’m confused. Or perhaps the girl at the tourist information desk was confused after we were onto our third language – English. I had already failed understanding the history in Spanish and French. She seems to think it was simple.
Having just been through Foix, a flat winding route about 60km from the days departure point of Saint-Girons, I was quite happy to know that my route, to me, shrunk the world a little. The route was like a historical bungee-cord extending through the valley from Foix, up into Andorra and back down into La Seu d’Urgell. However, before I jump ahead too far, beyond Foix, lies another flat bicycle jaunt onto the village of Ax-Les-Thermes a very popular hot-spot for the Tour de France since 1933. Along these valleys there almost is nowhere else to go but forward, back and up. The N20 highway slices through the mountains all the way from Foix to Ax-Les-Thermes with little change. In case you’re wondering Ax-Les-Thermes, essentially means ‘Hot-springs’ as the area is not only a hot-spot for the Tour, but also for Thermal water and there are many springs to bath in around the area. This years Tour de France hit Ax-Les-Thermes again and finished at the ski resort of Ax-3-Domaines with Christophe Riblon winning stage 14 on the cat-1 climb.
From Ax-Les-Thermes heading south along the N20 highway it’s all up for 29km into Andorra. Unusual for Europe, the border dividing France and Andorra is not at the Envalira itself, but instead about 10km below the peak further down the mountainside. This can be a little dis-heartening when you find out at the border control, another unusually old-fashioned feature in the very open EU (but Andorra is not an EU member), that you’ll still have another 30-40 minutes of climbing beyond the passport check. The road from Ax, up into Andorra, is not difficult but it certainly is long and likely one that doesn’t see many cyclists. Their are however, massive amounts of cars as everyone from this part of France flocks to Andorra for cheaper products. What this means is slow moving traffic, and plenty of opportunities for people to taunt, cheer, take photos, inquire if you are a Tour de France rider, offer you food, drink etc while you sweat away on the extremely time-consuming climb.
Andorra is nothing but shopping mall and gas stations. That is what your first thought will be when you climb into Andorra from France. Once past Pas de la Casa, the shopping mall town, you’ll be alone to crest the Envalira, as unless someone is going up there to get gas, they’ll take the tunnel. Does it seem odd to anyone else that the feature at the top of the highest road in Europe is a gas station? How much gas does it take to get that gas up there? Anyway, the top is sublime, the views spectacular and the route well worth the effort. It is an excellent accomplishment to tick off the box beside Envalira, as it is one of the highest climbs in Europe.
From the peak it is all downhill through the many parishes toward the capital Andorra de la Ville. I searched for a hostel here, which is about 5kms up the mountainside and totally remote, so much so, I climbed half the hill and turned back thinking I was going the wrong way and then had to climb up again, only to find I had not only dropped my gloves on the road, but it wasn’t going to work staying there for the night. so I pounded on, out of Andorra and to La Seu d’Urgell in Spain, the former capital of Urgell. This did add about 20kms to the day, but it turned out to be a good decision as the hostel and city were wonderful. I slept well before the final day onto Lleida.