We've just said Adios to a group of 25 (and for a short part of the Tour, 26), who have cycled from Bordeaux to Barcelona on the ride of a lifetime across the Pyrenees.
It feels like more than 15 days ago that we pedalled out of Bordeaux along the Garonne river, through the famous vineyards, savouring the delights of the Entre Deux Mers wine region including sweet Sauternes and for some, a long… long… lunch. The first few days were relaxed riding with rolling hills, bastide towns, a cycling museum and unpretentious, typical “Pays du Gascogne” towns in the evening where locals played pétanque and we drank beers under the WOR marquee and ate at local Brasseries.
It was great to have a number of past riders return, feeling more like a group of friends on Tour rather than a “tour group” of strangers. We also had our first e-bike rider, Sarah - who apparently doesn’t like cycling much but seemed to love whizzing along on her e-bike!
Day 3 and the rolling hills became bigger as we approached the foothills of the Pyrenees, and the beautiful mountain village of Laruns. Our first climb of the Tour, the famous Col d’Aubisque was shrouded in misty clouds - while we missed the views we had an eerie experience riding in the cloud, the tinkling of cow and sheep bells and the whirr of our pedals the only sounds. “So much more rural” than the Alps.. “The roads so remote and quiet”… were the words of the cyclists.
With 3 days in the gorgeous Pyreneean hamlet of Saint Savin riders had an opportunity to do their own thing - while some went to the Tour de France ITT in Pau, others climbed the Hautacam (and some went for a spa at the famous Thermal springs!). And Tony, well… he just climbed every mountain he could!
“Tour Day” on the Col du Tourmalet did not disappoint - the buzz and atmosphere of thousands of cyclists and camper vans, with lunch 2/3 of the way from the Summit where we waited for the crazy mayhem of the Caravan and then finally the excitement of the riders! “Perhaps the best TDF experience in WOR history” suggested WOR Legend, Frank. The next day we followed in the path of the pros and conquered our own Col du Tourmalet!
It was climb after climb as our legs got stronger, the roads rural and friendly, more cows, sheep and horses than cars - Aspin, Peyresourde, Val Louron Azet… we ate the delicious local soup “Garbure” and the cows licked the salt from our bikes & bodies as we crossed the Cols.
From the famous Bagneres de Luchon we crossed Col du Portillon to take us in to Spain - where the coffee was better and the beers cheaper and while we thought Cava was local, it was buckets of Gin that we joined the locals and drank. We had a Pintxos Party in Arties before conquering the mighty & beautiful Port de la Bonaigua! Switchbacks and rivers - swimming (and floating!) in the cool waters of the Noguera Pallaresa beside our camp.
The quiet Col del Canto (photos of butterflies and bees), majestic Seu d’Urgell with dinner on the portico. We rode in to the wilds of the Sierra dei Cadi where tortilla bocadillo in Tuixent filled our bellies for more climbing up and over the Col de Port (and for those feeling strong, the Port del Comte). A wine degustation dinner at a campground? Yep! Thanks Jordi and Anna - an absolute highlight - over 10 courses and 5 wines… some wondered.. is this a foodie tour or a bike holiday?
And finally the mysterious and mythical Montserrat - the views so superb as we cycled to the rocky massif and stayed overnight, the monks chanting and bells in the morning.
Some thought it would be downhill to Barcelona - but the lure of Tibidabo lookout tempted us (true climbers now!) - and we conquered our final climb (& a final sting in the tail!)! The Mediterranean sea and the sky-line of Barcelona, punctuated by Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. We’d made it! Over 1000kms and countless thousand meters of climbing! A celebratory Pica Pica dinner and speeches from all - thanks for a memorable trip - what felt like a family of friends enjoying (as Melissa put it so eloquently) #foodiebootcamp !
With thanks to our Crew - we couldn’t have done it without you - Michelle, Alfie, Mick and Brian. Top notch! And to Pepe - Directeur Sportif … or should I say, “Co” Directeur Sportif! Thanks to Di for making this possible - without her, we’d all be at home with Max! Thanks for coming, see you next time - Clare