Sunday 2 October 2016

Tour of the Pyrenees, Day 1: St-Jean-De-Luz to Pamplona; A Warm-Up in Some Hills
67 Miles, 5,843 ft

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Today has been a very long time in the making! After last year’s Land’s End to John O’Groats tour the so-called ‘Elites’ who may now become the ‘Super Six’ decided to do another tour together and the Pyrenees was our destination of choice. So about 12 months ago we booked our places with ACT Cycling Tours. Subsequently we even had a very wet training weekend in the Lake District back in May (see blogs for 29 April to 2 May). So it was great at last to actually be standing on the road in St-Jean-De-Luz ready for Le Grand Depart. So much anticipation; now the reality was upon us. And the prospect of riding together again was brilliant.

The Elites: (l-r) Vince, Nick, Andy, Michael, Geoff, Mark
After a short detour to the beach so we could say that had actually started from the Atlantic coast (Andy was the only one who actually went on to the beach and dipped his tyres) and a group photo all we were off. There are 15 of us on the tour so some new names to remember and some new people to chat about. Sunday morning in Saint-Jean-De-Luz is a fairly up quiet time so we were able to ease ourselves into riding on the other side of the road without having to worry too much about  and the traffic.  In no time at all we were heading south and heading up the first climb of the day – a fairly short and gentle ascent of the Col de Ibardin that warmed up the legs.This also marked the border between France and Spain – with a quick photo call. Then we dropped down a fairly steep and very hairpiny (?) descent to Bera and into the Valle del Bidasoa. Fantastico!

Apart from the stunning scenery, sunny skies and lively banter, two things struck me. First how smooth the road surfaces were and second how little traffic there was. This meant that we could really enjoy our surroundings. So much so that we relaxed and began riding two abreast on what, back home would be a fairly major ‘A’ road. Our enjoyment was somewhat shattered by a loud hailer announcement of “Hombres - uno!” as a police vehicle, complete with flashing blues, passed us by. Oh dear, a potential diplomatic incident within the first 20 miles. So we tucked in behind each other and continued on our way to the first feed stop at Sunbilla where Martyn and Amanda were waiting for us.

Stunning scenery near Salidas
After refreshing ourselves we set off for the main climb of the day – around 15 miles through some fabulous forest. At an average gradient of around 3% with short stretches up to 6% it wasn’t very steep, just long. Sweeping hairpins added to its interest, though the longer, straighter parts were more challenging mentally. Every so often, spectacular views opened up which helped to show how far we were climbing. After about 90 minutes, we reached the top, regrouped and headed off on a fantastic descent – fast, sweeping curves with smooth dry road surfaces – bliss!

Roadside repairs!
Sadly, all good things come to an end and we reached the bottom of the valley for our second refuelling stop. Then it was a fast blast towards Pamplona, slightly marred by a succession of mechanicals – one puncture, two chain unshippings and one broken chain. But the team was well up to the challenge and it was great to see everyone pitching in and helping friends who had experienced some bad luck. Who knows? Tomorrow it might be my turn to need some help.

All too soon we were into Pamplona, riding through the outskirts and into the historic old part of the city to reach our hotel. Unpacking, I discovered that I had left at home the cable that connects my camera memory card to my iPad so the photos will have to wait until I get home.  Aargh. And if I was told this was the route for tomorrow, my only comment would be “What time do we start?”

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