Thursday 6 October 2016

Day 5: Sort to Saillagouse: The Big One
70 miles, 6,781 feet

Click here for Route Flyby

Today was going to be a day of two's. Two quite different climbs and two countries. First up after leaving Sort was the Coll del Canto. This is a Category 1 climb that featured in this year’s Tour de France. It was also the climb that Alberto Contador finally abandoned his Tour de France on having crashed earlier in the race. The Canto is about 12 miles long and rises 3,396 feet at an average gradient of 5.5%. The first part of the climb is probably the hardest in terms of steepness. Gradually, as you gain elevation the gradient lessens. The climb is marked by a series of hairpins which add to the sense of occasion.

Not quite halfway up the Canto
Leaving Sort I headed upwards, setting a pace that I hoped I could sustain for the next 90 or so minutes that I expected the climb to last. As I rose ever upwards the views were spectacular – deep valleys with mist and low cloud hanging to the hillsides with the mountain summits peeking out above.

Still climbing - in the mist
After about 40 minutes visibility closed right down as I rode into the clouds. Now I could only see about 50 yards ahead. Riding in these conditions was quite an eerie experience and also a little disconcerting as I had no real means of gauging the gradient in front of me. But after about 30 minutes I emerged from the clouds and could now see all around me again. Looking at my Garmin I estimated that I still had a couple of miles of riding to reach the top. I eventually reached the summit sign 1 hour and 33 minutes after setting off from Sort. I certainly knew that I had had a good workout – and a really enjoyable one. This was exactly why I had signed up to do this tour!

Made it and what a great climb!
After posing for some photos and a bit of banter with the gang it was time for the descent. As I’ve written before I’m usually a bit of a wuzz at descending; I came off a few years ago and my confidence took a knock – as did some of my body parts. With an amazing bit of good luck I found my descending mojo today and was able to fly downhill, well fly in my terms, over the next 16 miles. With wide, smooth and dry roads I felt quite relaxed about going full gas. This was pure exhilaration, sweeping round the bends and hairpins using the full width of the road. All I really had to do was maintain a light touch on the brakes to scrub off some speed approaching the tighter hairpins, relax and let the bike do the work. Leaning into and out of the bends was fantastic and I felt in complete harmony with my Bianchi. This has to rank as one of my most enjoyable and exciting rides. Sadly it was all over too soon as I arrived at the support van for a welcome shot of caffeine.

Adiós España

Setting off again it was time for part two of the ride and a totally different experience. In a nutshell this was one 40 mile climb at an average gradient of 1.5% all the way to the end of the stage. With a tail wind we seemed to fly along the Vall du Segre. Although the mountains were still high – we were about 10 miles south of Andorra – this was a quite a wide valley so there was a much more open feel to the forested landscape. In no time at all we were over the border and back into France. No more Spain on this tour.

As we approached our destination at Saillagouse the clouds darkened and a tremendous storm threatened to engulfs us. Spikes of lightening and explosions of thunder were bursting all around us. It was a race to the finish to avoid getting drenched and we made it. Phew!

I finished yesterday’s blog by asking “Could it get any better?” Well the answer is a resounding ‘YES!'

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