You have to be patient with this ride.
It started quietly through corn fields and quaint villages for many kilometres. The build up, ever so slowly, made me itchy and impatient at times. But, not unlike purposeful and deliberate foreplay, the tension and enjoyment increased rapidly toward the Solour and finished with a big crescendo on the Col d’Aubisque summit.
We could have taken the same busy road to Bielle that we had ridden the previous day, but my mud map showed a smaller and quieter road along the other side of the river. It seemed straight forward but somehow we managed to get lost several times before even reaching Bielle.
It wouldn’t have been a big deal. The villages Beost, Louvie Soubiron, Aste-Beon etc. are very cute and worth a visit. But have you ever noticed that the smaller a lane, especially when lined with houses, the steeper it appears? Five kilometers into our ride, and I felt myself g etting increasingly cranky with the 15% dead-end roads, straight up the side of the valley.
It was all forgotten, once we were on our way, the correct one! If you like to warm up on brutally steep village lanes, go knock yourself out in these villages. Otherwise, just follow the signs to the municipal campground from Laruns and then stay close to the river. The D240 is actually flat.
There was a brief moment of confusion in Louvie, when we looked for the way to Pe de Hourat only to find Pedehourat on the street signs. Once, this was worked out, we followed the Route de Capbis, corn fields to our left, mountains looming to our right, all the way to Asson. Finally we turned right, towards the mountains.
We briefly stopped at a little hotel restaurant, because by now we had ridden over 40km and already eaten our last bars and bananas that we had still found in the motorhome. Grocery shopping hadn’t been high on our priority list those days.
With all the climbing still ahead of us, no knowledge of food sources at the Col de Solour, and a group of cyclists sitting outside under the umbrellas on red wire chairs, we thought it was a good idea to stop for lunch. Bad move! We officially had the worst meal of our entire trip.
The place looked like a school cantine and the only vegetarian option (possibly the only thing on the menu at all), a soupe de legumes, turned out to be a packet soup! Maybe this was the reason for the rather sullen departure of the Dutch guys shortly after our arrival? Later we found two restaurants and a couple of food stalls with delicious regional produce (cheese and honey) at the Col de Solour.
We we sat off again, the road still only a mockery of a climb with a very low gradient through lush green forest along a creek. The Dutch guys had already raved about the running water providing for much wanted coolness. Yes, we were heading into the right direction but it was still not climbing, yet.
Not that the ride had been dull so far. Quite the opposite! But like on a slow burner of flat French roads, teased and tortured by meaty mountain views, I was ready for it. The easy rolling had me wanting more. Enough of this playing! Oh, I was aching to push my pedals up the mountains really badly.
I didn’t have to wait long anymore to get what I wanted.
The nearby Cirques of Troumouse and Carvarnie might be more spectacular than the Cirque du Litor but what opened up to our eyes with every pedal stroke was breathtaking.
The long, flat approach along the valley and around the bottom of the mountain group was paying off. As a reward for being patient we enjoyed almost an hour of changing views over to the amphitheater-like wall of the Aubisque road. What a treat!
By the time we reached the Col de Solour it felt like we had been riding for hours.
The sheep cheeses from the cart at the car park of the Col de Solour was so delicious that Alberto couldn’t help but buying a piece just small enough to fit the jersey pocket.
Col de Solour
Distance: 11.5 km
Average gradient: 7.7%
Elevation gain: 875m
I impatiently hurried Alberto to press on. There would always be another time for cheese tasting. As tempting as it was to descend the Solour to Argeles-Gazost just to add another climb, it was getting late and we had to turn right towards the Col d’Aubisque, a short 7.5km of only 4.7%! But what beautiful scenic kilometers they were! Looking down the steep mountain side, I could picture how Wim van Est overshoot a corner in the 1951 Tour and I was glad we were climbing and not descending.
There were cows on the road to photograph, and sheep and their shephards and all the distraction ensured that I beat Alberto to the line on the Aubisque. What a show down!
Col d’Aubisque from Col de Solour
Distance: 6 km
Average gradient: 5.2%
Elevation gain: 315m
The descend back to Laruns was so much fun that we raced the cars and for the first time in my life I knew how it feels to be held up by a slow driver. I was stoked. So this is how descending should feel?
The descend was also so scenic that I definitely had to climb the Col d’Aubisque from this side before we left so the very next morning Alberto and I hit the slopes straight out of Laruns. No warm-up, no foreplay, no teasing and aching and impatient waiting this time.
We didn’t muck around. It was tempo riding for me all the way. My legs felt surprisingly good, considering the climbing we had done the previous two days.
Only at the already familiar summit did I allow myself some distance gazing and mountain scenery admiration. It was time to say Good Bye to the French Pyrenees and France for now. I felt sad. Who cares about Spain? Well, I revised my opinion about Spain’s climbs soon enough.
Distance: 16.7 km
Average gradient: 6.9%
Elevation gain: 1150m