Today was scheduled as a rest day, but for anyone who knows me, they would know that term does not sit easily with me. I can’t do nothing!
Originally we had hoped to do the classic Tourmelet climb, weather permitting. Thunderstorms were forecast to hit Bagneres between 12 noon and 1 pm rendering this ride and climb as being in the ‘ not too sensible’ bucket.
Instead we opted to do the Superbagneres climb which starts right in Luchon.
Luchon is another spa town so you can guess what breakfast was! Yes, bread only! Hardly the food for a cyclist! So I supplemented this with some coconut cream I had purchased from the local supermarket.
We dropped the paniers for this ride given it was an out and back ride.
The views were simply stunning!
Below are a range of photos from the climb.
The climb is 17 km long. At the top is a currently closed ski village. Great views over Luchon. I managed to fall off my bike whilst sticky beaking and now have quite a nice range of bruises on both legs and gravel rash on my buttocks and thigh! No photos, ha ha!
It was a very fast and fun descent back into Luchon where we went straight to a creperie for a nice galette and coffee.
Being our third spa town we thought we had better visit one and see what all the fuss is about. 15 euro for us into the level with an extraordinary sauna network in a cave that was founded in Rome an times. There is a network of 150 metres in the cave.
After extensive showering and cleaning procedures you enter the complex tunnels where the humidity is 100 percent with air temperatures of between 38-42 Celsius.
You find a seat somewhere in the darkened chambers and sweat profusely. back out for showering before entering the jet pool. We did this cycle 3 times and decided we could not cope with a 4th session in the stunning and incredible cave.
We then caught up with Annie for coffee. We met her in Tasmania a few years ago when she was doing a ride around the state with Prickles. They are about to head off to ride together for 6 months! Annie is now based in Luchon.
On the way back to our accomodation we dropped into a small restaurant recommended by Lisette and Sumi. What an extraordinary hour we spent there.
Bruno is the owner and chef. He was very loud and very, very drunk. He was very keen to impart many thoughts with us. It was difficult to get away from him, but he had a kind heart and although he is jaded with the politics in France, terrorism and yearns to live in a chalet in the mountains, he is a good cook and we had a nice meal!!
So tomorrow we say au revoir to France as we are only 10-15 km from the Spanish border.
What another brilliant day! But before I get into that, a few little oddities from our accomodation in St Gaudens. The accomodation was run by two very strict ladies. You darned not cross them. They swore prolifically in French. They had unusual taste in light fittings!
They also win the prize for the smallest bath award:
Notwithstanding that they did take good care of our babies:
I think they may have underestimated the eating power of cyclists. We were strictly allocated one croissant, one piece of cheese, one slice of ham, one tub of natural yoghurt, 2 pieces baguette. I did manage to obtain a second coffee but that was because I had not had orange juice. I noticed the older lady carefully counting grapes too… but they were a bit soft and most of us passed.
When we packed up our room to depart, this was the view.
We left St Gaudens via the same roads we had entered and headed off towards Valentine. It was cold at 9 degrees and we had bare legs, but well rugged up on our top half.
We ideally would liked to have dumped our front paniers for today’s climb. However it was an unknown factor as to whether the van would be at the top for us to grab warmer clothes for the descent. So we erred on the conservative side and chose to carry provisions for the full day.
We rode through Valentine (6.1 km), Ardiege (8.9 km), Cier de Rivière (9.8 km) arriving at Col de la Hountared at 12.6 km.
We turned right climbing through woods ( what a surprise) but what a nasty little climb this turned out to be, with a 17 % section!
Around the area of Labroquere (17.1 km) we noted the old Roman funeral pile looking more like a section of a fence.
Saint Bernard de Comminges was an impressive village with a cathedral overlooking ancient roman ruins.
We continued through a number of villages including Sarp (21.6 km), Aveux (22.7 km) travelling through narrow wooded valleys along the side of a river.
At Mauleon Barousse (29.1 km) we stopped as the Bike Adventures van was there. After a chat with Andy we motored on as I was not keen for my knee to cool down.
We turned right at this village and came across this sign, indicating the commencement of our 19 km climb.
As with all climbs, Tony has a leave pass to do what he wants. I like to climb on my own, cognisant of my knee and asthma. Today it was to be my back though that would cause me pain!
As you climb it is important to stay mentally focused. Each km there is a sign indicating what exactly average incline is for the next km. The first few were only 3 -to 4 percent. Then they increased to 7,8,9 and 10 percent!
About half way up a couple of ‘young’ cyclists from Canada passed me and cheered me on, in French. Around one of the hairpin bends Tony was waiting to take photos of me grimacing!
I followed Tony for a bit and we came across these cows. They were so cute, with the adults having bells that were ringing. It explained all the cow pats on the road that I had seen too. They seem to just wander and go where they want.
This next photo is as I entered the last km of the climb.
I was very glad to get to the top. My back had been having muscular spasms for over half the ride. I lay down on the grass and did some stretching.
There were numerous cyclists at the top all congratulating each other!
Time to descend. More clothes back on as it is always colder when descending.
We had a fast descent into Bagneres de Luchon. We were the first of the cyclists to arrive and knew we had a bit of time to kill before the van arrived. We stopped at a restaurant and had lunch and then pootled to the accomodation where we did some bike maintenance and enjoyed the sun.
Tomorrow is a rest day. The weather forecast is not brilliant putting a dampener on our previous plans, but we will wait and see what the day brings!
What a brilliant day in the saddle! It was a day full of “oohs” and “wow”! It was not an easy day riding up and down hills, ending up 300 metres higher in altitude than the start.
It was only 9 degrees Celsius when we left Marciac. As we climbed out of town, the mist was rising above the paddocks.
As we climbed a little further and rounded a bend, our first BIG wow occurred. The Pyrenees were straight ahead, snow capped and very inspiring!
We past through many heavily wooded forests today, always climbing. Spinning in our small chain ring, constantly thinking about the days that lay ahead, conserving energy and my knee as much as possible.
We past through villages of Mazous ( 21.7 km), Estampes (24.3 km), and Estampures (27.4 km) and Mazerolles (29.5 km) all very quiet and sleepy. I think we had seen 3 cars at this stage, and about 8 barking dogs!
At 38.6 km we rode into Trie-sur-Baise a large bastide village. We felt it was too early for coffee but picked up extra water and some Lindt 90% chocolate!
The road descended and it was great to ride on some flat!
We crossed the river and climbed into the woods, arriving at Campuzan (49.2 km) to then descend.
At 51.3 km we crossed another river and rode past this flash looking chateau.
The omnipresent Pyrenees kept us very focused view wise! They are getting bigger!! All the time I was wondering which bit we would be climbing through.
Leaving Lassales at 61.2 km we rode up the steepest pinch of the day with a short 20% incline! Nasty! Granny gear engaged!
Brief deviation: Here is a photo showing page 3 of our route notes from today. Leon, who works with Tony at Caterpillar, asked why my km overall each day are less than Tony’s. ( He has noted this from our strava file uploads, being quite observant!). The answer is simple. It is to do with navigation. We are using my Garmin to try and match route notes. That means if we deviate off course ( eg in a village looking for food, drink, just looking around), if that is not in the course route, I will stop my Garmin and start again when on route
Below is the church at St Plancard. We stopped just around the corner and had a light snack before yes, climbing into the woods.
Another inspiring Pyrenees view!
We eventually ran out of woods to climb, arriving in the very busy town of Saint Gaudens. We are now happily ensconced in our hotel, having arrived quite early. Fortunately we were granted an early check in.
There is a very curious art ‘installation’ just outside our hotel. It is moving. Plank by plank this curious structure is moving with the aide of about 20 helpers!
Finally, the view out our bedroom window is just awful! I am sure you will all agree! A reminder of what is to come in the next few days! Tomorrow is another tough day but the weather forecast is promising!!
Barbotan is a thermal spa town full of ‘old’ people. Last year we stayed in another spa town in France, Bourbonne-les-Bains. That town also was full of ‘old’ people. I discovered another commonality today, they have meagre breakfasts designed for ‘old’ people, not cyclists.
Unfortunately not one healthy option available only high sugar cereals and bread and jams. I did ask for ‘fromage’ but got a big shake of the head!! At least the company was good!
We were first to depart the town riding down the main pedestrian strip. I was quite taken with this fruit and vegetable shop, particularly the colours and presentation.
Riding out of town we rode past Lac d’Ulby where there were lots of people camping. We did not stop as the temperature gauge was showing only 9 degrees Celsius. Whilst we had plenty of clothes on our top half, our legs were bare and we were keen to keep them rolling over, albeit slowly as today was short in km and we could not arrive too early!
From the Lac we rode through undulating fields and vineyards. Grapes and maize were the main products.
Villages past through included Cuxtan (9.0 km) and Ayzieu (15.8 km). The next two photos show the views in this area.
One thing we always notice in the sleepy hamlets and villages are just how quiet they are. It is like the people have all been spirited away. They are often ghostly quiet. If the silence is broken, it is generally in one of two ways. The tolling of the local church bell ( and every town has an ancient church) or it is the local dogs we upset.
When the day is short ( km wise) and you can’t arrive at your destination too early you cruise on your bike. You also look for places to stop, take photographs, have a coffee. However today towns with coffee were light on.
The route continued to be undulating with a couple of shorter climbs having 14 percent pinches. That is when you would like to dump the extra kg hanging off your handlebars!
By about the 25 km mark I had dumped my long sleeve jacket and had arm warmers on! It was a balmy 14 degrees!! Ha ha. But the sun was nice.
At the 25 km point we entered Ste Christie D’Armagnac, a small hamlet. The instructions said to “BL, road climbs through arch and then descends steeply (Caution rough lane).
However, the route was totally blocked with fencing closing the road. What to do? That is the advantage of having a Garmin satellite showing local roads. We re-routed and within a few km rejoined the original route.
We planned to stop at Aignan (38.6 km) hoping to find some sustenance. It did not disappoint. Aignan is another bastide town with the all familiar squares. I popped into the small supermarket and found some nice local diced cheese to nibble on. We sat in the sun!
Leaving Aignan we noted the sunny blue skies had become ominously dark in spots, and rain was threatening. The wind had picked up as well.
The rest of the route was as it had been so far, undulating up and down with occasional shorter pinches.
On the outskirts of Marciac is this lake.
We arrived in Marciac well ahead of the Bike Adventures van. We knew we would and had planned to kick our heels up somewhere! After a visit to the boulangerie, we sat in the square enjoying the sun ( that dark cloud having moved on).
After showering and laundering we went wandering visiting the historical buildings.
We then wandered down to the second spire that dominates the local skyline. St Augustine was an ancient convent.
Enter the arch shown on the left and this is what we found!
So another day done and dusted! Tomorrow gets a bit more serious climbing wise as we continue through the foothills of the Pyrenees to Lannemezan.
An 8 am breakfast hosted by an irrepressible Frenchman who had quickly figured my name out and kept calling me “Madame Sharron”. He was keen to talk to an Aussie as his daughter is studying economics at the University of Melbourne.
As we were leaving I had great fun trying to get him to pronounce “ooroo”.
Wet weather gear was the order of the morning with light drizzle. Leaving Villandraut at about 9 am with the ultimate destination being the spa town of Barbotan-les-Thermes.
We rode through Prechac (7.1 km) and just before Les Gilets (11.9 km) we noted Chateau Cazeneuve on the left.
To try and string the day out we planned to stop for coffee at the very first village that had something open. We had been on some gently undulating roads through woods arriving in Bernos-Beaulac (16.6 km), Cudos (21.1 km) and then Lerm et Musset (31.4 km).
We noted the Bike Adventures van with Mike aboard outside a small tabac. 2 cups of coffee later we were back on the road in continuing drizzle.
At Goulade (33.8 km) there is an interesting old church. It looks bigger front on as it has an impressive facade.
After Ciscos (40.1 km) we were riding through miles and miles of Gascon forests for some 15 km. During that time it stopped raining!! Hooray!!
We found Mike on the side of the road in Saint Gor and whilst chatting had some snacks and told him we would likely stop at either St Justin (76.3 km) or La Bastide D’Armagnac (80.3 km). I was keener on the latter, based purely on name alone!!
St Justin was a quaint village but asleep. No one was to be seen! The few shops that existed were closed ( very common in France this time of day).
La Bastide D’Armagnac was only 4 more km up the road. Wow, what an impressive old bastide town from the 1100-1200’s.
We had a very tasty lunch at a crepe cafe. Raw egg, cheese, ham, mushrooms on the lightest crepe I have ever tasted.
The shop next door sold a wide range of Armagnac. If it had been open I may have been tempted to have a taste!
Just as we were finishing up the tandem girls rocked up with Jonno. He was hungry, but the girls don’t eat whilst riding. We followed them up the road to the Notre Dame Des Cyclistes.
I was really looking forward to this visit. Unfortunately it is closed on Mondays so we walked around the outside.
It was only another 14 km to our accomodation in the spa town so off we went in search of a warm shower.
Barbotan-les-Thermes is a curious village, with a very large spa facility. It seems to attract old people ( and I mean people significantly older than me!) to their so called therapeutic waters allegedly capable of curing everything!
I watched a man limp out! I thought, well he is not cured! But then maybe he could not walk at all when he went in.
So now we kill some time waiting for dinner! Looking forward to some tucker but we are not due to be seated until 730 pm!!
Today was a 97 km ride, at touring pace. It was very pleasant as we work our way south towards Spain, and hopefully, no more rain!
The meteorologists got it right. We woke up to shite weather. Pouring with rain, black skies. It did not take long to decide to have a day off the bike.
Besides we we needed to pack up and clean the apartment that had been our home for 6 nights.
We wandered off in the rain for coffee and then had an early lunch at Wok to Work, our third visit. They recognised us. I had been giving my name here as “mink” so that when our order was ready they would call out ” Mink” Mink”.
I found a brilliant shop that sold the most wonderful quality chocolate moulds, at significantly cheaper prices than home.
Then went for a wander up Cours Victor Hugo to the Porte de Bourgogne.
We also managed to upset a French soldier who questioned Tony re his camera use. We decided maybe we would move on out of the square as we were being watched very closely!
Back at the unit we received the call from Mike and Andy ( Bike Adventures) to let us know that they were on their way over to collect us and transfer us to our Bike Adventures accomodation.
Our bikes are now stored with the other riders bikes just off the restaurant.
A final wander of Bordeaux to check out a few other ancient monuments.
Check out the entertainment at the traffic lights. She was talented. She then went from car to car seeking money.
The first ancient abbey is the Eglise Saint Croix, constructed in the 11-12th centuries, attached to a Benadictine monastry from the 7th century!
Next up was the Basilique St Michel, a newer church built between the 14th-16thncentury! So much history in one city makes you a little complacent. The pilgrims stop here on their long walk.
Checked out another confessional box. The seat was marginally better, just!
Heading back to the hotel we came across a children’s scooter race event. What really attracted our attention was the event mascot, a kangaroo!! An Australian animal for a French event.
Finally we ended up in another supermarket. All week I have been trying to source shaved coconut for snacking on. Coconut seems to be a rare product in these parts and I left empty handed again.
One of the things that has surprised us in the supermarkets is the availability and pricing of a wide range of alcohol. Here is the red wine section, with many bottles for only 3-5 euro.
We have now met all our fellow riders and we know three. In addition to Barbara and Jamie their friend Martin is also here, whom we know from last years London to Venice. They all live in London, with Barbara and Jamie formerly from Glasgow, Scotland.
We also have Jonno ( Cornwall, England), Suni and Lisette ( Durbin, South Africa) and Elizabeth and Gordon ( Ottawa, Canada, formerly also Glasgow).
So it is goodnight from Bordeaux. Tomorrow our adventure to Barcelona commences, and my fingers are crossed for improved weather.
Same as yesterday…jumped out of bed at 7 am, ran to the balcony to check the weather ( before my coffee). Well I was a tad excited to be met by this!
The plan today was to check out some of the bastide towns. Between 1220 and 1370 the counts of Toulouse and King Edward 1 of England ordered nearly 300 fortified towns ( bastides) be built in southwestern France. They were laid out to a highly rigid formula, established for military, political and economic reasons.
So we undertook the getting out of Bordeaux crawl, crossing the Garonne. After about 5 km we located the bike track and headed out to Creon ( 25 km) , where we had visited a few days before. The plan was coffee and we found a lovely cafe in the town square.
Whilst sitting there enjoying our coffee we notice a very lone figure in a window opposite us. Using the zoom on the camera this is what we found.
There is also a nice little church adjacent to the square.
Next stop was the village of La Sauve-Majeure, which has a Benedictine Abbey founded in 1079, and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The abbey is also located on the pilgrim route Santiago de Compostela. Predominantly ruins after a chequered life, the abbey remains majestic in both Romanesque and Gothic styling.
I was quite blown away by the Abbey. There is a link to Eleanor of Aquitaine who was a generous donor of funds in the 1100’s towards the construction costs.
Back onto the bikes and off to the next planned stop, Sauveterre-de-Guyenne, founded in 1283 by Edward II of England. The village is sited in the heart of Entre-deux-Mers, the region between the rivers Dordogne and Garonne. Human settlement has been traced into pre history.
Sauveterre no longer has its ramparts which were destroyed in the early 19th century, but it does still have the 4 corner gates.
We met three groups of cyclists here, including an older group from England, a couple from Australia and New Zealand and two younger guys who were making their baguettes up ready to eat.
After lunch it was about 2.30 pm and the weather had started to close in, dark clouds threatening rain. We decided to beat a retreat back to Bordeaux, some 55 km away.
In the morning we transfer accomodation to Bike Adventures hotel about 1.5 km away. We are unsure if we will get a ride in or not for two reasons. Firstly, we need to see about the transfer of our gear and secondly the weather forecast is uber shite.
Thunderstorms are predicted and I can’t see the point of riding, as it is not a lot of fun! Anyway I am sure when the 7 am alarm goes off I will do my dash to the balcony to check!
Oh, one other thing! We have found out that we will know two of the riders on our ride to Barcelona. Barbara and Jamie from England are part of the group of 10. They were on our team last year from London to Venice.
That is what I love about touring with Bike Adventures, being able to renew acquaintances and share cycling adventures and stories!
My body is out of whack! I awoke at 4 am again! I wandered out to the lounge room and looked out the windows to see what was happening in the streets. All quiet but I did see a bloke sleeping across the road outside the closed pub. Sad that he has nowhere to go.
Thankful that I did have a bed, I tried to sleep again and blow me down, it was 8.10 am before I knew it! We had wanted to be on the road by 8 am. Dang! So the first lesson is we are setting our alarm for 7 am tomorrow.
Walking out the front door on the ground floor I somehow managed to walk straight into a bollard, corking my thigh! I felt that all day with each push of my right leg. So the second lesson is, look out for bollards that came at you from nowhere!
The weather was rainy so we started off with rain jackets and headed slowly down Rue de Victor Hugo in slow traffic.
We needed to cross the Garonne on one of the bridges but wow they were busy so we walked our bikes around trying to figure out the best/safest plan of attack. It was hairy and slow going, needing to backtrack and walk our bikes over numerous roads before identifying the correct route
We were on the look out for the cycle track as we had planned to ride this particular path to Creon. Ah, the heavy machinery had dug it up and it was blocked by bollards! Note to self, be careful near bollards!
Finally we found this.
Great cycle path on a disused railway line, with a number of intersecting roads but nowhere near as frequent as yesterday. Arrived in Creon to discover their market was in full swing.
After Creon we continued on the bike track and entered an amazing rail tunnel. It was pitch black upon approach and you could not see ‘the light at the end of the tunnel!’ However upon entering the lights came on. The tunnel would be some 100 plus metres.
We had decided to aim for coffee at Castillon-la-Bataille named after the decisive battle fought between the French and English in 1453. The French won marking the end of the Hundred Year’s War.
The town is also on the banks of the Dordogne, last visited when we rode from Calais to Carcassonne. That was a memorable day as we completed a TDF climb Puy Marie.
Upon leaving the town, we entered a climb that has had TDF activity, judging from the names painted on road. The most frequent names were Bardet, Barguil and Roche. I saw one Froome! I am not normally fussed with Strava cups but was quite pleased to score one on this climb as I lifted my pace out of touring mode, motivated by the signs! I think from memory it was a 1.4 km km climb at a tad under 5%.
We weaved up and down and around a number of villages and vineyards of Saint-Emilion. A very scenic area.
A few km out from the town of Saint-Emilion a hirsute young fellow came flying past me on a really crappy looking bike! So I decided to get out of touring mode pace once more and have some fun trying to draft off him ( as we had been riding into headwinds for some distance now).
After a few km the hairy guy turned left and we needed to turn right. Within a km or so we came across a motor vehicle accident. This is the next lesson of how not to drive in France!
As we entered Saint-Emilion it started to pour with rain. As we climbed up the road to the older village section the surface changed to cobblestones. Now I find them a bit tricky at the best of times, let alone climbing a steep, but short section wet and slippery packed with aimlessly wandering tourists. I felt like shouting ‘ move your arse!’ as I weaved around them still climbing.
In the 8th century a hermitage was set up by Emilion, a monk from Brittany on the northern slopes of the Dordogne Valley. Fortifications began in the 12th century. Today the place is a tourist Mecca, with very interesting architectural heritage surrounded by a plethora of picturesque chateau’s and wineries.
Once at the top we rested at a bus stop waiting for the rain to ease. The following are views from the bus stop!
Heading out of Saint-Emilion we headed to Libourne, a very busy town with crazy traffic. We crossed Le Dordogne again.
To avoid the really heavy traffic we deviated 11 km back towards Creon to rejoin the bike track in safety.
We ended up back by the Garonne.
So before I finish up I need to come back to my title, what not to do. I have two more.
Crossing the Garonne I could hear screaming from water level. I jumped off my bike and was astounded with what I saw. Look carefully at the next photo and you will see that there is a steel cable to the left hand side of the small boat. It would appear the boat has been caught up in the very strong current and is effectively trapped by the cable and strong current pushing it into the same cable. The cable is one of two securing the larger work platform.
The lady kept screaming ( thankfully also putting her life jacket on) as she watched various items of their belonging enter the river.
I qualified as a rinky dinky Aussie surf lifesaver a few years back and there was no way I would jump into that water with the torrid and swirling currents. They needed a tug boat and maybe a jet ski to rescue them!
As we left a car full of gendarmes arrived. Would have been interesting to watch but by now we were both very hungry. So this is a lesson on where not to take your boat in Bordeaux!
So with only one km remaining after having ridden a total of 137 km, peak hour traffic, crazy French drivers and one crazy Tasmanian chick what could go wrong?
Well Tassie girl misjudged a car, left with an almost impossible riding gap of about 30 cm. Not being Peter Sagan resulted in me choosing to ditch my body away from the car and onto a ledge… yes that same leg that was already caning, the one with my ‘bad knee’.
Ouch! But it could have been worse. My bike is fine and the nice young Frenchman stopped to ensure I was ok.
So what a day. 137 km done and dusted. Frustratingly slow in the cities, but ever so pleasant in the country.