Breakfast – hit the spot, taking on board a lot of baguette, apricot jam and Nutella over a long period of time!
Set to be our hardest day of the trip. The first thing I notice is the vertical scale is wildly different on the laminated pocket direction cards given out by PM for each day, showing the profile of the day. Day 1’s scale went to 500m, today it goes over 4x that to 2200m! We kick off and are soon into the first of the 3 big cols of the day – Col do Marie-Blanque (1035m), about 10k of ave 8% gradient. You can tell it’s going to be steep from the cyclist’s board at the bottom of the climb marking out the gradient in 1km – that coupled by the smell of over-used brakes from the cars descending… The climb’s manageable and good to bash it out early in the day. A rough road surface turns to perfect tarmac 1k from the top making a massive difference, and then onto a great wooded descent.
On to Col d’Aubisque – 20k of similar gradient, up through a ski-station to above the tree line and exposure to the elements – our first big haul but met with a monster baguette at the top. Mark has a hard time but soon recovers. A great descent down steep, cut-out roads and breathtaking views and soon back down into the warmth.
On, on and up again, after 90k’s and two big climbs it’s on another 35k’s to the top of the most famous climb, Tourmalet – hairpin upon hairpin of relentless climbing, probably taking 3 hours to get to the top, through onto the snowline and on an officially Route Barrié closed road. A big haul, but a warm welcome by Ian and Julie at the top and a snack before the 15k descent through La Mongie ski resort with teeth chattering and front wheel wobbling from the shivers running through your body.
Rest at a very unwelcoming hostel, the only downer of the day just when you need a boost. Pathetic dinner finishing off with a natural yoghurt pudding, with three hundreds and thousands failing to jazz it up… Interesting photo collage of Tour de France feats through history, putting our efforts into perspective, the whole Pyrenees was one stage in the 1930s, I recall a total of 372km done on track roads and the heaviest bikes of the times; apparently brandy was the energy drink then…