No cafe at the top, 4 miles on the freeway, but great ride anyway!

IMG_2388borderesIt’s tough, after visiting Lourdes as frequently as I have, to find new roads to ride, new mountains to climb. Actually it’s not THAT hard; you just have to talk yourself into believing you’re ready to take on another monster after the last one felt like it wanted to kill you. In general, I try not to schedule back-to-back killer rides on days we’re not seeing the Tour de France (like today, which is a rest day for the racers), and I also try not to have a killer ride right before we have to pack for the next stop. So yes, it’s not quite as simple as saying “Let’s do Luz Ardiden, since we haven’t done that one before!”

Long way of saying that, sometimes, the debate over quality & quantity can be a bit complicated. I really didn’t want to subject Kevin to Luz Ardiden, one of the few marquee climbs in the area I haven’t yet ridden. Yet I did want something “real.” So, off to Google and Strava, looking for what others have said and done. Something that would be a lot easier if the hotel’s wifi was more than barely functional. Next time I need a reliable data connection for my laptop, I’m going to get a gsm card just for the laptop.

A few goats looking on as Kevin rides past.
A few goats looking on as Kevin rides past.

So where did we ride? I found this interesting local “col” (French for mountain) named Col des Borderes. Not too far away (the climb starts about 10 miles from Lourdes), some challenging but not impossible grades, not too much traffic, and beautiful scenery. What’s not to like? Only the lack of a cafe at the top!

If you do this climb, I strongly recommend it in the direction we rode (clockwise). You get a great, variable-pitch, twisty & beautiful ride up, with a fast descent that has few views, not too many turns, and long unbroken stretches of steady steep grades. Even with multiple bakery stops this ride takes under 4 hours.

Perhaps we should write a book, "The Bakeries of France." We've visited quite a few.
Perhaps we should write a book, “The Bakeries of France.” We’ve visited quite a few.

Just be careful after descending the mountain… because you can easily screw up and find yourself on the main freeway, stuck there for 4 miles or so. It doesn’t seem like you’re getting onto a freeway because you enter it via a roundabout, and who would place a roundabout on a freeway? Kevin thought there might be a better way out of town but stayed quiet, perhaps wanting to see how badly I would end up navigating us and in fact did later point out the irony of my claim that he has poor navigational skills. But hey, it had a decent shoulder and only one out of four cars honked at us. OK, not really, it was more like one or two a minute… as if I wanted to be on the freeway! Safety was never an issue, just pleasantness (or lack thereof). I’m going to check and see if there’s a Strava segment for it; we passed a group of cyclists with a flat tire, so I suspect quite a few have found there way onto it.

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Recovery day ride

Several questions come to mind. #1:- What is it? Is it the full-sized Druid monolith that Spinal Tap was looking to recreate? #2:- Why the 2 meter, 10cm height restriction to come near it?
Several questions come to mind. #1:- What is it? Is it the full-sized Druid monolith that Spinal Tap was looking to recreate? #2:- Why the 2 meter, 10cm height restriction to come near it?
Today the ‘Tour is having one of their toughest stages with a number of Category 1 (and over) climbs through Spain and finishing in Andorre. Given that it would take 4 or 5 hours driving to get there (no rail access), we skipped viewing this stage. Probably not a bad thing, given two back-to-back pretty tough days, although only yesterday’s climb up the Tourmalet felt at all “epic.”

This is a "col"? About 500 feet of climbing?
This is a “col”? About 500 feet of climbing?
So today became our rest & recovery & laundry day. I mapped out a pretty easy 22 mile ride with just a few short climbs, here in the vicinity of Lourdes. It worked out quite nicely, giving our legs a chance to spin themselves back into shape and let our minds know that not every ride has to be brutal. Nice views, decent roads, not too many cars. Plus, that odd-looking thing at the top of the page! The exact coordinates are 43.081321, -0.072651. Unfortunately, google maps hasn’t yet done a street view for this road. This ride also had the advantage of not traveling on any of the bike path leading out of town… don’t get me wrong, it’s a very nice bike path, but if you return to Lourdes on it, you’re fighting a pretty good headwind.

Meantime, back at the race… pretty much nothing happening. Large break with nobody of consequence (in terms of taking the lead for the race) and, among the contenders, nearly 10 minutes back with 25 miles to go… everyone’s just watching each other. Back in the day, when performance-enhancing drugs reigned supreme and gave riders super-powers, we likely would have seen quite a few attacks by now. In a nutshell, drugs like EPO and various steroids helped keep you going, day after day after day. Without them, you have to very carefully watch what you do, trying not to go too far into the red because that could leave you totally shelled the next day. Power meters also contribute to boring races, because you now know exactly how much energy you’re expending, and can keep track of what the total ride has “cost” you so far. More than anything power meters have taught cyclists that explosive efforts on a climb are inefficient and allow others to gradually claw their way back up.

In the good-news department, I got rid of nearly all of the annoying noises coming from my bike yesterday, and Kevin’s knee is giving him no issues at all. And found a new bakery at the end of today’s ride; fantastic baguettes (sandwiches) for 3.5 euro apiece. Life is good! –Mike–

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