September 16, 2011

Pyrenees Tour: Port de Lers

Last night's cycle lodge, Les Deux Velos, in Biert was terrific. Elma and Marc were great hosts, who know how to take good care of cyclists. Their gardens are fabulous, and so was dinner ... and breakfast. Elma includes many vegetables from her garden in meals. What's more, she made up a lunch for me without my asking! Here's a picture of her with their very tall zinnias. And a picture of me getting underway.

After consulting with them, I changed my route from Biert to Tarascon-sur-Ariege, where I have a reservation tomorrow to visit the caves at nearby Niaux, with their famous prehistoric paintings. I was going to cross over Col de Port, but instead decided to climb Port de Lers, a longer ride, harder climb and higher pass, that is located south of Col de Port.

This pass is also frequently ridden on the Tour de France. The change in route was a good decision. It is likely my last day in the high Pyrenees and I wanted to make the most of it.

There was almost no traffic, and the road, as anticipated, went up, and up, and up. Papillon and I went up along with it. We've got this down: I push the pedals around, she carries us uphill.

It was never overwhelmingly difficult, and not as challenging as Col du Soulor. It is on average less steep, I was earlier in the day and it was much less hot. The sun is strong at this altitude, especially above treeline.

My route took me past a beautiful small alpine lake, obviously popular with fishermen and other visitors. 

Don't get me wrong, it was a good challenge, and hard enough for me, hard enough to work at, and hard enough to enjoy.  There is always a good reason for a quick break, and taking photos is one of the best reasons. The flowers are lovely and I stopped for this patch.

Some of these photos might give any cyclists reading a sense of the climbs, the famous French switchbacks and the steepness of the mountains here. I always enjoy the narrow, steep roads where the roofs of the houses are below road level. It is very hard to get a photo that gives a real sense of the road,  but if you look carefully at some of these, you'll see the switchbacks working their way up.

The road was often quite narrow, especially I thought, on the descent. But I find the differences hard to judge. The descent seemed far steeper than the ascent, but the statistics on the signs told me they were very similar. The road seemed narrower, but I might not have noticed going slowly up.

Getting close to the summit, names were still legible from the last TDF. I was totally pleased to see a lot of Thomas and Voeckler, and also saw Cadel for the first time.

But I got a particular kick of seeing this name, shared by my husband, who I am sure is very happy not to be climbing up this mountain with me.

I stayed at the summit for about an hour, and only one other cyclist arrived, who looked at the summit sign, turned around and rode right back down, probably out on a training ride. It must be more of a big deal for those of us who don't live in the area.

Hiking trails went off in both directions, but I didn't walk them, preferring to sit and eat my lunch in the sun, watching other people arrive and depart.

The ride down was fast, gorgeous, and never  exposed. The roads seemed smaller, and I passed several cyclists on their way up.

When I stopped at this falls a couple taking photographs offered, without being asked, to take my picture so that I would have a souvenir.

Getting close to Tarascon I rode under this ruined castle; I know nothing about it. And this route took me past the Niaux caves. I've looked at photos of prehistoric cave paintings in art history texts, fascinated, for years and would love to see originals; I thought it would prove a highpoint of this section of my ride. But the forecast calls for rain and thunderstorms and I don't relish the idea of climbing in the rain, then returning in thunderstorms on a busy road. Perhaps I'll feel differently tomorrow. Just in case, I checked at the tourist bureau and there is no bus or shuttlebus that goes there, and no car rental in town.

It has started raining now, with lightning and thunder, after a beautiful blue day. Tomorrow will show what the weather will bring.


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