F & S Day 7 06/09/2011 - Col du Tourmalet (+100miles)

What a day! A real mix of elation and suffering. The Col du Tourmalet and 94miles of riding bolted onto it.
We knew the forecast for today was good and that rare clear skies were expected at the top of the Tourmalet. But when we woke up this morning we could hardly believe how clear it was - barely a cloud in sight. We could be pretty sure that there would be some epic views from the top.
One result of the clear skies was that the temperature early in the morning when we began the ascent was very cold. I only had a buff, jersey and shorts on, because I knew it would soon warm up; but in the shady lower slopes of the climb it was quite hard work just to move enough to stay warm.
We began climbing at 0930 exactly and the 19km ascent began with the lower slopes heading through wooded roads which seemed pretty deserted.
I ended dropping Francis and Ben by 3km or so up the climb, Francis first then Ben a few kms later on.
As I came out of the trees the view was indeed stunning, you could see the jagged peaks of the Tourmalet in front of us and the huge valley behind. The climb itself was tough, but I just got in a small ring and tapped up. Before long I was past the cable car station and on the snaking hairpins in the upper part of the climb.
I took some fantastic photos as I climbed up - which I will get on the blog when I get home. But the views were stunning, and really worth all the hard slog.
I arrived at the top at 11:02: 1hr32mins of climbing! It is certainly a feeling when you get a photo next to the sign and the silver cyclist at the top!
The descent was simply epic, words can't really describe how fast and technical it was, but it is safe to say that it has to be one of the fastest and most enjoyable ways to come down that mountain.
Once back at a casual 600m elevation things began to level out and we stopped at a patisserie to get some lunch. Then we kept trucking downhill and into the valley.
There was a pretty nasty and rather unexpected climb about 50km into the ride after we had descended fully, which took it out of us a bit; but it was followed by another epic descent through wooded switchbacks, which made it worth it.
Once down the descent we got a serious move on along a fast A-road and we clicked through some serious miles.
Eventually we arrived in the town of St. Martory after racking up a good 60miles AFTER the Tourmalet! While looking for a campsite by the river Garonne we found a wild fig tree and an apple tree that we had some beautiful fruit from. Unfortunately though we decided the river wasn't so good for swimming in, so kept riding on to try and find a more ideal camping spot.
As tomorrow is set to be such a long day we headed further along the road - quite a lot further! Up above the 90mile mark those last few miles really hurt, especially after the day's earlier efforts. But we did eventually find a spot with a picnic bench down a quite road and set up camp; absolutely exhausted, but seriously pleased with what we had achieved that day.
We need some serious rest for the 100miles of riding scheduled tomorrow, and with just a baby wipe shower everything is a little ripe to say the least; but we are all happy - we've done the Pyrenees and it was seriously epic, now along the south coast and bring on the Alps!

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