Season Highlights - The Ride - 'A Final Climb' #7Countries7Passes

Dawn breaks on the vineyards of the Corbieres. The French commune Lagrasse lies silent beneath unusually dark and clouded skies.

Shorts and a jersey are pulled on over weary legs and shoulders. Over the past fourteen days riding across the European continent, this is a ritual that has been performed everywhere from mountaintop wild camps, to the spare rooms of friends and kind strangers.




Today is the finale of the #7Countries7Passes tour. The final climb to the finish line. Like the days that have preceded it though, it will be no easy ride; plentiful challenges lie on the road ahead.

Coffee is drunk. Porridge is eaten. Bags are packed.

Shoes pulled on, and ratchets tightened. Clip in for the final ride.

Today, for this final day, there is the novel luxury of having a friendly face and great photographer following in his iconic Land Rover: capturing the climax of the journey.




Within minutes of departing, the darkening skies give way. Rain pelts down onto dusty ground.

A quick stop.

The Sportful Stelvio Jacket is donned for protection. This jacket has been a superb shield against the elements - wind, rain and snow, over the last two weeks of non-stop riding. It even met its namesake, on the legendary Stelvio Pass.




Back on the road, and the climbing begins.

With the Pyrenees approaching, the pedals begin to slow.

Heaving 26 kilograms of bike weight over some of the biggest mountains in Europe has taken its toll on the legs. Panniers packed with tent, stove, kit and supplies; they now feel like sea anchors keeping the ship from harbour.

Moving house is never easy, they say.




The first foothills climb done, and the temperature is dropping. It is time for a patisserie pick-me-up.

Off the road, and into the Patisserie and then the Bar Tabac: grab a pastry and an espresso. Fuel for the ride.




Leg warmers, overshoes, waterproof cap and gloves are pulled out from panniers.

Flandrian conditions demand all-weather protection.




Now into the Haute-Vallee de L'Aude. A puncture encourages an impromptu lunch stop, in a deserted picnic site; looking up at the mountains imminent on the horizon.

Arrival at the foot of the Col de Pailhères. The rain abates briefly; the change in conditions allows for the red Pro Team Jersey to be revealed - a pop of colour on a background of grey and green hairpins.




As the elevation reading climbs, the temperature falls further.

There are few others on the mountain side today - a solitary road, up towards the clouds.




Before long that cloud is all-enveloping. Visibility falls to a matter of metres; as the wind, rain and fog arrive in abundance.

Summit. A quick memento shot next to the long abandoned refugio. Then, the long descent to the valley floor below. The penultimate pass complete.




After 19 kilometres clawing at brake levers with frozen frost-bitten fingers, a café is found in the Pyrenean town of Ax les Thermes.

It is 18:00 hours - dinner-time for most. The surrounding tables order salads and sandwiches; this order though is for 'Rocket Fuel' - (triple espresso in a Chocolat Chaud, with extra Chantilly); accompanied by a Speculoos waffle. Fuel for the final climb.




With darkness closing in, a long delay in the warmth of the café is regrettably not sensible.

A dry base layer retrieved from the depths of a pannier, water wrung out of gloves. Then, head out once more into the Pyrenean mountains.




The Port d’Envilara looms ahead. 39 kilometres of 8 percent gradient.

The low sprocket is engaged on the cassette; a rhythm set. The final summit, of the seven great summits on this tour, will be another long and taxing climb.

Past the graffiti covered bridges and burnt out cars. Into the mist.




Lights ablaze, and skies darkening.

Extra layers donned, as the temperature falls.




Water beads on every surface, as the unrelenting wind finally dies, and the road heads into the darkening cloud.

The arrival into Andorra marks the seventh country on the #7Countries7Passes tour. It has been a diverse and beautiful marathon.




At 20:55, the final summit is reached. The beams on the photographer’s Land Rover illuminate the scene.

The signpost, up in the clouds, marks the end of this 3,000 kilometre ride.

From Denmark, through Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France; over mountain passes, and past vineyards and forests.

This has been more than a bike ride. It has been an incredible adventure for bike, body and mind.

Follow the journey of Life In The Saddle on Instagram here



A Sportful content collaboration. Images by Augustus Farmer.

Comments

  1. Fantastic ride that is, which I would have managed about 5km of

    ReplyDelete

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