Cycling in the Pyrenees
We are based at the foothills of the Pyrenees allowing the best of both worlds when it comes to cycling and perfect for cycling holidays. We have endless rides through traffic free rolling countryside allowing the true experience of rural France. Alongside this tranquility we have the famous climbs of the Tour De France that allow challenging rides and you can experience just what the pro cyclists do day after day in the tour.
Cycling here is very safe. The motorists give you plenty of room and normally give you a small “toot” just to say they will be passing. They are used to cyclists and respect them. It is always good manners to ride as close as possible to the side of the road but riding two abreast is also accepted as the norm.
RIDES AND EVENTS
There are many events throughout the year that we can enter you in if you want to combine your holiday with an organised ride. These are mainly Cyclosportives but if you have a racing license then there is an abundance of road races and triathlons.
You can always try our own event which has drawn many cyclists to our local col, the Col Des Ares. This 6.7 km climb averaging 4.5% is a great way of measuring up to the challenges of Pyrenean climbing. We have a leader board much the same as the TV show, Top Gear. It is all a bit of fun but when you start nearing the top times there may be a small bit of competitive spirit creeping in. Check out the Col des Ares TT page.
COLS OF THE PYRENEES
Below are some of the famous cols of the Pyrenees that are in easy reach from our base in Luscan. Many of the climbs are incorporated into our guided rides or into our suggested ride routes for those of you who choose the self guided option. Other cols and climbs can be ridden with a short minibus ride which we always offer to all those who stay with us.
We can only advise on gears for your visit to the Pyrenees as most riders will have an idea already on what they will be using. You may have ridden climbs at home and are happy with your current configuration but the climbs in the mountains can be an hour long and some over 17% for several kilometers so just having that one extra gear can make the difference between enjoyment and pure pain.
All our rental bikes have a compact crank, meaning the crankset has a 34small ring and a 50 big ring on the front and the rear cassette is a 11/32. This selection allows a good range of gears that will get anyone up any of the climbs. A standard crankset will have a 39/53 combination and a good compromise for most sport cyclists is a medium crankset of 36/52. This combined with an 11/30 or 11/32 is perfect for the mountains in France, Spain or Italy.
If you have a triple then you will be fine. (But we will ask you to lock it up just down the road a little…only kidding)
CATEGORIES OF COLS
A Col is a passage between mountains. So when you hear people talking about which Col they have climbed and how tough it was they are saying they have ridden to the top of the paved road through the mountains. The actual top of the mountain is a lot higher. I always say look up until you can see sky and then you have reached the top.
If a Col is featured in the Tour De France (or other race) then it is categorized for that particular race according to how steep it is, it’s length and also where it appears in the stage. In most cases this category never changes from year to year so it sticks for the Col.
In the old days of racing the Cols were categorized by which forward gear the lead car was able to get up the climb in. So a Cat 3 climb would be accessible in 3rd gear, Cat 2 in 2nd and the hardest of them all a Cat 1 in 1st. You have to remember that these were old cars and at the time the roads were not exactly paved and as smooth as they are today.
But when higher mountain passes were opened and paved then there was no where else to go above 1st gear, so the Hors Category (without Category) was formed and this category is placed on the hardest cycling climbs there are.
- Cat 3 – nice and steady, usually around 6 to 8 km at around 5%
- Cat 2 – Slightly longer or steeper than the Cat 3
- Cat 1 – Tough climb, nominally around 10 km plus with 7% to 9% gradient
- HC – The toughest, 15 km with sections beyond 10%
TOUR & CAMP DIFFICULTY
1 Cog – Beginner or leisure cyclist
2 Cog – Leisure cyclist able to ride 100 km
3 Cog – Tour / Sports cyclist riding multiple days of 100 km
4 Cog – Sports cyclist able to ride 160 km
5 Cog – Experienced cyclist riding multiple days of 160 km
DESCENDING (VERY IMPORTANT)
The first thing I must say to all riders coming to the Pyrenees and that is CAUTION on the descents. The climbs are tough here but the descents can be lethal and as you ride in the mountains you will see testament to this with the abundance of memorials and flowers to fallen riders.
But the descents can also be great fun and a fantastic reward for the effort put in coming up the mountain.
To begin with you must try and hold onto the handlebars in the drops. Most people will be used to riding on the brake hoods but this is very painful, inefficient and dangerous on the descents. Holding the drops allows you full access to the whole of the brake lever. You are lower and more stable(even if you feel you aren’t). You hands will also thank you later as they will not be stressed trying to reach from the top of the hoods.
You are not going to know where and what the corner is going to do. Is it going to be a 90° bend or a full 180° hairpin. Will there be a car coming the other way, is there a rock or a sheep in the road just around the corner. So being cautious is always good but also making the corner correctly will allow you to change direction slightly to avoid any unseen obstacles.
The Approach – this is the most important part of the turn. Check around you for others and then look ahead at the corner. Move as far left as you can (make sure you do not cross the centre line). Squeeze both front and back brake on. When they touch, squeeze gently. Slide back on the saddle to re-distribute your weight as the majority of the force will be on your front wheel. Feather your brakes, meaning, release and squeeze gently as the this will stop the wheel and pad overheating and locking up on you. Once you are entering the corner look to the exit.
The Corner – as soon as you see the exit, release the brakes gently at the same time (do this cautiously to begin with, it takes practice and confidence). Do not just let go, release them at the same rate as you pulled them on when approaching the corner. You now need to move your weight forwards on the saddle to allow the front wheel to grip into the turn. Your outside leg should be all the way down, your inside leg up with you knee pointing to the apex. Put ALL of your weight into the outside leg, if this means raising your bum off the saddle a few millimeters then do it. Push the weight into the inside handlebar to make the turn, the more push downwards the tighter the turn. Always look to the exit and to help with this, pick a tree or a lamppost or house that you can follow all the way around the bend.
The Exit – you still need to be looking all the way down the road now. Do not look at anything else which includes rocks or walls – if you look at them you will hit them. Look ahead and gently raise out for the saddle and start pedaling. You have successfully cornered and your smile will be broader than the road itself.
The diagram below explains the correct way to descend which is everyones dream but also shows the incorrect way which is how most sports and recreational riders come down the climbs. But make sure you do not go over the centre line of the road – there will be traffic coming the opposite way. Do not worry about anything behind you.
But the only rule in descending a mountain is to do it SAFELY. Both Julie and Ian are certified First Aiders but the time it takes for medical assistance to reach the cols can be longer than anyone wishes for. And you don’t want to rip those expensive shorts.