30th August to 9th September 2015
The Pyrenees Cent Cols Challenge: The most rural of the three routes, and the most ‘technical’. Ten days without crossing a major town to the sound of cascading water and cowbells, the tranquil beauty of these mountains will work their way to your heart. Steeper climbs and some rougher roads make this Challenge definitely harder than the Alps. This new version, ridden in 2014 for the first time, is harder than its predecessor, with stats that compare it closely with the Dolomites. It is a wonderful but tough way of experiencing the sheer Power of the Pyrenees.
I didn’t think CCC Alps could be bettered, but the Pyrenees was the ultimate cycling adventure.
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For me, the Alps were defiantly shouting: “Come and have a go if you think you’re tough enough!”, but the Pyrenees were whispering: “Come and explore my beauty, you will love it.” The Alps was primarily a physical challenge to be overcome. The Pyrenees was more a spiritual voyage of discovery. To anyone considering these rides, I would recommend them both 100%, but if I could only do one, it would have to be the Pyrenees.”
Stage One: Rivesaltes (Perpignan) to Prades
Stats: 191 kms. 4260 metres climbing.
Main climbs: Auzines, Aussieres, Nadieu, Dent, Triby, Garabell, Jau
Description: After warming up legs on hills still guarded by the ruins of Catharre castles, we trace our way up to the Col d'Aussieres via Sournia. After descending to Axat, we take a remote loop to bag four 'back-road' cols with some serious climbing, before briefly joining the Gorges of St Georges. From here we begin the long climb up to the Col de Jau for our final battle of the stage.
Stage Two: Prades to Saillagousse
Stats: 175kms. 4760 metres climbing
Main climbs: Roque Jalere, Mantet, Llosse, Font Romeu
Description: A superb loop up opens the stage, via the Roque-Jalere. After this comes a relatively gentle wooded climb to Vernet-les-Bains, before the stages' main challenge: the col de Mantet, with its' steep final kilometres. After this monster, the incredible corniche road that starts the long (30km!) climb to the Col de la Llosse sustains the demanding nature of this stage! This back-road climb must be the highlight of the stage, leaving 'only' a short climb up to the attractive ski-village of Font Romeu.
Stage Three: Saillagousse to Oust
Stats: 204kms. 4,600 metres climbing.
Main climbs: Quillanne, Pailheres, Plateau de Beille, Port de Lers, Agnes, Latrape
Description: Another steady beginning to the stage gives us time to loosen legs before hitting the Pailheres for the first of our two meetings with this beauty. Once over and down to Ax-les-Thermes, we head down the N20 for the Plateau de Beille climb up to lunch : a real treat, (both!). That leaves the duo of the Port de Lers & Agnes - Pyrenees Perfection! Oh, there is one more climb before our hotel...
Stage Four: Oust to St. Lary-Soulan
Stats: 196kms. 5,900 metres climbing.
Main climbs: Core, Portet d'Aspet, Menté, Portillon, Superbagnères, Peyresourde, Azet
Description: Things toughen up a bit on this one : all the climbs here are classic Pyrenees - harder than they look on paper but more beautiful than you could imagine. Each climb has its own distinct character and challenge. Mid-stage, the Superbagneres climb could again be omitted if legs are shouting...!.
Stage Five: St. Lary-Soulan to Oloron
Stats: 223kms. 5,600 metres climbing.
Main climbs: Ancizan, Tourmalet, Luz-Ardiden, Spandelles (E), Soulor, Aubisque.
Description: Perhaps the King Stage? The Ancizan climb now seems to have become a Tour favourite. We ride the tougher side, naturally! The Tourmalet of course towers over all others. The Spandelles/Soulor/Aubisque combi will leave you speechless, perhaps even breathless. A long but gentel section, through the Bois de Bager provides a well-earned stretch of fun taking us to our REST DAY.
Stage Six: Oloron to Larrau
Stats: 200kms. 4,800 metres climbing.
Main climbs: Burdinolatze, Chalets d'Iraty, Erroymendi, Port Larrau, Pierre St Martin
Description: The Basque stage, with a dip into Spain, and quite a few steep bits along the way! After an almost flat start, the route climbs through the Basque hills, all the way to the Spanish border at Port Larrau. The gradient is varied yet always 'sustained', making for some tough riding. Stunning scenery though. The views from the top of St Martin, on a good day, are The Best.
Stage Seven: Larrau to Argeles-Gazost
Stats: 201kms. 5,200 metres climbing.
Main climbs: Ste Gracie, Soudet, Bouesou, Houratate, Marie Blanque, Spandelles, Hautacam
Description: Rolling foothills to begin with on this stage before tackling one of the toughest climbs of the event : the Ste Gracie/Soudet. A very big UP, but so worth it for more views. Across some spikier hills before riding the 13% and-more Marie Blanque on its vicious side. The superb, tight, Spandelles climb, which desevedly gets a second visit, brings us to Argeles, where the final Big One waits for us (could be avoided, again) : the Col de Tramassel (Hautacam), star of Le Tour 2014. Not a bad day on a bike!
Stage Eight: Argeles-Gazost to Bagneres-de-Luchon
Stats: 192kms. 5,600 metres climbing. 9 Cols
Main climbs: Couret, Palomières,Beyrede, Aspin, Peyresourde, Hospice de France
Description: After a bumpy crossing of "foothills" we tackle the Col du Couret. Little-known but forever remembered by those in the know. The same could be said of the Beyrede, whereas the Aspin and the Peyresourde are more common bucket-list climbs. This 'back-road' stage finishes with another up & back (optional) seldom-riddenclimb : the wonderful Hospice de France climb.
Stage Nine: Luchon to Ax-les-Thermes
Stats: 217kms. 4,900 metres climbing.
Main climbs: Port de Bales, Portet d'Aspet, Crouzette, Port
Description: The formidable Port de Bales opens the game with a touch of class, before a gentler section takes us to the steeper, but shorter, side of the Portet d'Aspet. Then follows the beautifully quiet, but occasionally steep, climb to the Col de Crouzette. After the Col de Port a long descent takes us to Tarascon and the start of the rolling Route des Corniches which brings us to our hotel, via the High Road!
Stage Ten:Ax-les-Thermes to Rivesaltes (Perpignan)
Stats: 198kms. 3,900 metres climbing.
Main climbs: Chioula, Pradel, Pailheres, Saint Louis, Bataille
Description: A slightly Terrifying Trio opens the event-closer, but what a way to come away from the High Pyrenees! Once over the Pailheres and down one of the best descents of the trip, the afternoon will seem easy, even though hardly flat.