The Big Boys Bicycle Club has been to the Pyrenees and brought back some crunchy nuggets of ‘wisdom’. Tom Owen shares what they learned on their first trip to the cruel and brutal mountains that have terrorised Tour de France riders for over a century.
Bring warm kit
It’s cold in the Pyrenees. But it’s also sometimes hot. The weather is fickle and changeable, partly as a result of being so close to the Atlantic at one end and the Mediterranean at the other. We found that out the hard way, descending off the Col d’Aspin in next-to-no visibility, it was one of those “what runs out first, my ability to hold onto the brakes or the descent?” moments.
Just because someone says they’ll do both sides of the Tourmalet with you, that doesn’t mean they will… In this case, one BBBCer was persuaded by another to descend the far side of the Tourmalet and they’d both spin back up together, all friendly like. Except in this case, the persuader decided to bail once they hit the bottom, opting for the flatter but longer route home. The persuadee was left to re-ascend the Tourmalet.
‘Recovery’ rides are optional
Recovery rides are a great time for less-strong riders to have a go at ‘playing Tour de France’ by putting in the occasional stinging attack. And it turns out we’re still competitive enough to chase them down every time.
The Pyrenees will eat your tyres
This ain’t no perfectly-surfaced Majorcan road, this is the back-side of the Horquette d’Ancizan, and it is going to rip your silly lightweight race tyres to ribbins. BBBC experienced more punctures during our week in the Pyrenees than a whole year of club rides.
Oh, and you can forget about buying spare tubes with ease, because…
Everything is shut nearly all of the time
Restaurants, bike shops, all shut, wherever you go. With classic Gallic insouciance, the business-owners of southern France decided to take September off – shame nobody told us, really. Trying to divine the arcane opening hours of a bike rental shop in Bagnerres-de-Bigorre is an almost-impossible task – you might as well get your dowsing rods out.
Water bubble DJ…
…is apparently a job in French spa towns. Also, rest day trips to the spa are nice.
You better like grated carrots if you’re a veggie
Because that’s all they have for you in Carrefour. I guess, technically, some of the cheese must be too.
Pizza is good everywhere
Especially when you order it from a place that has 87 different options on the menu. Tartiflette on pizza is especially sublime, with the added benefit of being sort-of-French.
The Col du Soulor is among the most beautiful in the world
At 12km, with the option to peg on 7km more on the back of the Aubisque, the Soulor is a truly magnificent road, unfurling with a steady elegance that keeps you engaged all the way to the top.
Just be careful on the descent linking Soulor – Aubisque. There will be cows.
Kingsmen 1 is by some margin not-as-good-as-The-Godfather
But after six days climbing mountains it provides just about the right amount of intellectual stimulus for the gooey puddle that your brain has melted into.
Two croissants and an apple danish in the morning will get you up a Col
But you better hope they have baguettes, tartes, cakes, crepes, coffee and coca cola at the top or you are going to struggle on the next one.
Bringing your own bike to a week long cycling trip is 👍
However, cleaning said bike before the cycling trip and arriving to a forecast of extremely heavy rain is 👎. That being said, renting is still always the more stress-free option, although who knows what hunk of junk you might get saddled with.