2002-09-05, Massat - Prades
The alarm clock rang at 06:50 and the rain was pouring down. For the first time since the cramps the first day my legs felt really good. We had some breakfast and since it rained we were not in any hurry to get going. We planned to leave around 08:30 and just before we started the rain stopped.
Col de Port
Again the day started with a mountain, this time the twelve-kilometre climb up to Col de Port, during which we would go from 650 to 1 249 metres. The gradient was constant and the road became flatter the last part before the top. We had got used to the kilometre boards, but on this climb they had been replaced by small plaques every kilometre telling the distance from the bottom of the climb and the gradient for the next kilometre.
Jim's chain fell off at the start of the climb, so Erol and I waited for him. Dave had found a good rhythm and continued up the mountain. Andy, one of the leaders, passed us after a while. He had parked the car at the foot of the climb and took the bike to the summit. Jim and I tried to follow him, but the pace was too high. We lowered the speed but Jim dropped further down. I found a gear I liked on the middle chain ring and after eight kilometres I caught Andy. Together we passed Dave but the last 1.5 kilometres Andy increased the speed and I could not follow. With 100 metres to the top Erol passed me at impressive speed, again doing his heart rate based power climbing. The summit was covered in clouds and there was rain in the air, so we wanted to move on.
Erol in the clouds at the Col de Port.
Andy turned back to the car while the four us continued towards Tarascon. The ride down was quite technical, wet and the road surface was often in very bad shape. I had built a small gap to the rest and waited for them at the foot of the hill, a couple of kilometres before Tarascon. They soon arrived together with Aussie Dave and John.
Col de Puymorens
After Tarascon we joined the N20 and immediately we noticed the increase of traffic. The road climbed gently for 25 kilometres up to Ax-les-Thermes and our group got bigger and bigger along the route. When we went through Ax-les-Thermes we saw Robert, Ian and a couple of others who had stopped for a coffee, but we just pressed on.
The traffic decreased after Ax-les-Thermes and the real climb up to Col de Puymorens began. It was 27 kilometres long and the road climbed from 720 to 1 915 metres. The climb was by no means steep, but it was very long. Erol and I joined forces but after a while Erol upped the speed and got a small gap. On a flatter part of the climb I bridged the gap and from there we went on together. Again I found a good rhythm on the middle chain ring and all in all my legs felt strong.
Mérens on the road up to the Col de Puymorens.
We stopped briefly in Mérens so Erol could change his mitts and then we moved on again. Andy came up in the car with the side window down and asked us how we were doing. We gave him the thumbs up and asked how far it was to the summit. He just laughed and pushed down the gas pedal.
We agreed to stop for a coffee in l'Hospitalet and just at the city limit we caught Peter, but we stuck to our agreement and headed towards a hotel by the road. We took off our rain jackets and waited for the waiter. We saw him a couple of times and said we wanted to order, but all we got back was a "j'arrive". More than ten minutes and another two "j'arrive" later we pulled on our jackets and headed for the door. The waiter arrived but by then we could not have cared less.
The road split after l'Hospitalet, so the heavy traffic could use the tunnel through the mountain and the ones who were in no hurry could take the road over the top. The tunnel was of course not an option for bikes and the road became considerably steeper during the first few kilometres after l'Hospitalet. Jim joined us but after a while I found my rhythm again and slowly pulled away from him and Erol.
A couple of kilometres from the top the road split in three directions. The main road went on to Andorra and the road to the left headed towards the Col de Puymorens. I sprinted across the road and was happy to find that no cars came from Andorra at that time. Up to this point clouds had obscured the mountain, but two kilometres from the summit the road flattened and a beautiful landscape came into view.
The Col de Puymorens.
Peter and Dave were already at the top when I got there. Dave had overtaken us meanwhile we were trying to get some coffee in l'Hospitalet. At the summit, on the left side of the road, was a large hotel, so Dave, Erol and I went to the restaurant to get some lunch. The food was excellent and the service was good for a change.
The descent reminded me very much of the road from Soller down to Palma at Mallorca. The views were great, the road good and above all dry on this side of the mountain. After Porté-Puymorens the road from the tunnel merged with the road over the summit and the traffic increased again. At one point in time a driver made a very interesting manoeuvre where he braked in front of us and then made a left turn. He had his left window down, so I took the opportunity to give him some feedback on my thoughts of his car handling skills.
Dave, Erol and I went on downhill and after a while we arrived to Bourg-Madame, where a lot of the other guys were having lunch at a restaurant in the centre of the town. They seemed to have a good time, but since we had had lunch already, we pressed on.
Col de Lious, Col Rigat, Col de la Perche & Mont Lois
The road climbed slowly after Bourg-Madame and we faced a strong headwind. The landscape was very open and there was nothing that could protect us from the wind. To our right we could see a mountain range in a distance, probably on the Spanish side of the border. Slowly we went over the four last climbs. These were not at all as long and steep as the others and we were looking forward to Mont Lois, the last climb of the day and for the whole trip.
As it turned out, it was the Col de la Perche that was the toughest of these climbs. Again Erol increased the speed as we came closer to the top. I followed his wheel and actually felt very well. We hardly noticed Mont Lois after Col de la Perche, but we did not bother too much. By now all the clouds had disappeared and we had a 36-kilometre descent to Prades ahead of us.
View from the Mont Lois.
And what a descent it was! The road wound its way down along the side of the mountain and a valley to our right. The visibility was good and there was barely any traffic at all. Dave took the lead and I tried to follow his line through the curves. This was the reward for all the hours of climbing over the last couple of days. From now on we would not climb too many metres on this raid.
John had told us that Villefranche, a town six kilometres before Prades, had a gorgeous medieval city centre, so we stopped there for a coffee. We jumped off our bikes and walked to the main square where we found a café with a free table. For the first time since we started our journey we were among tourists that were not cyclists. Some checked our bikes and had some comments about the start numbers, which indicated the distance we were riding. The weather was beautiful, the company great and the coffee very tasty. In other words, I really enjoyed myself.
Gate with a view over the main square in Villefranche.
Just as we were about to leave Bob and Aussie Dave turned up and took the table beside ours. We chatted for a while, but then we wanted to do the last part of today's distance. At the city gate we bumped into Jim, Robert, Ian and some of the other guys, but now we just wanted to get to the hotel. We covered the last kilometres to Prades and the Hotel Hexagone. From the top of Mont Lois down to Prades we had dropped 1 200 metres in 36 kilometres.
After having a shower and cleaning my bike I went to the bar to see the other guys. The rest of the trip seemed to be a Sunday ride once we had all the big mountains behind us. Over a couple of beers we talked about the last stage the next day and it became more and more clear to me that it would end up in some kind of sprint.
Peter packed his bike and put together a second one that he had brought for this trip. He was going to ride the last stage of Raid Pyrénéen on his touring bike. After reaching Cerbère he planned to start a bike holiday through France and back to England. The only point on his agenda was to be back for a friend's wedding late in October.
After dinner that night I went through the last 20 kilometres of the course and tried to memorize all the small villages along the coast. After a while the race tactics became clear to me and these were not too complicated. I would follow Bob's wheel, since he used to ride at the front. If Aussie Dave would be with us at Banyuls, ten kilometres from Cerbère, I would attack on the climb after the village, where the road was said to raise from 40 to 140 metres. Quite nervous, I managed to fall asleep around one o'clock that night.
The day in figures
Distance: 170 kilometres
Climbing: 2 725 metres
Time on the bike: 6 hours and 38 minutes
Average speed: 25.5 km/h
Black graph: Altitude (m)
Blue graph: Speed (km/h)
Red graph: Heart rate (beats/min)