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Surviving Cycle Touring in the Pyrenees

Firstly, go. Just bloody go – some of the best scenery you will find in France, (well, Cycling the Col d'Tourmaletanywhere really); and providing you don’t go in high, high season it’s quiet enough that you get pretty empty, (of cars anyway) roads, and (mostly) bearable heat.

The Route

So firstly, yes, not surprisingly it’s very hilly and you’ll have to be prepared for quite a lot of climbing and you’ll obviously have to take into account your ability as a cyclist and how much time you have when planning your route through the mountains. You might be a little unsure of how well you can deal with the hills? Chances are that if you’re reading this that you’re a fairly competent/keen rider and to give you some basis for comparison, as a “mixed ability” couple, (Kat [initially] not being such a strong climber… [Now she booms up the hills]) and carrying abut 25kg of gear each managed about 80+ KM per day, (we do about 115 KM over average terrain). Trust me and the views/warm fuzzy feeling of achievement from completing the climbs, (oh also the awesome descents!) will make it all worthwhile.

One good resource for planning your journey is the Pyrenees chapter in ‘Lonely Planet Cycling in France’ if you don’t want to buy the whole book you can download the chapter here. It provides a pretty good day to day route with nice descriptions of what you can expect, it should take about 10 days and covers 28 Cols (although it goes from East to West – if you go the other way as we did you’ll have to do a bit of creative interpretation and further planning).

Camping/Accommodation

Don’t worry, the camping situation is much like the rest of France… there are sites pretty regularly, although not often on the climbs themselves. So as long as you plan to finish your day in or near a town you should find a site; if not you could always wild camp on the mountain… although depending on where you are, finding a discreet spot may prove difficult.

We treated ourselves to a stay at a great Pension house near the end of mountains (Escouloubre), well worth a look if you’re looking for a great value night out of your tent, (assuming you’re tenting it) €40 each gets you a room in a nice house with use of all the facilities, (plus all the bits of food people leave in the cupboards!) a great 4 course evening meal with plenty of wine and a breakfast… brilliant.

Roadies

You’ll see plenty of people on flashy bikes along the route doing the climbs, many on organised tours. You’ll get many a thumbs up from them when they see how much gear your lugging up the hills. But no matter how good a rider you are, (or how competitive…*cough*) resist the urge to race them… you’ll only knacker yourself outUse your bulk to beat them on the way down instead ;)

Provisions

You’ll burn a lot of calories and eat a lot but there are plenty of shops along the way

Principe

Fuel... of a sort

so nothing really that special to take into account other than making sure you’re well stocked with water and snacks for the long climbs.  Most towns have a public drinking fountain in them for water, although they become more scarce the further east you go.

Weather/Clothing

Even in the summer months the weather, (especially in the high mountains) can fluctuate quite a bit. We experienced 40 degree days (where not being in the shade was brutal) to cold rain and fog on a couple of climbs. So bring (you’ll probably already have a range of clothes, being on tour and all) something warm (preferably a waterproof wind stopper), long fingered gloves, an Icebreaker hat and sealskin socks were a godsend on cold wet descents.

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