Looming rain has been a near constant for this trip. Nothing changed for our last full day in the Pyrenees. The day started with rain, which slackened and cleared by mid-morning. On the bikes, we were out again for a ride. This time, we weren’t sure how far we would go. What was left in our legs after Col du Tourmalet? When would the forecasted heavy rain start again?
On a prior easy day, we rode a 10 km or so on dirt trails along the Gave de Pau River. It gave us a feel for the dirt trails in the area. There are plenty of them, labeled VTT (“Vélo Tout Terrain” is equivalent to “All Terrain Bicycle” in English), nearly everywhere. The trails we looked at did not seem so interesting. Usually there would be a steep, categorized road climb to the trailhead followed by a steep, featureless drop on a path through the trees that had been used for unknown years for every possible use. There were few purpose-built mountain biking trails that we could see. It seemed, though, that good trails, real good trails, had to be all around us. We would need to do some serious searching to find them. It would take more time than we had. With that, on our last day, we chose to ride the road once again.
With our handy velo de route card in hand, we headed up the hill to nearby St. Savin. Our route was a modification Circuit Number 4 in our card set. We’d do this route in the opposite direction than the card suggested so we could retreat faster in case the heavy rains returned. On the bikes, we climbed steeply through small and quaint St. Savin and passed the villages of Sieux and Estaing. Somehow the rain would always ease at the road junctions. The air was cool, thick, and wet. Smells of a spring shower lingered. But the rain was never bad enough to force us to turn and flee for home. As we kept going further along the route our light spin turned into a real ride.
The featured challenge of Circuit Number 4 was the Category 3 climb up Col des Borderes (though the climb has been labeled at times by the Tour de France as Cat 1). As we neared the base of the climb near Estaing, there were few others on the road. Surprisingly, there was one tour bus that passed us out of nowhere. The bored tourists inside seemed particularly interested in a couple of cyclists struggling against the rain and the climb. It felt like being in a zoo, on the wrong side of the bars.
Though there was 2,500 feet of climbing and the loop covered about 21 miles, the ride was comfortable in comparison to Hautacam or Tourmalet. Yes, there are numerous HC and Cat 1 climbs in this region of the Pyrenees, but there are also many, many loops like this one around valley. Vallees des Gaves is a great place to ride.
We could almost hear banjos playing when we reached the rural backcountry that is the top of Col des Borderes. From the col (pass in English), we continued on and descended through the towns of Arrens-Marsous, Aucun, and Arras-en-Lavedan. This year the Tour de France, on Stage 17 will take this exact route (Arrens-Marsous—Argeles-Gazost). They will be going faster than we did, but not for the lack of trying on our parts. For us, we split off the tour route at the bottom of the hill now in heavy rain. We stomped the pedals through Argeles-Gazost and sped for our hotel. The Tour riders will continue on past Argeles-Gazost. Col du Tourmalet waits as their next and final challenge of Stage 17.
There would be no more of Col du Tourmalet for us on this trip. Our time in the French Pyrenees was ending. We are already dreaming of coming back. There are so many more cols just waiting to be ridden.