Cycling in the Pyrénées
Unbelievable, that is the only word that comes to mind. If you had said to me in December 2015 when we moved here from Bristol, in the UK, to the Ossau Vallee in the Pyrénées that I would be able to cycle the great Cols – I probably would have laughed it off; no way could I do that. Having survived a severe cycling accident many years back had left me with a phobia of descending even the slightest off hills. Therefore, you can imagine my anticipation, fear and feeling of euphoria once I completed my first climb.
On the Wednesday evening Tom, my partner and trainer, casually mentioned we might give the Col de Marie-Blanque a go in the morning. We had been cycling for two months out of the four, as we had heavy snow followed by torrential rain. This is the very same Col that the TDF and La Vuelta use. What a challenge!
On the morning, while preparing our fuel for the ride, thoughts were racing through my mind. Thoughts of doubt and that known feeling of fear started creeping in. I stopped and paused; what if I can’t do it? I proceeded to dress accordingly for the weather, and put my mind into neutral gear. It is a 9km cycle from our house to the start of the Col. The Col is 11.5km, which averages between 5.1% and 8.5%. Bear in mind you have the plateau before the last climb. We cycled at a steady pace in order to warm up. The road from home starts with a cold start of a 8% gradient then followed by a sweeping descent. Having only recently overcome my fear of descents through numerous practice and the patience and guidance from Tom, I was on adrenaline from our front gate.
We reached the starting point at Bielle and I was given the option to give it a go or continue to Laruns. I chose onward and upward. At first I managed to keep reasonably close behind Tom, but I started falling behind at the first 8.5% gradient. Spinning as fast as I could, it still felt as if I could walk faster than I was cycling. However, I was determined not to give up, turn around or get off my bike and walk.
The sheer size of the mountains gives you a sense of being dwarfed by nature; what seems like a scenic car ride makes you feel humble on your bike. All was going good up until I reached the second hairpin bend when I began to feel emotional. The air was cold, making it harder to breathe. My lungs felt as if they would burst. My legs were spinning but I felt I was going at snail pace.
As I passed Bilheres, the pressure was taken off and I had a chance to recover, if ever so slightly. Tom cycled ahead at his own pace and kept in touch with words of encouragement through our Bluetooth headsets. At no point was I prepared to abort this mission. Once we reached the plateau, cycling felt easier and I felt stronger. Maybe this was due to the fact that I knew the summit was within grasp. I soldiered on.
The final kilometers to the top are filled with comfortable sections and not so comfortable sections. At one point on the switch back, Tom would shout down to me to, “step on it.” There was not much traffic on the road up. In fact, the 4 cars that past all leaned out their windows add shouted, “Aller,Aller” to me. The encouragement pushed me harder. Nothing could prepare me for the feeling of accomplishment I had once I crossed the green line. The fear, tears, the heart in my throats moments all vanished. What a feeling!
I was hooked for life. This Col now has a very special place in my heart. It doesn’t have to be the biggest, longest or the toughest, but I own a bit of that pain for making it to the top.