And we were off again! This time to the Pyrenees to a tour which followed the same route as the first time that the Tour visited the mountains in 1910. “Assassins”, was what, the then leader, shouted as he struggled over the top of the third mountain pass of the day and, still not half way. There was born our idea to stage the Tour des Criminels, reliving this route.
Without wanting bad feelings set upon ourselves, as in the original stage, we decided to tackle the 300km route over 3 days rather than in one long slog. It was with great excitement that we left the Alps behind for the spa town, in the heart of the Pyrenees, Bagneres du Luchon.
The group of 17 arrived at Toulouse Airport on the Thursday afternoon and jumped on our transfer to our first hotel. They were greeted with welcome packs and a hearty meal provided by the hotel. Paul, in his usual manner, made his own convoluted way to Luchon across the Spanish border and arrived near midnight with just enough clothes to last him a morning! He was ready.
Everybody was in good spirits, despite the forecast of rain over the weekend. Sunny spells were also predicted. That is why we set off as early as possible on the Friday for the first two cols – Pyresourde and Aspin. A stunning route, this was our shortest and probably easiest day but perfect to find the climbing legs and pace. Rob struggled with his knee on the Aspin and I feared that he would be in the car for the weekend but he pushed through and was fine for the rest of the weekend.
Luckily, the rain began just as we arrived at our first hotel in Saint Marie de Campan. As we started early and it was the shortest day, this meant that we could have lunch in the hotel. Then I had the chance to do a cheeky ride up the Tourmalet. Ivan decided to join. Full of duck, he burped and belched his way up. It was a good opportunity to remind us of the steep, difficult section up to La Mongie, a purpose built ski resort, with 5 km to go.
Even though the group was evenly matched, there were some differences in speed so we had two “set off” groups the following day to try to keep the group together. It worked well. Although David had to come back with a mechanical fault so he was on the spare bike (the change time would have annoyed Froomey but we were not racing!)
Tim had brought Ginny out for her first experience in the mountains. He was excited about the challenge of trying to catch her as she was off in the first wave. He really did underestimate her strength on the bike. He did not stand a chance! Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse and the rain came in. At altitude, it got cold too. A challenging day was ahead. Nick, who feels the cold, had to jump into the van at the top with the blowers on max. Marjolein’s hands had turned to blocks. It was time to get off the Tourmalet.
Then came the battle of making the descent with the freezing temperatures. The plan was to stop in the first café to have a hot chocolate or two. Everyone made it, well except for the token American, Tanner, who shot right past! He soon realised and I went to pick him up.
The Col d’Ausbisque is not too steep but ridiculously long. Jon and Moray did their best to stick behind Ivan out on the front, whereas Tom was struggling a little. With some gentle encouragement, he pushed through and made it to the top, a great display of determination, very impressive. It has to be noted that Liza has made great improvements over the last few years and she is convinced that it is due to a change of bike shoe, I think she is understating how fit she has become.
The last stage into Bayonne is a rolling affair with enough ups for it to be challenging. It started badly, with Dermott arriving at breakfast dressed to un-impress – his bike fashion sense is questionable.
This was a complete contrast to the previous two days and it is this variety that I think made this route so enjoyable. Steven finally got his kit back from the airline (he borrowed everything for the first two days) and, with this, he was away. There is the small affair of the Col d’Ostrich – a short climb but a climb nonetheless. As we drove on ahead to set up lunch, I could not contain my excitement as 3 Pyrenean vultures flew over the road and off into the distance.
There was just one incident to speak of on the way into Bayonne, just 10km from the finish. Everyone was cycling together, spirits were high when Matt H slipped and fell which meant that Rob had no choice but to flip over him – real Tour de France style. Everyone was fine with a few bruises and grazes. However, Matt P had leant his buddy a nice cycling top – this was ruined! Up everyone got and with a bit more caution, cycled into Bayonne. Mission accomplished, and to think, those boys did it in one day, on heavy bikes and unpaved roads, over 100 years ago. That’s impressive as was the effort by everyone of our Criminel Team!
Thanks to Ginny, Tim, Rob, Matt, Matt, Tom, Tanner, Dermott, Liza, Paul, David, Stephen, Ivan, Marjolein, Jon, Moray and Nick for making the weekend so much fun and Sue for all her help in the van.