– Special Travel Feature By Andrew Ward of Thomson Bike Tours –
Of all the iconic point-to-point long distance cycling routes in the world the coast to coast Trans – Pyrenean route is probably one of the most famous. The Pyrenees form a natural mountainous barrier between France and Spain and extend for about 270 miles roughly east to west making them, of course, a likely choice for intrepid cyclists wanting the ultimate challenge.
Tha snaking road of the Peyresourde: one of the many classic climbs tackled on the Trans-Pyrenean trip.
The “Pyrenean legend” may have started with epic races in the days of Bahamontes, Anquetil, and Coppi but for those non-pros who still want to test themselves, the Thomson Bike Tour Trans-Pyrenean challenge seals its status as an area of outstanding beauty and importantly gives a rewarding and challenging cycling experience for performance cyclists.
The Start: The Mediterranean Coast
From the Coll de Canes in the east to the Col de Bagargui in the west there is little of the network of roads that the Thomson Bike Tour team has not evaluated to be included in the selection process for one of our itineraries in these mountains. There are hundreds of miles to select from that snake across the French-Spanish border and the TBT design team have carefully selected routes, climbs and hotels to make this the most challenging Pyrenean coast to coast cycling route available today. And if you are uncertain – just see for yourself and ride every mile of this famous point-to-point route and follow in the cycle tracks of the legendary pro riders with Thomson Bike Tours. Again, with performance as our watchword we don’t take the easy route first in June (May 31 – June 7) and later, a second chance, in September (September 13 – 20):
The Challenge: 525 miles and 53,000 feet of climbing.
Although less well-known to many outside of Europe the Pyrenees are symbolic for many cycling fans who make the pilgrimage every year to see the Grand Tours and ride the high mountain passes. The advantage of the Thomson Bike Tours challenge is that you can do the famous passes on the French side and the lesser known but equally spectacular climbs on the Spanish side. This is the result of years of experience cycling and reconnoitring routes in these hills.
The ride starts on the Mediterranean coast and local Rabobank professional Juan Antonio Flecha knows the first couple hundred miles of the route very well. In fact the opening “warm-up ride” takes in one of his Spring Classic training rides over the locally renowned Rat Penat.
Close examination of the statistics for this trip leave you in no doubt that this is a seriously testing challenge. Seven days in mountains on a bike is a considerable undertaking and some preparation is necessary beforehand:
The Thomson Bike Tours promise of lots of riding in challenging mountains is yet again fulfilled!
Daily Ride distances (miles) and Elevation Gain (feet)
• Day 1: 31 miles, 3300 feet (elevation gain)
• Day 2: 94, 7800
• Day 3: 78, 7600
• Day 4: 93, 7750
• Day 5: 75, 11150
• Day 6: 65, 7000
• Day 7: 89, 8400
TOTAL: 525 miles, 53000 feet (elevation gain)
Daily Average: 75 miles, 7570 feet (elevation gain)
Peter Thomson knows full well that his clients demand challenge, performance and the highest standards of service. At the TBT headquarters near Barcelona I spoke to TBT owner Peter Thomson about the route:
“The advantage of starting the route in Spain is that the traffic away from the coast is very light. Also we can explore the hidden parts of the Pyrenees in Spain as well as taking the more famous climbs like the Tourmalet and the Aubisque later on. As well as being an iconic point-to-point challenge we believe that the route we design every year for the Trans-Pyrenean challenge will take the client’s riding to a whole new level”.
Top 5 of the Legendary Cols Climbed:
Climb; Elev. Gain (feet); Average Grade (%); Length (miles); Difficulty Index (DI)
• Col du Tourmalet; 4160 feet; 7.4% (%); 10.7 miles; 133 DI
• Col de Bagargui; 3340; 4.8; 13.2; 129
• Col d’Aubisque; 2840; 4.1; 13.0; 110
• Col de Peyresourde; 3080; 6.1; 9.5; 96
• Col d’Aspin; 2555; 6.5; 7.5; 81
Studying the daily routes you come to realise that apart from the wee climb of Rat Penat at the beginning, Peter Thomson eases you into the Pyrenees: “The first couple of days are in beautiful countryside with a couple of fantastic climbs that really do warm the clients up for the longer climbs later on. It’s not until day 3 or 4 when the riding gets really tough. So there should be time to warm the legs up and accustom the body to the rigours of cycling in this sort of terrain!”
Beautiful scenery guaranteed, like here on the Soulor.
In fact, on day 4 we take you over one of the all-time favourite climbs of the Vuelta a Espaсa – the 6,800ft Port de la Bonaigua. At over 14 miles long and an average grade of nearly 5% this will prepare you for day 5 which takes in 3 major cols – the Col de Peyresourde, the Col d’Aspin and the infamous Col du Tourmalet.
Another challenging day of cycling completed!
Peter adds: “Of course we’ll be encouraging riders to attempt all 3 climbs but the SAG vans will be available if you only want to ride part of the course that day.” For any cyclists riding in this terrain they will need highest level of support – this is hard cycling terrain for performance cyclists – and Thomson Bike Tours are superbly organized and handle all the logistics: “Our customers are constantly amazed and forever grateful at the support we provide during the trips so that they can concentrate on their cycling”.
The TBT team set the pace on the way to the Atlantic.
After 525 miles in 7 days, riders will be able to rest their weary legs on the beach and dip their feet in the Atlantic – an amazing challenge and an incredible achievement if you have the opportunity to join Thomson Bike Tours for their Trans-Pyrenean Challenge in 2009. Yet again it looks like we are setting the bar for performance tours in the hills of Europe with this classic point-to-point trip.
Destination: Atlantic Coast and a chance to take a dip in the ocean and think about the next cycling challenge!
If you need more information about our legendary, point-to-point challenge across the Pyrenees check out www.thomsonbiketours.com
for further details.