Tarun Kumar writes about his cycling holiday in the Pyrenees mountains, enjoying the climbs, food, culture and country…
Mumbai cyclist Tarun Kumar recently went for a bicycle holiday in France. Not your usual sort of holiday, where you kick back your chair, sip a beer and enjoy the beach . Instead he chose to sweat it out and ride some of the most famous climbs of the Pyrenees.
Tarun wasn’t always a cyclist. He considers himself a ‘cyclist by default’! Running was his first love and it is only once he got into triathlons, that he took up cycling seriously. He got hooked to cycling. Climbing the many ghats around Mumbai became a regular feature of his schedule.
The cycling bug took him up the many climbs of the Tour of Nilgiris and Serene Sirsi. Hills and bicycles went hand-in-hand for Tarun. These tours in India also sparked an idea to try cycling in other parts of the world. He did a few small rides in the Maritime Alps of the French Riviera and found the cycling culture fascinating.
That fascination led Tarun in search of a longer tour in France.
Which brings us to this journey in the words of Tarun…
Conquering the Pyrenees: An Unforgettable Cycling Adventure with Band of Climbers
Embarking on a six-day cycling adventure in the Pyrenees with Band of Climbers was a dream come true for any cycling enthusiast. From the luxurious accommodations at the Cycle Cafe Society villa to the breath-taking climbs that awaited us, every moment was filled with anticipation and excitement.
Over the course of the week, we conquered iconic ascents such as Hautacam, Col du Solulor, Col d’Aubisque, Col du Tourmalet, Cirque du Troumouse, Luz Ardiden, Cirque du Gavarnie, Cambasque, and Col de Couraduque, each bringing its own challenges and rewards.
Day 1: Arrival at the Luxurious Cycle Cafe Society Villa and Hautacam
Upon arrival at Tolouse, I was met up Stuart Anderson – founder of Band of Climbers. He drove me and a few of us to the Cycle Cafe Society villa. A villa where we were greeted by a haven designed to cater to the needs of cyclists seeking both luxury and the thrill of conquering legendary climbs.
After settling in and assembling our bikes, we set out for a leg opener, tackling the classic ascent of the legendary Hautacam, known for its inclusion in the Tour de France. The sweeping views and the satisfaction of tackling this renowned climb set the tone for the week ahead.
Day 2: Col du Solulor, Col d’Aubisque, and Col du Spandelles
Day two presented a thrilling challenge as we faced the Col du Solulor before joining the Col d’Aubisque for a triumphant summit. The Col du Solulor tested our endurance with its steep gradients. While the Col d’Aubisque rewarded us with stunning panoramic views. A moment of respite awaited us as we enjoyed coffee and lunch before continuing on to conquer the Col du Spandelles. Each climb showcased the awe-inspiring beauty of the Pyrenees and tested our determination.
Day 3: The Mighty Col du Tourmalet
The third day brought us to the legendary Col du Tourmalet, a climb steeped in history and often featured in the Tour de France. The ascent was a test of both physical endurance and mental fortitude, with references to iconic duels fought on its slopes.
Reaching the summit filled us with a sense of achievement and a deep appreciation for the challenges faced by professional cyclists.
Day 4: Exploring Hidden Gems
After two intense days of climbing, day four allowed us to explore the hidden gems surrounding Argeles Gazost. We started with the captivating dead-end climb of Lac du Estaing, where serenity enveloped us amidst the pristine alpine setting. Descending to the base of Col de Borderes, we reveled in the exhilarating speed of the descent before embarking on the final climb up Lac du Tech.
The day concluded with a refreshing swim in the pool at Cycle Cafe Society. Providing us a well-deserved break from the gruelling ascents.
Day 5: Luz Ardiden, Cirque du Tromouse, and Cirque du Gavarnie
Day five was marked by the grandeur of three remarkable climbs.
We began with the stunning switchbacks of Luz Ardiden, where the memory of Lance Armstrong’s dramatic stage win lingered. The challenging gradients and awe-inspiring views made it a true highlight of the journey.
The Cirque du Tromouse awaited us next, a climb that captured the essence of cycling in the Pyrenees. The natural amphitheatre and the sense of isolation amidst the soaring peaks left an indelible mark on our souls.
A lunch stop at the summit allowed us to soak in the surroundings before conquering the lovely Cirque du Gavarnie. A climb known for its picturesque beauty and dramatic cliffs.
Day 6: The Final Climbs of the Week
On our last day, we pushed ourselves to the limit with another 3000 meters of climbing. The day commenced with the challenging Cambasque, a dead-end climb known for its inclusion in the 2023 Tour de France. The steep gradients and the history associated with this climb served as a reminder of the elite athletes who have tackled these roads.
After a well-deserved lunch break, we summoned our remaining strength to tackle the final climbs of the week, Col de Borderes and Col de Couraduque.
By now, fatigue set in, but the sheer beauty of the surroundings and the camaraderie among the cyclists pushed us forward. As we crossed the finish line, a mixture of exhaustion and triumph washed over us, knowing that we had conquered the Pyrenees.
The six-day cycling adventure in the Pyrenees with Band of Climbers was an unforgettable experience. It encompassed not only physical challenges but also moments of awe, camaraderie, and personal growth.
The luxurious accommodations at the Cycle Cafe Society villa provided a haven for relaxation and rejuvenation after each day’s exertions.
The Pyrenees, with their breath-taking climbs and awe-inspiring vistas, tested our physical and mental limits while revealing the beauty and power of the cycling experience.
This journey with Band of Climbers served as a reminder that when we push beyond our limits and embrace challenges, we discover our true potential and unlock the transformative power of the road.
As we reflect on the journey, we are left with indelible memories of the majestic Pyrenean landscapes, the camaraderie among fellow cyclists, and the personal triumphs that came with conquering each climb. The Band of Climbers community fostered an environment of support and encouragement, reminding us that together we are stronger.
We asked Tarun, how different was it to ride in France compared to the roads of India?
In my experience, roads and infrastructure for cyclists is well maintained, with dedicated cycling lanes providing cyclists a smooth riding experience. Whereas in India, road infrastructure varies significantly across regions.
One really needs to have local knowledge to find suitable cycling routes in India. In Europe, traffic is generally well regulated, with drivers respecting cyclists rights. Even in dense urban areas with heavy traffic, motor drivers generally give cyclists a wide berth, maintaining safe distance.
Cycling on Indian roads are plagued with safety issues. Motor vehicle drivers have almost no respect for a cyclist often looking at them disapprovingly and not giving safe passage.
In India, you need to be prepared for incessant honking, chaotic traffic and inability of motor vehicles to share the road.
We also asked… What’s special about cycling in France?
French cuisine is renowned globally. Cycling through France allows you to indulge in delicious regional dishes and local specialities. France’s cycling routes often pass through picturesque towns and agricultural regions offering opportunities to explore local culinary traditions and cultural heritage.
Also read about, the Serene Sirsi tour, where Tarun enjoyed climbing the Western Ghats of Karnataka.