Tour de France. Barèges.

20th July 2019

What a day!!!!

Today was the day the Tour de France passed through Barèges, and the reason we came here.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a stunning location in its own right. I mean it’s high in the Pyrenees so it’s not going to look dull.

Low cloud or fog?

I made the mistake of buying a commemorative cycling jersey, celebrating the 2019 stage, Col du Tourmalet and 100 years of the yellow jersey.

Been there, done that, bought the jersey.

Why was it a mistake? Well I don’t like buying souvenirs of events that I haven’t at least sampled and, since Barèges is basically on the road to Col du Tourmalet, it seemed fair to earn the right to wear the jersey.

So what’s so special about the Col du Tourmalet?

If you’re a cycling fan then you’ll know it’s one of the Holy Trinity of Tour de France Mountain road climbs (along with Alpe D’Huez in the South East and Mont Ventoux in the South).

They may not be the steepest or toughest but, because of legendary races, and repeated inclusion, they’ve become legendary themselves.

After a brutal slog up the main road the iconic zig-zag climb starts.

The photo above doesn’t begin to show just how many motorhomes there were lining the route, or how precariously some were parked.

So. 7am Saturday. I set out from Barèges to ride the 12km (8 miles) to the Col.

8 miles? Just 8 miles? That can’t take long surely.

Just 5km to go… but they are all up there!

It’s relentless from the centre if Barèges. There may be a 100 metre flat section half way up but it’s just UP.

Doing it from Barèges is a wimp’s option. The climb starts from way down in the valley, in Luz St. Saveur. There’s no way I was going to do that. I’m fat, unfit and without any cycling clothing. My ancient mountain bike weighs a ton so I’ll settle for the bit I did.

1km to go. It’s a steep 1km.

In the end it took me about 1.5 hours of continual climbing. It’s steep and it’s relentless. My knees will never forgive me.

I stopped to (ahem!) Take some photos (Not to get a breather.. oh no.. Not me.. Just to take photos… ahem!) So it came in at just under 2 hours… for 8 miles!!! A brisk walking pace. How embarrassing.

Was it worth it? Oh yes. The views, at every stage, were epic. The satisfaction of cycling up a legendary Tour de France climb is indescribable ( Then to watch the pros do it just a few hours later).

Barèges is in the low cloud (Top right)
All the white specks are motorhomes
The road snakes up relentlessly from the valley below

After a much quicker descent, about 15 minutes under heavy braking, I returned to Humberto and we headed into town to see the build-up to the Tour.

It’s worth making the effort to see a stage. It’s a 4 hour circus. 3 hours 45 minutes of that is a rolling advertising carnival. Large, and fast moving, floats, advertising Oven Chips, Toothpaste and ..you name it, come hurtling through town. Endless convoys of official vehicles come hurtling through town.

Eventually the TV helicopter appears, the Police motorcycles arrive, the TV motorcycles arrive and the Red judges car arrives… All at high speed and in a crescendo of horns and sirens.

Then…

…The Top riders arrive…. and disappear.

Then …

…The stragglers arrive…. and disappear.

Even up the punishingly steep high street of Barèges the Pro riders flash by in the blink of an eye. I’m amazed I got any photos at all, but here are some..

Making it look too easy
The chasing group
It’s gone in the blink of an eye
The leaders, including Geraint Thomas (about to blew-up 10km layer near the summit)
Vittel Water (Major Sponsors) distributing their product by way of a pressure-washer.

It was a heck of a day and I’d like to thank Barèges for making it so easy (and free) for us to watch the spectacle.

Now then. A useful tip.

Never have a lie-in the day after a Tour de France Mountain stage.

Those hundreds/thousands of Motorhomes up on the Mountain? They all come down the day after and clog up the Mountain pass road for miles.

There’s no doubt we avoided the worst at 10am, but we could see the jam stacking up behind us.

Get an early start. End of Tip.

What a great day!

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