Pt. 1, Pt. 2, Pt. 3
After a short warm up hill and descent to get the feel of what was ahead, it was time to try a real life Pyranee climb. This would be my first ride up a real mountain. The first challenge was a Cat One climb, the Port de Lers. For those who don't know, the Tour de France rates climbs with five levels of difficulty - 4,3,2,1, and HC. HC stands for Hors Categorie, or Out of Category. The difficulty goes from 4 to HC, four being easiest and HC being the toughest. So my first climb was only one from the top.
At the bases of the mountains, they had these traffic signs to let you know that the roads are clear. I am thinking that these are used for two primary reasons - one, for when the Tour de France comes by and two for ski season if there is a heavy snow making the mountain top roads impassable.
So up the big hill I went. All of the training I did really paid off. These climbs can be anywhere from five to ten miles long, with grades of five to twelve percent. The Port de Lers wasn't too bad incline wise, but it was very long. Fortunately I had purchased an 11/32 rear cassette and that 32 really came in handy. I basically found a nice cadence for myself and got to work. The higher cadences put more stress on your cardio than your legs. Don't get me wrong, your legs hurt, just for me, the higher cadence riding style works better.
After about an hours worth of work I was at the top. I distinctly remember seeing the sign at the top and saying to myself "thats it?". I had trained better than I thought. I was third out of our group to make it to the top, and hadn't really pulled myself apart too badly.
At the top there were a few herding dogs roaming about. They were friendly, but all business. They had a job to do.
And that job was to protect the cattle that roam freely. It was completely nuts to see and hear this. The sound of hundreds of cowbells was really neat and was a sound I had never heard before. I was thinking that it must be what a baby feels like when they hear a new sound.
I have heard from others that out west the cattle roam freely, but this was something I have never seen - nor ridden through. Because there were cattle roaming freely about, there was shit on the road, and cattle as well at times.
This was my first (but not last) cow on the road obstacle.
We ate lunch at a restaurant at the top which was just a little scenic (a little!). After going up, you have to come down - my first descent was interesting to say the least. In our group I was one of the slowest descenders - I just had no idea how to do it right, therefore I was being careful and slower than most. I heard from some that people who downhill ski had a leg up on me because they could read the lines on the road a bit better. Also, the guys who have been cycling longer than myself descended way better than me - I was by far the most inexperienced cyclist in our group, only having ridden for about six years. Oh well, my motto for the trip was "not to die" so that was accomplished. I did get some good speed going on some of the descent and it was pretty fun but boy when you are moving out at over 30 mph the switchbacks come up on you pretty quickly.
It was very satisfying first day in the saddle in the Pyranees. Little did I know that it would be one of the easiest. After lunch we did a little more climbing (the back side of the Col d'Agnes) and then rode back to our cabins.
Riding time - 3 hrs, 18 min, 41 secs
Distance - 34.78 miles
Average speed - 10.5 mph
Feet of ascent - 5252
Top Speed - 36.5 mph