Monday, August 22, 2011

France Cycling Trip 2011, Part Fourteen

Monday was moving day. Time to say so long to Vicdessos and say hello to Arreau. The drives in this area are always long and hard - not much you can do as far as speed goes when you are traveling over mountains. I liked the way we moved. We drove halfway, unloaded all of the bikes and people and rode the rest of the way to the hotel in Arreau - or at least that was the plan. More on that later. Along the way for our ride were two climbs, the Col de Portet d'Aspet and the Col de Mente.

The climb up the "easy" side of the Aspet was still difficult, and is rated a cat 2. I didn't find this cat two as challenging as they used to be - I was getting into climbing shape, and had lost approximately five percent of my body weight since I started the trip, which helped my climbing. There was a modern sign at the top of the Aspet, but I wanted my photo in front of this old school one.

It was fricking hot this day. Everyone submerged their helmets into the closest pool of water to cool the cranium down. Don't drink - remember the animal (and human) waste.

The descent of the other side of the Aspet was pretty scary. Some of the gradients were seventeen percent (!). I can see how someone could die on this stretch of road. Like poor Fabio Cassartelli did on the Tour de France back in 1995. This is a memorial set up in his honor.

And this is the actual place he died. I could easily imagine someone dying here right on the wall on the way down. The speeds you could generate on this part of the Aspet are intense.

Many of the tour gave up after this descent from the heat and decided to take the ride over the next mountain and into Arreau in the vans. Not me, I was here to ride my bike and to hell with the heat.

Next up was the Col de Mente. This climb is long and hard, like all the rest. But we had the added pleasure of doing this one in one hundred degree heat. You know, the trip taught me something. All these years I had wondered why the Tour guys would dump water on their heads while climbing mountains at times. Now I know. I started this habit during the race a few days ago, and really needed to do it as I was ascending the Col de Mente. The heat was completely off the charts and I think I dumped more water on my head than down the hatch. The guides had cars going up and down the mountain to make sure nobody was in difficulty. They would get out and dump cold water on our heads on occasion, which felt awesome and refreshing.

Eventually I made it to the top. Everyone was hurting at the end of that climb (not my bike).

As always though, we were rewarded with a wonderful vista.

The tour guides made what I think was a smart call and packed everyone into the vans at the top of the Col de Mente. We had been on the bikes for over 2.5 hours in scorching heat, just one day after the long race. I felt fine, but in hindsight packing it in was the right choice. We loaded up and headed to Arreau.

When I got to the hotel, I was assigned a room with one of the guides. Third floor. Little did I know that the hotel did not have air conditioning and it was hot as a forest fire up there. I took a shower and was instantly sweaty again. I said "screw it" and went to the hotel bar. 1664 was a brand that was around everywhere. I am sure Carl will like the glass synchronicity. Just under $4.50 per bottle. Not exactly the deal of the century, but it was cold and wet, just what I needed to get me through the early evening.

Dinner was a bit more formal here than at Dave's place. You see below the best damned crudites you will ever have. It was seasoned just right, and the oil and fresh vegetables were delicious. I know, it is just raw veggies, but it really hit the spot.

Entree was a skewer of monkfish wraped in bacon, along with some fancy cheesy potatoes. Delish. Note the balsamic vinegar - it was a staple on dishes both here and at Dave's place.

We also were treated now to the more formal cheese course, which I am all over. I order this in fancier restaurants in place of dessert when I see that places here in the states offer it. Tonight's choice was a huge pile of roquefort - bleu cheese for all of us 'mercuns. It was fantastic.

Dessert was an apple tart with armagnac, and mango custard cream. Absolutely knock your socks off wonderful.

As I mentioned it was hot as hell in my room, and that was compounded by a roommate that snored like an elephant with a sinus infection. It was a brutal night of no sleep, just what the doctor did not order. No matter, more riding was to come.

Riding totals:
Time: 2 hours, 35 minutes
Feet of rise: 4250
Total distance: 26 miles

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