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Tour de France 2005 map

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Photographs from my holiday in Lourdes, France, July 2005

Feeling in need of a decent holiday, and after watching much cycling on Eurosport, I decided on Lourdes, not as a Catholic pilgrimage, but as a sort of cycling pilgrimage that would allow me to sample most of the major climbs used by the Tour de France organisation that I hadn't done before. It would also give me the chance to see a few stages of the Tour de France, but I mostly just needed a holiday.

Due to the great weather - hot (30 - 35 °C) and sunny every day except for one (see Tour de France Rest Day number 2 below) - I managed to ride just under 1000 km in the 8 days, including the 2 days travelling.

Wednesday 13 July.

It was an early start as usual to get the DLR and coach to Stanstead airport. I flew Ryanair to Pau from where I collected the rental car I'd reserved a few weeks earlier, a Volkswagen Passat with only 2000 km on the clock. Very nice.

After navigating my way down to Lourdes I attempted to find the Hôtel Cazaux. With great difficulty and after circling around the narrow one-way streets of Lourdes for about 15 - 20 minutes and feeling like I was getting nowhere, I accidentally stumbled upon it. I got the key from reception, dumped my bags in my room, and went straight back down to the garage to assemble the bike. Within about half an hour of arriving at the hotel I was on the road toward Hautacam.

I found the climb to Hautacam difficult, partly because this was the first real mountain climb I'd done in two years and I wasn't particularly fit, and also because while the average gradient isn't especially high on this climb, it flattens out often and so the maximum gradient is quite tough in places.

Standing at the summit of Hautacam, my first climb after landing in France a few hours earlier.
Hautacam Summit
View from the Hautacam ski field
Hautacam View
Lourdes Cathedral
Lourdes Cathedral
Lourdes Cathedral
Lourdes Cathedral
Down beside the Gave River on a warm summer evening in Lourdes
Gave River
A \'night on the town\' in Lourdes. Lourdes is not known for its exicting nightlife!
Lourdes 'nightlife'

Thursday 14 July - Bastille Day.

Another beautiful sunny and warm day. The plan today was to tackle Luz Ardiden and then over the Col du Tourmalet from the western side via Luz St Sauveur. But after a hard ride late in the previous afternoon/evening, and in my only semi-fit condition, I decided to skip Luz Ardiden and just do the Tourmalet. I thought that would be a tough enough challenge on its own and give me a ride of about 120 km for the day.

The climb starts off relatively easy, only about 5 - 6% average gradient for the first few kilometres. But about 5 km into the climb, it kicks up to 8 - 9% with the occasional 10% section thrown in, and it's fairly relentless all the way to the top. It's worth it though as the view from the top is spectacular. After having lunch at the top and taking a few photos I made my way back to the hotel.

After a shower and getting changed I got into the car and drove back up to the ski town of la Mongie to get the téléphérique up to the astronomical observatory at the Pic du Midi, on top of the mountain to the north of the Col du Tourmalet. As expected, the view was incredible, but to be honest that was all the place had to recommend it. All information in the displays is in French and my knowledge of the language is nowhere near good enough to get much benefit from what was there.

That night I was thinking about how I hadn't seen any sign of a special celebration for Bastille Day but as I was getting ready to get some sleep at around 10:30 pm, the fireworks started, and they just kept going and going. For at least an hour, all I could hear was the sound of exploding fireworks. And some of them really were loud.

Standing at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet
Col du Tourmalet Summit
Col du Tourmalet Summit
Col du Tourmalet Summit
Pic du Midi
Pic du Midi
Panoramic view from the Pic du Midi observatory
Pic du Midi

Friday 15 July

Day 3 was another hot and sunny day. My ride today was a CCW loop from Lourdes, up the D940 to Lestelle-Betharram, then left along the D35 to Louvie-Juzon, left down the D934 to Laruns, and then up the western side of the Col d'Aubisque. This was another mountain pass that I'd ridden a few times in the other direction but never this way. The climb is nearly 17 km long with an average gradient of 7.2% up to an altitude of just over 1700 metres. Like the Col du Tourmalet the day before, the first few kilometres of this climb are relatively easy - around 4 - 6%. But the last 10 km, from just after Eaux-Bonnes, are mostly 9 - 10%.

The hotel owner had told me about a very nice lake called Lac d'Estaing, near Arrens on the descent of the Col du Soulor, so I decided to go for a look. She told me that it was a flat ride but I took the wrong road and ended up having to ride over the Col des Bordères. It's only a short climb, about 7 km long with an average gradient of about 8%, but the road is very rough and it hurt my already tired legs!. The road had far less traffic on it than the main road though and the scenery, both on the Col des Bordères and at Lac d'Estaing, was worth the effort. I managed to find the right road on the way back which was a very welcome long, fast, downhill run.

Saturday 16 July

Day 4 - my 'rest day'. My original plan for today was to drive to somewhere near Tarascon s'Ariege and ride up to Plateau de Beille (1747m, 18.5km, 6.4%) and then on to watch the day's Tour de France stage finish at Plateau du Bonsacre (1372m, 9.4km, 7.3%), above the town of Ax 3 Domaines. After thinking about how I'd have to leave at about 6:30 am drive about 3 hours there and 3 hours back and possibly not arrive back at Lourdes until almost 10 pm, I decided against it. I was feeling too tired for a day like that and the fact that I had to change hotels that day made it logistically too difficult. I went for a short ride, about 80 km, toward Bagnères de Bigorre with no mountains, just a few small climbs, to give my legs a rest. After watching the last 2 hours of the Tour stage on television in the afternoon I went for another short ride in the evening.

Images from my holiday in Lourdes, France, July 2005

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