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Cycling, Wine and Cultural Tours in the Dordogne, Pyrenees and Southwest of France.

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Anatomy stage 2 of the Pyrenees 1000 cycling challenge

The view of the "Valley d'Ossau" and the Col d'Aubisque in the background. Stage 2 begins in this valley and take us up and over the Col d'Aubisque.

In 2015 I made some adjustments to stage 2 of the Pyrenees challenge. As you may know there are 12 stages to cover the 1000 mile and 100,000 feet route across the Pyrenees, from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and back again to the Atlantic. Everyone is decidely always eager to ride the big climbs in the Pyrenees, but the first 4 stages (the traverse from the Atlantic-to-Mediterranean), totaling 428 miles and 32,390 ft, are in the foothills as it is too demanding and too far to go through the "high mountains" in just 4 stages. It is on the return leg of the tour (from the Mediterranean back to the Atlantic) that the course is entirely in the high mountains, 8 stages that include 24 of the most classic cols!.

Pyrenees 1000 stage 2

The view from the Aubisque summit looking east at the Col du Tourmalet, and the Col de Soulor hidden around the first bend.

But Ha! I plead guilty to the temptations of the high mountains. Even though the foothills are commanding in their own right, I found it lacking not to expose my riders to a major climb within the first 4 days of the trip. Therefore, stage 2 now includes the Col d'Aubisque, classified as an "out of category climb" in the cycling world. It took some shuffling on my part to create a feasible route, one in which the Aubisque was featured in the beginning of the day because it would be cruel to have it at the end of the day. The result, pure genius. Officially the day's ride is an "ass-kicker" at 110 miles and 10,400 ft ... and here to stay. And this is only 1 of 12 stages for the entire tour.

The Relive topographical video of the course.

Stage 2 epic Pyrenees cycling challenge

Here is the topo-map for day 2. Part of the fun and challenge of designing the routes is to keep us on roads that are off the beaten path whenever possible. Even though this isn't a detailed close-up of the map route, you can see how a stage meanders before reaching its end, and the profile of the course makes it very clear how hilly and mountainous it is. The ride starts at about an elevation of 1300 ft and climbs to almost 6000 ft at the top of the col d'Aubisque, and then it drops down and continues on through the foothills. All a lot of fun for the maniacal cyclist.

The profile for the 2nd stage more or less speaks for itself. The col d'Aubisque is featured at the start of the ride when your legs are fresh and that leaves you free to attack the climb with some panache. However, considering that there are another 90 miles to the finish after the climb, and another 5,400 ft., it is probably best to moderate your efforts a little. If you study the profile with a keen eye you'll see that there are about 20 miles of downhill after you crest the Aubisque summit. Speaking from experience this lends itself to some fast and furious riding. Another moment of pure cycling joy in the Pyrenees.

Ride across the Pyrenees ultimate cycling challenge

The overall perspective of the route for stage 2 as it relates to the entire Pyrenees mountain range and both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.

Trip dates: Aug 27th to Sept 11. Cost $4200. More details here.

Pyrenees cycling tour

At first glance this photograph is a dime a dozen, but take the time to study some of the details while I describe the context. At this point in the ride we've descended off the Col d'Aubisque and are pedaling through the foothills, specifically somewhere below the Col du Tourmalet. We are at about mile 45, and it's around 11:30 am. It's hot enough already that I've got my jersey unzipped, and the pace challenging enough that Rob (blue helmet) pivots his upper body left and right with each pedal stroke, a tell tale sign that's he's working to keep the pace and stay in the draft. We are riding two abreast and in the middle of the road, proof that betrays the minimal car traffic on this back road. Even though we have another 65 miles to ride our jersey pockets are lightly stocked, testament to our confidence of the van support that is at our finger tips all day long. All of this to a cyclist is what you call "living it up."

Trip dates: Aug 27th to Sept 11. Cost $4200. More details here.

Ride across the Pyrenees 2016

So the foothills are the "low roads." But the low roads aren't a "step down," rather these roads are an opportunity to see another personality of the Pyrenees that is not steeped in high mountain folklore and legends. I imagine you could call them the neglected but brilliant and beautiful siblings. Believe me it is well worth it to ride through the back roads and see what 90% of the tourists never do, the hidden farms, villages, and splendid landscapes that are the inner workings of this region. It's also just plain fun and challenging riding. And lastly it's a great introduction and a way to ease into the trip - though averaging 100 miles a day for the first 4 days isn't that easy.

Trip dates: Aug 27th to Sept 11. Cost $4200. More details here.

Ride across the Pyrenees 2016 challenge

I think the smiles on their faces says it all. Stage II, redesigned with the Col d'Aubisque, at 110 miles and 10,400 feet is here to stay. As Carol said "any one of the stages in this tour would have been memorable, but to put them all together in a single tour was epic. It was without a doubt the most physically and mentally challenging cycling I've ever done on a bike. It was evident from the very beginning that this tour was put together by someone who understands what it means to be an avid cyclist."

Trip dates: Aug 27th to Sept 11. Cost $4200. More details here.

"Allan- As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t think a repeat of previous reviews would be very helpful. That being said, I totally agree with every positive comment on your website. The routes, the roads, the scenery, the cycling history; all were spectacular and make this Pyrenees trip a must for serious cyclists. I loved the smaller, mom and pop, hotels. The meals were perfect for hungry cyclists. The regional wines at every dinner were delicious. I’ve been on luxury vacations before, and I’ve truly enjoyed them. But this trip was special without the luxury; luxury may have even spoiled it. This trip had everything a serious cyclists needs for the trip of a lifetime, and nothing you don’t. Avoiding unnecessary luxury made the trip one of the best travel bargains I’ve ever seen and gave it an atmosphere that helped the group coalesce around the goal of completing the entire trip with some panache. It was clearly brutal fun. My advice to any serious cyclist considering this trip is to pack a large supply of HTFU cream and GO. NOW.
I was impressed by the lack of car traffic out on course. The effort put into route selection was apparent daily. Those drivers we did share the roads with were exceptionally polite by USA standards. (Well, except for the crazy Catalonians). Several times I assumed we were on a dedicated bike path, not being used to the smaller roads and the lack of traffic, only to be surprised by a rider calling out “car up”. As a more, ahem, “senior” rider, I wanted to give you and Jeff a special thank you for helping me complete the entire trip. Whether letting me jump on your wheel, or fixing a sandwich when I was too tired to think, you guys always appeared at the right time. Never pushy or loud, just subtly helpful. (Not sure how useful that comment might be. Just what you need, more old guys to look after). However, you could have taken a little more time to catch me that one time I attacked you when you were soft pedaling with Gordy ( pretty sure it was him).
One of the biggest surprises didn’t hit until several weeks after returning home. The huge boost in my cycling fitness was absolutely stunning. I kept thinking my power meter must be broken. I initially planned on easing up after completing such a memorable entry on my bucket list. But I find that I’m more motivated than ever to continue hard training. I remember thinking halfway through the trip that the riders repeating the trip must truly be crazy. Now, I find myself regretting that I didn’t set aside vacation time for your 2018 edition. A trip like this helps erase mental limitations to what an athlete thinks he can accomplish. It’s true, Allan. The “France from Inside” Pyrenees trip is a gateway drug! All the best, Steve" (Steve Saltz, attended the ride in 2017.)

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