Thursday, 18 March 2010

Hospice closed, so things got a little silly...

Yesterday I set off at a fairly leisurely pace to cycle the 25km south from Bertren to Luchon. The sun was shining and when I stopped for lunch at a cafe in Luchon as recommended by my hosts, the temperature was a positively sweltering 20c. With time on my side, I set off for the climb of Hospice de France, which shares its first 6km with the climb of Superbagneres. After taking the left fork to Hospice, it soon became apparent my planned route would not be possible. There was heavy shade from trees to the west and there was plenty of snow on the road. The way to Hospice was shut.

This is where my ambition ran away from me a little. I rolled on back to the turning which takes you toward Superbagneres and thought to myself, "you've come all the way here, why the heck not?". By way of background, Superbagneres is a fair brute of a climb that lasts 18.5km in total - not a climb I had contemplated on doing when I flew out to the Pyrenees on Monday. Chris told me earlier in the week that it is only 1km shorter and climbs up only 200m less than the Tourmalet. "If you can climb Superbagneres, you can climb the Tourmalet" he said. With his words running through my head, I thought I'd give it a crack.

The gradient is a fairly steady 8-10% after the first 6km but it is the sheer length of the climb that makes it tough. Mentally riding within yourself for 90 minutes is not easy. But the views of the climb easily distract, there were huge mountain ranges to be seen over the border to Spain and with plenty of hairpins I really did feel like I was accomplishing something. In actual fact, I thought it easier to climb than the much shorter but much steeper Portet d'Aspet.

There is a ski station at the top of Superbagneres and I got some strange looks off the skiers on the slopes. But that made me feel all the more cool - I had got to the top under my own esteem, they had used a chair lift!

One more thing - the descent. What a descent! There are long straights in amongst the stunning views and switchbacks that mean you can really fly down the mountain. I was getting braver and leaning further down towards my handlebars and even registered my quickest speed on a bike (a rather pedestrian 67kmh may not seem much in comparison to the pros, but I felt like I was flying!).

I cannot understand why the TdF organisers don't visit that climb more often - I had a great time climbing it and the views in places were beyond words. Getting up Superbagneres gives me plenty of confidence going forward. I've only been riding a bike seriously since December, so if I can drag myself up 1800m in mid-March then trust me, anyone can!


  1. Truly beautiful. Stunning photos, thanks so much for this. What an achievement and totally agree that this is going to give you so much confidence going forward. Did you find yourself sitting down on the climb or did you have to keep getting out of the saddle? I'm like a jack-in-the-box and need to learn (from all the advice I've read) to stay seated and spin up but I find it difficult to do that. On a long climb like Superbagnares what worked best?

  2. It is good that you will know what to expect on the climbs Dan. Good effort there.

    Looking foward to your next update :) Man I wish I was there it is fair bleak in Glasgow these days lol.

  3. Cheers for the comments guys, it's nice to know you are enjoying the updates.

    @Andrew - I tend to use the gradient to determine my climbing style. When it is anything up to 9% on one of the big climbs, I tend to sit in the saddle and slowly crank away at a cadence of about 60. Whenever it hits 10%+ it's time to get out of the seat and use some bodyweight! I suppose each individual will be different, but I really did find that staying seated meant I could gauge my effort better and not get carried away.

    @Alec - I've been pretty lucky with the weather here, apparently just last week the temperature was hovering around zero and they had 6 inches of snow! Can't wait to get back here in July - I'm sure you're the same.

  4. Dan, so jealous of your exploits in the Pyrenees, Superbagners is a climb i've wanted to do for ages and hopefully will get a chance to in the days preceding the Etape. Kudos for climbing it in winter and hope you're trip is going great!