The loop was around 105km and was mostly flat before the Peyresourde with some newly surfaced roads (something else to thank the TdF for). Unfortunately, there was plenty of wind and it was all blowing my way. My average speed slowed to around 19kmh and whilst making such pedestrian progress I decided to pull in for lunch. The situation with the wind is definitely something I will have to monitor closely on Etape day and factor into my broom wagon calculations.
In a small cafe in the town of Sarrancolin, I indulged in some typical rural French behaviour and asked the waitress for some red wine with my lunch. The old riders of the 50s and 60s used to raid bars and cafes before climbing the brutes of the Tour so I thought I'd try and do the same. I'm not sure whether that hampered my progress at all, but with the wind still gusting it took me a lot longer than I wanted to reach the bottom of the Peyresourde.
Fortunately, there was plenty of great scenery to keep me occupied. The western approach of the Peyresourde climbs up out of a valley flanked with snow-capped peaks. The gradient was steep without being savage. I've worked out that if the km markers say 7-8%, that means you are in for some 10% sections interspersed with some relief/recovery inclines. Any km markers that say 9% or more mean it is time to grit your teeth and grind away. With less fuss than I anticipated, I rounded the corner toward the summit (was this the red wine kicking in?) and found myself full enough of energy to crack a smile to all passers by. It was a great feeling to get up the Peyresourde so well, even if I did not break any records doing so.
As with Superbagneres, the descent towards Luchon was worth all the effort. Technical at the top, there were some great views to enjoy whilst swishing through the hairpins. With that first section out of the way, it was time to get the wind whistling through my helmet, put my nose closer to the handlebars and build up some speed. Working on my descending was a primary aim of this training week and with some tips given to me by Chris I was gaining in confidence. So much so that I ended up passing 3 cars on the descent (one was only a Fiat Panda, so I'm not sure I can count that one!) which was a real rush.
Back in Luchon, I passed the billboards advertising the arrival of the Tour. As the road was now flat, it gave me the chance to consider a few things. Like how on earth could anyone actually race up the mountain I just ascended? I mean the riders actually jockey for position, push out elbows, accelerate and counter-accelerate. I had felt good counting out my effort one revolution at a time, but there was no way I could have gone any faster if required. The experience gave me an even greater appreciation of the feats of professionals.
Leaving Luchon, the wind that was against me was now behind and I pushed for home at speed. I completed the loop with a ride time of 4hours 52minutes (not including my stop for lunch). Not bad for 102km covered and more importantly, I had a great time in doing so. Here are the stats from the Garmin.