Friday, May 24, 2019

May 24, 2019 Aurillac to Issoire

I think today would qualify as the day of the cols.  Right out of Aurillac the route took us to the Col du Pas de Payrol at 1531 m it is the highest mountain pass in the Massif Central part of France.  It has been featured on several Tour De France tours.  As such the road is in exceptional shape.  All along the climb to the summit there are markers indicating the average grade over the next kilometer.  I saw 8.82% and there were steeper sections in that kilometer.  The starting elevation was 659m but we were as low as 618 m on the route before starting the climb.  The views from the top are totally unbelievable as you are way above the tree line which is probably 300 meters below you.   All of the and all of the wild flowers were out in a beautiful display in the alpine meadows.  If you listened really close you could just catch the odd strain of Julie Andrews signing.

It was freezing cold at the summit and I was glad to have my rain jacket to keep the wind off and for the screamer downhill.  As few quick photos and we were off. 

When I looked at the profile I thought that it was pretty much downhill all the way into Issoire.  WRONG.  After the big downhill there were a lot of places where the road climbed up to the nose of a hill and then dived back to the next draw and then back up again to the next point.  At one place there was a long sustained climb between two larger hills and there was the next Col de Montirargues at 1139 m.  It was well below the tree line.  

From there it was downhill in to the town of Allenche.  Ken and I pulled up to a Boulangier and picked up a couple of Quiches, and a Baggett. As we had a big climb of 275 meters in front of us we decided to load the food on the bikes rather than do the climb on full stomachs.  We climbed about 230 meters in about 12 kilometers and there was a picnic table. We pulled in and had a cyclist feast. 
I thought we were close to the summit but there were still two more Cols in front of us; Col de Fortunier at 1280 meters, and  Col de la Vaseze at 1295.  The weather is starting to close in and I am getting worried that we could get a nasty rain squall and at this elevation it is going to be cold and nasty.  These two summits were just above the tree line. This meant another long decent and I decided that it was time to put may rain jacket which I had taken off during the climb back on and I was glad I did.  After a few ups and downs we hit the major decent towards Issoire.  This was about 35 kms of 4-5%.  While there was a lot of switch backs and sharp hair pin corners I was rolling along at up to 55 kms.  The road had been newly paved and was the smoothest section I have ridden for a long time.

As a follow up to Ken’s tire problem of the other day he had a spare tire in his luggage which he mounted. However this tire is a folding tire he purchased at Canadian Tire ten years ago for $5.00 (or some such thing).  At one point in the ride we pumped the tire as it was really low.  So I was kind of worried about the speeds on the downhill.  

At the 111 kms mark we cleared the downhill section into Issoire and we hit by a nasty head wind which was blowing down the valley.  Even though it was still slightly downhill we had to work hard to make progress in the head wind.

All in all Ken and I had a great day covering 133 kms and 2150 meters of climb.  What about Bob you ask well he took the bus/train.  He did have a good adventure and that is what counts.


Thursday, May 23, 2019

May 23, 2019 Cahors to Aurillac

I am too tired to write a lot to day as it was the longest day of the tour at 140 kms an 2300 meters of climb.  So just a few highlights and a few pictures. 

We started off along the river valley and the first climb of the day followed a natural draw in the the valley.  It was about 12 kms and 250 meters of climb.  Some gorgeous views along the way however as it was right into the sun I never got any pictures.  My Surly Long Haul Trucker is ideally suited to this as I have a triple crank and an 11-34 rear cassette. 

Lots of lefts and rights down these wooded lanes all of which had almost zero traffic it was absolutely stunning.  Through several tiny little villages and in one villages all the roads were torn up as they rebuilding all the streets in town.  The Garmin route didn’t exist anymore but we knew we were headed east so we just picked one and a few kilometers we picked up the route.

The second big climb of the day was about 350 meters and was pretty much in the open.  As it had gotten quite warm is was a sweat fest.  There was a tremendous down hill right after the summit and then we were at the last major climb of the day was 550 meters. It was up this deeply incised creek which was flowing in the valley.  It was really steep in several section and I had to stop and catch my breath.  Then even after a person got to the top there were a lot of smaller ups and downs .  The views at the top were just extraordinary and I stopped to take a couple of panoramas.

I had a lot of fun barking at sheep today.  As they were bolting away you could almost see the little thought balloons coming out of them. “Génial! Maintenant, les chiens ont des vélos.”


Wednesday, May 22, 2019

May 22, 2019 Toulouse to Cahors

The weather forecast for today was perfect so we wore our tour jerseys this morning.  The bright tri-colours looked great.  After the required photo ops we rolled off.  I had set the start time at 8:30 Am but we managed to get rolling at 8:20 am.  Such a punctual crew.  

A few lefts, a few rights, a couple of bridges and we on the canal path out of Toulouse. The streets were busy with commuters and the canal path had a lot of bikes going both ways.  The place was alive with people hurrying off to work.  Within a few kilometers we were in the country and the only people we saw were those out for a morning walk or bike ride.  The canal path was very smooth and we made great time.  We were headed north along the left bank of the canal for most of the way. This put the sun on our right and was shining across the fields and through the trees making the canal just shimmer. It was so pretty.

 At the 44 kms mark there was loud bang behind me. Sure enough Ken had a blowout.  The blow out in his tire was right in the center of the tire and at least 4 cm long.  Looking at the condition of the tire I am surprised that it lasted as long as it did.  The cords were showing in several places around the tire.  The section which blew out was right in the middle of a place where there was no rubber left.  I had some duck-tape which I put on the inside of the tire and Ken had a good heavy boot cut from an old tire. We carefully centered the boot and off we went.  The route followed the canal to the 55 km mark and then we turned on to some secondary roads which took us into a town at the 60 km mark.  By now Ken’s tire is bulging quite badly.  Being half way and about 11:30 we had lunch and weighted our options.  We rode over to the train station to see if Ken could get a train in but as it was an un-manned station there was no-one to help us so we decided to have Ken call Agnes and catch a sag.  Bob and I rode on.

The road had a center line but almost zero traffic. The odd car maybe once every 20 minutes or so.  This made for a very nice ride as the sun was warming us and there wasn’t a breath of wind anywhere.   The kilometers dropped off quite quickly and before we knew it we were at the first climb of the day.  It was 1.5 kms of 7% at the 67 kms mark.  Not a killer climb but it did get our attention.

From the top of the hill there was a great downhill followed by some very nice rolling hills. The country side was mostly grain farms with the odd vine yard and orchard.  It looks like cherries might be ready soon.  We came around a corner and there was a huge cathedral on top of a very large hill and we knew that we had come to the second climb of the day.  There were a total of 6 switchbacks to get to the top.  It was 1.8 kms of 6 %.   As we chugged to the top there was a little village there an Bob said “If I don’t get some Ice Cream I am going to bonk”.  I laughed and we rode off course towards the huge Cathedral and into a beautiful town square. Low and behold there was an ice cream shop.  Hi fives were handed out. 

From the top of the second climb it was 20 kms into Cahors. There was about 12 kms of rolling ups and downs but mostly downs and the last 5 kms was a huge downhill before entering Cahors.

Just as were we crossing the bridge into Cahors there was Agnes with Ken and the bike rolling into town.  Yes it is true behind every great tour director is the people who do the work.  Big Thanks to Agnes for rescuing Ken.  

Tonight we are in the Terminus Hotel in Cahors. It is an 18 century hotel which is absolutely stunning.  Set your watch back 300 years and you are in the lobby.  Beautiful antique furniture, stained glass windows, huge wall paintings.  WOW!  Tonight we are dinning in the hotel dining room which has a huge list of glowing reviews.  Peaking in the windows of the dining room and it does look special.

What a great day!  Total of 122 kms and 532 meters of climb.  It could be any better.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

May 21 2019 Rest day Toulouse

Today was a rest day and I was determined to have a day where I did nothing.   Sleep in have a late breakfast and generally wind down.  However I was alone in this agenda and there were people up and down the stairs at 6:30 am.  The stairs in this place are a wooden open design and every step is squeaky. Once awake I was up.  

The morning was spent doing chores and getting caught up on tour accounting.  I had a near panic as one of the hotel reservation sheets was missing from the pile and after the episode in Vancouver where the booking agency had gone bankrupt and cancelled my reservation it was a mad scramble.  In my spread sheet I had the confirmation number which was only one digit off from the cancelled reservation. I couldn’t find it in my e-mails.  A couple of searches and it turned up as an Expedia reservation so everything was fine.  But there was that “OH NO” few minutes.

I walked over to the local market and picked up a Baggett, cheese and ham for lunch for Agnes and myself.  

After lunch Bob and I walked downtown and wandered the streets.  We dropped into a couple of bike shops and marvelled at the array of e-bikes which were for sale.  A few years ago these shops would have been full of the latest in ultra-light road bikes but now are full of different models of e-bikes.  A lot of the models are using the motor down on the bottom bracket however the lightest ones are using a powered rear hub.  These bikes range from the bike path cruiser to city delivery bikes which have large baskets or parcel holders. There are very few road bikes in the stores.  

After wandering about we decided on a convenient corner and settled down for a beer.  It was nice and sunny and warm. It was so pleasant watching the people out doing their shopping and wandering in the walking area of the downtown.  

On our way back to the condo we ran into Ken and Judy who had also decided to do a stroll. 
This evening Bob has done some research on local curry places and is going to guide us to one he has picked out and give us a lesson in Indian food.   It should be fun

Tomorrow is a 121 kms ride up to Cahors.  The first 55 kms is along a canal path so it will be quite nice. The weather forecast is for a beautiful day and it looks like the weather is going to be much better the rest of the week.  Thursday is the biggest day of the tour at 140 kms. 


Monday, May 20, 2019

May 20 2019 Carcassonne to Toulouse

Last night we stayed right in the Carcassonne Castle which was very cool.  The entire place dates back to the early 1200’s so needless to say the rooms were not real large, although they were quite modern and well appointed.

There was no breakfast service in the castle until quite late in the morning so Bob, Ken and I rolled without breakfast and were on the lookout for a place to eat as we rode through the downtown section of Carcassonne.  The route out of the castle was extremely steep and was real test of the brakes.  

Once  out of the castle and into Carcassonne the route was real easy and had us on the outskirts of town but no breakfast.  Luckily we spotted a grocery store just as we were about to leave the city. I grabbed a few apricots, a baguette, some cheese and a two liter jug of orange juice.  Baguette and cheese made a fine breakfast and the orange juice filled my water bottles.

Out on the road the 40-50 km wind from yesterday had subsided considerably but was still in the 25 to 35 kms range.  Whenever I was in the open the wind was right in my face and the best I  could do was about 11 kms/hr.  Progress was painful and the first 10 kms after leaving town were down a main road which had no cover from the wind.  It took us an hour to get to the first turn which took us off the main road and down some little winding country roads which had some tree cover.  

The first 55 kms were all up hill and straight into the wind. While there was some tree cover on the smaller roads and through the villages it took from 8:15 am until 2:00 pm to cover this distance to the summit. The second 50 kms was all down a paved canal bike path and this distance took us only 2 hr to cover.  

At 11:30 we pulled into the little town of Castlelaudry where there was a huge market happening. It looked like mostly used clothing to me but Ken went down a different lane from me and there were several different food vendors.  So we stopped for lunch.  I had a hot panni which really filled the bill. We still had a long way to go to the summit and were getting pretty tired.  As we had just crossed a huge set of train tracks I knew there was train service to this town, so I joking said to Ken that we should take the train.  Googling train stations near me on my phone showed one 650 meters.  We both laughed as Ken said taking the train isn’t sagging you know.  After we got into town, Ken confided that it would not have taken but a tiny push from me and we would have been on the train.

The second half of the ride was down the canal path.  It was so beautiful with huge trees shading us from the sun and wind.   It was most unusual in that the path was made of concrete. The concrete worked very well that tree roots did not break through like they do with asphalt.  It was very unusual concrete in that it looked like asphalt as there was the same kind of voids.  It worked so well.  

About 25 kms out on the canal path we stopped for a little break. I had a couple of apricots left from breakfast in my trunk and Ken and I were eating them when two other riders passed us and yelled out “Bon Appetite”. This was the third time today we were eating and someone yelled this out to us.  It must be a custom here.  

We were glad to make Toulouse and be in for the day.  Bob had dropped us early on and he had arrived about 20 minutes before Ken and I so we felt pretty good that he was in and not lost somewhere.  

The Airbnb condo we have is really nice and everyone is looking forward to a day off.


Sunday, May 19, 2019

May 19, 2019 Beziers to Carcassonne

After a very nice breakfast at the B&B where we were staying Bob, Ken and I rolled.  Being a Sunday morning there was no traffic on the road what so ever.  The first couple of kilometers were down a busy road but at 8:30 Am there wasn’t a single car.  

We didn’t really notice how heavy the wind was either as we were headed due south and down a very heavily wooded area.  However this was soon to change. We turned due was and were confronted by a 40 km/hr head wind which almost brought us to a halt.  This wind was to plague us the entire day.  It should have been a pretty easy day as it was only 85 kms and 355 meters of climb.  However this was to prove to be one of the hardest ride days I have ever had.  The wind was so strong that even riding in close to each other proved to be of very little value.   The only real relief was where there was some sort of wind shadow such as in some of the villages but then it was only a few blocks long or where there were some trees. However we are in open farming country so there were vast sections where there was nothing but vine yards where the grape vines were only a couple of feet tall or open fields. Right now the grapes are no bigger than a grain of wheat.

The route was very picturesque as we were down little tiny roads which had no center line for about 85% of the route. There were only two sections down roads which had center lines and one being about 3 kms and one being about 8 kms.  The 8 kms section was right at the end where there was most of the climb and was all in open country and we were all exhausted.  The Weather Network was reporting a steady 40 kms wind with gusts to 50 kms.

Carcassonne was a Roman fortress which was built and expanded through the ages.  It was a strategic post on the trade routes to Rome and through the ages.  By the 1200’s it was held by one family and the king decided to mount a siege against the castle.  The siege was successful and the castle was surrendered.  The king then rebuilt and greatly expanded the castle adding a second wall around the castle and numerous defense towers. This work was more or less done by 1650.  However trade routes changed and the castle lost its strategic importance and fell into disrepair.  In the 1800’s there was a revival of interest in the castle and it was rebuild to its condition in 1650.   The castle is still being studied using modern computer models and work in on going.  It is the most complete medieval castle I have ever seen.  Ken, Bob and I walked through the castle and walked the rampart walls surrounding the old town.  There were way too many stairs for my legs which had just done one of the hardest rides I can remember.  Big steps and really tight spiral stairs as well.

I loved the Carcassonne tile game as a kid and still play it today on the computer.  So this was a big bucket list item for me to see.  It was a great experience. I know that when I return home and am playing Carcassonne on the computer I will treasure this experience and think back to today.

terry hot biker