CCC West Pyrenees in five words explained
The name alone speaks in a rebellious tongue to me. That sense of pride of their culture. Their resilience when confronted with threats throughout their torrid history. Between mountain and sea ; between French and Spanish, this region stands alone. Even the roads seem to reflect the best qualities of this culture : fearless in their search to make the most of the region’s natural gifts ; roads seemingly built more to serve the isolated shepherds on the wide open grazing hills than to exploit and ‘encourage progress’. Freed from the parameters set by a long harsh winter, this maritime region has been able to build roads with regular pitches of 20% ( and sometimes more). Quite simply, this region has some of the best ( read ‘toughest’, naturally !) cycling I have come across. Then there’s the Gateau Basque…..
The Pyrenees have less of that Alpine / Dolomite ‘spectacle’. But what they lack in drama they make up for, and some, in subtle beauty and magical charm. One CCC rider said, back in 2010: “The Alps are more about ‘outer’ sensations ; the Pyrenees are about the ‘inner’ ones”. I so agree. They get inside you. The quiet valleys, unspoilt by any industry, that we traverse briefly in our pursuit of more altitude, never interrupt the flow of the gentle soundtrack of this rural tranquility. Climbs are unpredictable. Descents are even more so. Roaming animals bring the landscape alive. It’s a soothing place to spend ten days, even when we are hurting ourselves a little !
There are no rules when building roads in the Basque region, in which we spend stages one, two and part of nine and ten. Therefore the road will often just take the shortest way up. Low gears are essential ! So too is a solid mindset. There is no way of knowing what lies in store. Assume the worst and you stand a chance !
Even once in the ‘proper’ Pyrenees, gradients are all over the place : rarely can you ride that nice Alpine ‘steady-eddy’ pace. I never get bored with any of the roads here!
Many CCC riders have completed both the Dolomites and this event, and all have said that this one is tougher because of the gradients, but all say that they totally loved it ( no suprise here then : toughest usually = best !)
Imagine ten days being passed by very few cars ; occasionally going round (rarely) busy roundabouts ; and staying in towns who have never had to manage traffic problems. Then add a subtle background murmur of flowing, occasionally cascading, water, (sometimes enhanced by light maritime drizzle !). Place over that intermittent collective ‘jams’ of various tones of chiming bells, randomy played by nonchalant cows, sheep or goats, or by all three. Of course your own efforts to get more oxygen into your lungs takes lead solo most of the time. The combination is quite therapeutic after a few days of this harmess intoxication !
Valleys are narrow and soon behind us. The next climb sometimes starts with little respite at all from the preceeding white-knuckle descent. Occasionally our route will follow the valley, but not that often ! Gradients change regularly, as said above. Road tarmac is often in bad need of repair. Animals enjoy the road as much as we do, and they leave more on it than we do. Both create equal challenges for us.
We do enjoy some perfect free-flowing descents, as well as some pleasantly steady climbs, which add the variety to the ride that I love so much when riding here. It is the variety of the roads that are both our challenge and our reward. There is almost always something to be figuring out.