Finally I would do almost as much as planned in one day. It is the day with the second most collected height meters. I left Pont de Taule (567) decently early, but was a bit frustrated not getting away earlier as I saw people cycling by the hotel every other minute. It was rather damp weather and a bit chilly.
The road up to Col de Latrape (1111) is rather easy and I managed to catch up with some older men before the col. That made me warm up a little. The road down to Aulus-les-Bains (750) is easy and short. Then straight up the next col – a col not to take too lightly – Col d'Agnès (1575) which was the highest of the moderately high cols I climbed this day. For some reason I went really fast up this col (maybe because of all the other cyclists that were on their way up there, mostly behind me). I overtook one person not far from the col at around 20 km/h (it was flattening out there I must admit). I took a photo early on this pass on a distant waterfall, but it was not so good so I left it out.
I came to understand at the col that the cyclists were part of a German tourist party with their own bus waiting for them at the top. Only one of them had managed to get up there before me. I figured out I could probably get some air in my tires from them, so got the tires well pumped again. Then someone took a photo of me. (I do not know why so many german cyclists should be so boring and unhappy as they appear though, but at least they reluctantly helped me with this.)
There were some nice serpentines down to the junction of the Port de Lers pass (that I went up to in 2001) that you can see in the second photo. After that I remembered from 2001, that the road down to Massat was very narrow and not so good, but it was actually quite good now. In Massat I had planned to have lunch, just as I had in 2001, and at the same restaurant, as I got some of the best food I have ever eaten there. This time it did not taste quite as good though and they were not quite as inviting and happy, so things change, but it was still better than most restaurants.
Now I went in the wrong direction for 2 km or so to the next village called Biert (590). From here I first went up a dead-end road just to take in two easy cols and it worked out well as two after-dinner cols. I was a bit afraid it would only be a boring road up in the woods and then I would go back down again, but I got surprised by how nice it was up at the last col (the most obvious one). You see the nicely placed nice sign in the photo (Col de Bidal (777)). (To find this road, you take left at Biert (coming from Massat) and then directly right. The other col is Col de Boulogne (745).)
Then down again to Biert and crossed the main road, refilled the water bottle at Biert (do not forget this!!) before starting the climb up to Col de la Crouzette (1241) and then to Col de Pradel (1295) and Col de Portel (1432). I have heard that this should be a very hard climb, but at first I wondered what truth there was to that as it seemed like a very moderate climb at first in every respect. However, it soon became clear that I was heading into almost a wall to climb and it was then for some kilometres always above 10%, but mostly at around 14-15% until close before the col.
It was very hot now and I was running out of water (maybe I did not fill my bottle after all). From the Crouzette col you cycle on a ridge where one is totally exposed to the sun. With some ups and downs I somewhat soon arrived at Col de Portel – the highest col on the ridge and there is no higher place north here, so you have far views in two directions here.
I then descended to Col de Péguère (1375) and took the same road that I had taken down there in 2001 to Col des Caugnous (947) (but I came to Col de Péguère from Foix that time). The road down between these last two cols is a very narrow and very steep road. I think it is slightly steeper than the steep part of the Crouzette climb and around 15-16% mostly. Good brakes and good weather is recommended!
Then I climbed again, now up to Col de Port (1250), on a gently sloping and twisting road. I had an ice cream at the bar on the top and rested a little. The only other visitors were a couple of deaf people. I got one of them to take a photo of me and the cats there. (They understood me as well as any other frenchmen considering how bad my french is. ;-))
A bit down the nice and good road toward Tarascon-sur-Ariège, I took off to the left on a road (I think the first asphalted) up the mountainside, that is almost flat for several kilometers. This road was a very good alternative to the more trafficated road straight down. It also offered very good views almost all the way. After some time the road dips down and you can get back to the other road again, but if you here goes just some hundred meters up and ahead you will come to the Col de Cabus (965) col. This road should continue up the valley for quite some time and finally reach another col on the high ridge near the end, but it first goes down and at first dd not look surfaced (but it was). I returned down the main road here.
I tried to find a grocery in Tarascon-sur-Ariège (541) but failed to do so. Like in towns like St. Girons, there simply are no food shops apart from some big supermarkets outside town. Maybe it is the restaurant owners that have closed down all places to buy food? ;-)
It was such a busy and noisy place that I decided to go on. I cycled up the main road toward Andorra, but took off about as fast as I could (18km) at Luzenac (600). There they had a nice little food shop with everything a cyclist would ever care to ask for (apart from those eating Sports Bars all the time). I had some pastry, some fruits and a Coca-Cola – thank god for Coca-Cola! Without a Coke every now and then I would not have made it (there are substitutes and advanced Sports Drinks, but Coca-Cola works really well when travelling like this).
I was still feeling relatively fresh. The worst part of the day was the heat up at Col de Portel. I did not know that the seemingly endless climb up Col de Marmare (1361) would be so easy. It was very easy gradients evenly paced with extremely long serpentines (like 1-2 km) and I never had to use the lowest gears. The views were not very exciting, though it was nice to get further and further away from the heavy traffic down in the valley.
The gloomy valley photo was taken just before reaching the col and a bigger road. I first took the bigger road at the col in the wrong direction to continue up via Col d'En Ferret (1421) to Col du Chioula (1431), where I had another photo. I returned back to the Marmare col but then continued on the main road, which becomes somewhat flat soon after and stays up at a wide plateau at around 1000 metres.
After consulting my map, I took off on a tiny road to Comus, which is one of the extremely tiny villages up around here. It is obviously most farming land here. From there an even tinier , but still surfaced road goes up the hillside to a col called Col du Boum (1305). From there you find a choice of roads, but I stayed on the surfaced road, which soon becomes gravelled. Here I had found out a bout a cyclable gravel road that would take in a couple of cols in a somewhat short distance.
The first col you soon come to – Col de la Gargante (1352), but then you are presented with (I think) 4 different roads to take from there. I took the one going up, but that was not the one I should have taken, since there are two cols to the left here, but one has to take the next lower (level) one to the left here to soon get to these two cols properly. However, the steep road up was more exciting to be sure and at the top I followed a sign to a viewpoint place, where I took the last photo here while the sun was setting. (In effect one is just above these two cols here – Col du Pas du Roc (1345) and Pas de l'Ours (1315).)
I went back down again and then to the right toward Belcaire, via two more cols – Col de Lancise (1307) and Col de Perrucel (1064). The road to the first and nearby col is excellent. From there to just before Belcaire, the gravel is less good but mostly good enough for a road bike nonetheless. (I had a photo of the obscure wooden sign for the Perrucal sign (not here).) I reached asphalt just before the little downhill ride to Belcaire (and managed to meet one car here and nearly crashing with it).
It was just getting dark as I came to Belcaire and I really had no idea of whether I could find a place to stay the night at here and I knew from the map that there would not be any better looking alternative anywhere nearby. But thankfully they had a worn down Logis de France (I think) where the local kids hang around (only open place in the evening it seemed like). I got a sandwich and some beers and was rather happy with the day.
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