Jerry’s Tour le Pyrenées 2001 – Day Eight

Argelès-Gazost — Lourdes — Louvie-Juzon — Asasp — Arette — Port de Lárrau — Ochagavía — Aribe — Agoitz — Pamplona (226,5 km, 2929 m up, 20% max up)

I actually planned for this day to boldly go all the way to Burguete in Spain. As it turned out, I went further – all the way down to Pamplona. If I had continued all night maybe I would have reached the Atlantic, but I was rather tired when reaching Pamplona. Now I had to pay off for staying to see the Tour – that is, I had to go the same way yet again and the worst part of trying to get far to the west and at the same time seeing the Tour was that I would be forced to go on as flat (and thus boring) roads as possible to ensure I would be back in Montpellier in time – at least for the last two days. However this day should had some interesting roads and places to see for me. I quickly got out of Argelès-Gazost and went somewhat fast down and through Lourdes and continued so for quite some time. Decent roads in the beginning of the day.

Soon I was out on new roads again. The road over to Louvie-Juzon was agreeably nice and was close before the village reaching a height of 501 m. At Louvie-Juzon I crossed the road that goes up to Col du Pourtalet. The road over to Asasp (on the road up to Col du Somport) was not good at all, but amazingly to myself I kept a rather good speed there. It went through deep forests. I should probably have gone north over Col de Marie-Blanque (but on that map that road looked less likely to be good and should be more demanding by going over a col and I thought that would have slowed me down and that I maybe would not then be able to get to Burguete). In Asasp I stopped by petrol station and little restaurant and there had the cheapest meal (35 or 40 francs) on my whole trip. It was okay. Now I continued on a better road to Arette where I had an icecream (even though the rain was hanging in the air). For some reason I had forgotten that I should take a new road here in Arette and continued for a long time before I realized I was not following my plan.

When I finally realized I was going the wrong way there were no point in trying to get back on the road I had planned to go over to Spain via – the road that has four cols on the the way, the highest near the border which is Col de la Pierre St.-Martin at 1760 m. Instead I was now on the road up to Port de Lárrau. This road was a nightmare – roughly surfaced and I almost felt I was getting sea-sick. It was here I thought for myself that I had the answer to why Armstrong was so successful in the Tour – he is a Texan and as such maybe he is used to the rodeo, which I thought cycling on these roads could be compared to. Okay, the road got better near Larrau where the climb began. However, the road up to Col d’ Erroïmendy (1362 m) had the highest average elevation of all the climbs during my trip and averaged 10%. It thus went rather slow up there and it was a heavy thickness of clouds. I met two cyclists up there however and it has apparently been used in the tour earlier as I saw many famous names of the past written on the asphalt, like Indurain. I was very lucky I went in this direction over this road as having badly surfaced road on the way up is okay if the road down is good.

When I reached Port de Lárrau (1573 m), the road on the spanish side was like a dream and was well worth the trouble on the french side. Well up at Port de Lárrau, I wondered if there ought not be a sign announcing the col and stating its height as usual. I had not been able to see more than 5-10 meters around me since I passed the village of Larrau. I went around on the parking place and found the battered sign!

I had wondered for some time on the road up there why I was doing this. However, when the thicket went away just 50 meters after Port de Lárrau and the wonderful view of the Spanish side opened up and with the terribly nice road ahead, I knew there was good reasons. I have never seen a mountain with so many cows on it as one here (looked almost like flowers on the mountains in the distance). There was an obvious danger in going down too fast on this inviting road. I also noticed ahead that the road was at one stretch balancing on the height and had open views on both sides, which meant I should be a little careful with winds and so I noticed when I passed there in 50-60 km/h.

I was soon down in Ochagavía and stopped to buy a coke and discovered that I could not really make myself understood at all down here in Spain. I managed to get the soda, still. There were road signs saying Pamplona was straight ahead, but I had still not decided whether it would be realistic to get there this day as the clock was now over 6 in the afternoon. I continued in a furious speed up to Aribe and I was wondering for how long I would be able to continue in this close to competition speed as if I had not already been cycling 150 kilometers this day. Very nice and sparsely populated area up there in Spain (just as one could gather from a look at the map). Just after Aribe where the landscape were spectacular, I made the final decision to take the road south to Pamplona, despite that it was just an hour before it would begin to get dark.

The road down was rather exotic and had wonderful mountain formations, I was close to stop several times to take a photo. When I came south and out of the mountains, the landscape turned abruptly into a barren, burnt and disgusting place where you would not wished to have to stop. I passed by a little village which looked like the most poor village there could have been on this planet and it must have been abandoned as it looked totally without anything that could support its existence – no chance even to see a bird around there. Soon I was down at a somewhat terrifying huge dam – not that I have something against dams, but it seemed almost like I was an intruder on some distant planet without anything to support human life. The maximum elevation for the day was straight ahead and was a special road built near the dam – it was actually 20% up there and I had to get up there to be able to get out of this region. Just now it also started to get dark outside. Now there were only boring and seemingly endless roads down to Pamplona. I had an average speed at around 33-34 km/h all the time as I wished to be in Pamplona as fast as possible, so that I could possibly get a hotel room for the night and something to eat.

I actually met two touring cyclists out in the night on the road to pamplona – no idea of where they were heading … . I found a hotel in central Pamplona and it was totally dark even before I got to Pamplona. This was the most expensive night during my trip and there was nothing good about this hotel apart from being central and normal standard for more modern style hotels. I had to put my bicycle in the kitchen, which looked like hell (even though it was a three star hotel).

The city was a bit confusing – I went to a central square with pubs around it. No place looked attractive in any sense, but I had a very big hamburger and a beer in one of these places. Outside there were a lot of young people and trees that had been cut down and plenty of policemen with guns and barricades. I continued over to an Irish pub where I had a mashed potatoe with chicken (very good!) and drank three guiness beers. The last beer I was offered by a Pamplonian guy who explained the police activity. People were apparently protesting against turning this old square into a parking garage. This guy must had been drinking some before coming into this pub and his girlfriend did not look too happy about that he talked with me and wanted him to get home (I believe). Anyway he told me some of the bull running event that take place in Pamplona each year after I asked him if he had taken part in that. He had done so once he told me, but he pointed out it that the whole town got very dirty after this and that it was a bit weird activity (which I could not deny). Got to bed at around 2 in the night.

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