Pyrenees July 2011: Arreau to Arreau

Arreau to Arreau – various routes – 200 miles

Phil had planned a round trip going into Spain through the Bielsa tunnel to Ainsa then West on the N260 to Biescas, North over the Col du Pourtalet to Laruns and then East over the Cols D’Aubisque, Soulor, Tourmalet and D’Aspin back to Arreau. He thought this was a pretty foolproof plan given that there was but one road South from Arreau to the Bielsa tunnel.

Setting off from Arreau en masse at the appointed hour on the D929 Phil stopped to take some photos waving the others past. He resumed his ride expecting to catch the others up after a few miles. When he got to the Balsa tunnel, where there was a queue for roadworks, he saw only Taj and Kyle at the head of the queue. Meeting up with them a few miles down the road he enquired as to the whereabouts of Andy, Cat and Gaz. They had no idea. They had been behind them at one point but had then disappeared from view.

It transpired that on the single i.e. 1, roundabout between Arreau and the Bielsa tunnel Andy, Cat and Gaz had taken the wrong option. It was a dead end road that lead to a lake where they had a coffee and considered their options.

In the meantime Phil, Kyle and Taj thought that the best thing was to carry on the planned route in the hope of meeting up with the others later on in the day. As it was the road down from the tunnel was really good – the A138 on the Spanish side – and they had a good ride down to Ainsa where they stopped to refuel. Unable to make contact with the others by mobile phone they headed West on the N260. We had ridden this road the other way on our first Pyrenean tour.

Some people rave about the N260 and there are some very nice sections. It still not as great as it’s cracked up to be but the first section from Ainsa through to Broto is pretty good, and the good news was that the second section from Broto through to Biescas had been substantially improved over the 5 years since we had first been here.

The road from Biescas to the top of the Col du Pourtalet – the A136 – is fast, wide, open and scenic. It’s fast and wide because there are ski resorts at the top and so the road is designed for the myriad coaches that bring the skiers up in winter. They had a nice run to the summit and just over it and past the usual souvenir shops and cafes they stopped at the same café they had used 5 years previously.

In the meantime Cat, Gaz and Andy had got back on the right road and had reached Spain. They were still unsure where to go but a passing rider on a BMW GS, with his daughter on the back, took them in hand and led them down to Ainsa. Apparently he did this at a considerable rate of knots which just goes to prove that on a bike it’s still more about the rider than it is about the bike. In any area with twists and turns a well-ridden bike with 75bhp can take on any sportsbike and win.

At Ainsa they held a council of war. Gaz and Cat decided that a good lunch and a leisurely ride back to Arreau they way they had come was the best course of action. Andy decided that he was going to get his money’s worth and ride the route. At around this time Phil, sitting on top of the Pourtalet, made contact with Andy so at last everyone knew what was going on. Andy was about 2 hours behind Phil, Taj and Kyle but he had the route on his SatNav so was going to continue at his own pace and take lots of photos.

Sitting outside the café with stunning views in all directions Phil thought that he had nothing to complain about. He had a top litre sportsbike under him in an area with great roads and he was sharing the experience with his mates. Kyle agreed, but it seemed that Taj’s traumas were continuing to amass. His gear wasn’t right. His FireBlade was past it. He had a hangover and his riding was IHO crap. Phil thought that Taj’s riding had been fine and told him not to worry. Fat chance!

Getting back on the bikes they continued down the Pourtalet on the French side – the D934. This is a lovely ride whether you’re ascending or descending, with great views and a nice road. Just before Laruns they took a right onto the D918 and headed up Col D’Aubisque. Again the road was relatively open until you got to the ski resorts and then it tightens up as the road no longer has to take a long coach. However, the views were great. It was the first time we had seen them. When we had ridden this Col 5 years before it had been in thick cloud. Now they could appreciate the scenery. After a short stop at a café at the top they continued. The Aubisque runs seamlessly into the Col du Soulor and then drops down to Argeles-Gazost. This part was slow as the French were resurfacing a lot of the descent so riding down over hot tar which had just had its load of chippings laid required care.

They refuelled at Argeles and headed South on the D921 to Luz St Saveur where they turned East on the D918 towards the Tourmalet. This was a nice fast run up the valley and up the Col to the summit, where Kyle showed them where he and Kay had watched Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck battle it out in the previous year’s TdF.

Descending the road is tight until you get below the awful concrete monstrosity that is the ski resort at La Mongie and then opens up for a nice run down the valley to Saint Marie de Campan. Then they turned right to go up and over the D’Aspin and back to Arreau. 200 miles with plenty of good roads and 4 Cols climbed for the first time in that direction.

After a clean up they repaired to a bar in the centre of town where they met up with Gaz and Cat. About 2 hours later Andy, who, true to his word, had completed the route, joined them. Andy commented that it was the first bike tour he had been on where everyone had set off together but within 10 minutes everyone was on their own, only to get together back as one group by the end of the day. He had yet to learn that there was plenty of precedent for this type of behaviour on a BBOT tour.

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