Being a technology company means we can work from anywhere in the world (within wifi coverage). Taking advantage of this, last week I packed my laptop and worked out from a small village near Limoux, around 20 miles south of Carcassonne in south east France. This small village of Saint Polycarpe is home to friends Jack and Gemma where they run their furniture and lighting design company, SmithMatthias.
Staying pretty well in the foothills of the Pyrenees, it would have been rude not to get out for a decent ride. After a few Strava searches, we found our parcours du jour – a 112 mile route from Limoux to Foix, as ridden on stage 14 of the 2012 Tour de France. This was a stage remembered for the sabotage caused by tacks thrown on the road. Evans was among many that punctured and Sanchez went on to win.
The 112 mile route takes in some awesome French scenery along the Aude before looping off into the edge of the Pyrennes where three decent climbs are waiting, including a cat-2 and two cat-1 climbs of Port de Lers and and Mur de Peguere).
Ryanair don’t like cyclists (£120 fee), so it was a hire job for me. I got my hands on a great Giant TCR from Velomondo. If you’re in the area, give Craig a shout as he’s got good gear and a good reputation.
After some bike fettling, a bowl of peanut butter porridge and a butter coffee (my first try but definitely not my last), we were on the road by 8am with some cheese and ham baguettes stuffed in our jersey pockets.
Limoux to Quillan
The first 20 miles was a nice gentle warm up and a chance to shake off the local wine the night before. We hugged the banks of L’Aude from Limoux all the way to Quillan. It’s a great smooth rolling road and nice to not be constantly watching for potholes and drain covers.
With glimpses into the small quaint villages as we rode, the kilometres passed quickly. And when we weren’t distracted by the scenery, we were dodging the patches of grape juice spillage from the last of the year’s harvest. The stickiness made a sound like we’d punctured.
Quillan to Chalabre
At Quillan, we peeled away from L’Aude heading north-west towards Montbel. Whilst it was a bit tantalising heading away from the approaching Pyrenean hills, we knew we’d be back later in the day and we weren’t complaining as the roads were just as nice to ride and there was more good stuff to look at.
Chalabre to Tarascon
We turned back toward the mountains after Chalabre, and after a bit more of the same rural French scenery, started the gentle climbing towards the Cols. The valley sides got higher, steeper and rockier and we began to feel much smaller.
Tarascon to Fiox
This final loop into the heart of the Pyrenees was a fiery end to the day, but the effort was rewarded with vistas well worth stopping for – as we did regularly. We seemed to spend hours ascending up vast valleys flanked by craggy greenery and trees and small idyllic villages and small-holdings with the odd Tabac offering us sustenance to get us up.
The first big climb was 11km to the top of Port de Lers at 1,571m. Whilst it felt long, at around 6% average gradient it wasn’t too painful compared to the nasty 25% gradients I grew up around in The Lakes, and also the gradient that was to come later.
The second climb was much more testing. After passing through a tiny Hamlet called Le Coudou, we started our ascent of Col de Ports – 12.5km up to 1250m and an average of 5% gradient. I was just getting into my groove half way up when my route took me off this ascent to start a new climb of Col de Peguere. This took us a little higher to 1375m but went up the col side with 18% gradients rather than over the back. This was pretty tough being the end of the day, and I began to fantasise about the après ride!
The light was starting to fade at the top of Col de Peguere so it was a quick photo and roll back off the Pyrenees from 1375m to 650m – 35km without pedalling. Unfortunately we couldn’t get down quicker than the sun, and the final few km were a bit sketchy with my basic lights. We made it down at last, and was kindly picked up by our patient girlfriends in the car – back to Saint Polycarpe for a good feed and a celebratory bottle or two of Blanquette.
It was a superb day, and thankfully it was drama free – not a tack in site!
How I compare to the pros
Riding the same route and comparing times shows just how fast the ProTour cyclists are. Here’s how I shaped up against stage winner Luis León Sánchez.
Stage time: Rob – 08h 56′ 21″ / Sánchez – 04h 50′ 29″
Av. speed: Rob -13.3mph (21.4kph) / Sánchez – 24.5mph (39.5kph)
Strava Route / Stats