Covid 19 and Your Cycling Holiday28th September 2020
What Turns Your Wheels2nd March 2021
Memories - Raid Pyrenean
It’s the end of September and I’m sat in the sunshine by the pool at Allons-y-Pyrenees looking out towards the mountains. It’s 30+ degrees, the sky is a magnificent blue and the Pyrenees look like a charcoal drawing in the heat haze. The forecast for the week ahead looks good, which is important for us because at the start of October, we are planning our next Coast to Coast adventure.
There is something special about any journey which takes you from the shores of one sea (or ocean) to the coast of another, and there are several great “coast to coast” cycle rides. The Raid Pyrenean though, is rightly regarded as the classic. The challenge is simple; dip your toe in the Atlantic, turn left, ride the length of the Pyrenees and then have a dip in the Mediterranean to finish your adventure.
There are different ways to approach riding the coast to coast along the Pyrenees but for me, the best way to experience this challenge is to ride each day and camp overnight, it keeps a great “connection” to the journey as your pedals start and stop each day on the same patch of ground, you experience the magnificent Pyrenean sunrise and sunsets and your final sight before heading to bed each evening is of the stars filling the endless sky.
I won’t be taking on the Raid though. For this trip I’m the support team: I am mini bus driver, I am cook, I will shop each day for provisions and set up (and take down) camp, driving ahead to the next camp site and repeating it all as the journey progresses. I am also dog walker, it is nice to have some company on the trip during the busy days, and most importantly, I will have snacks and a cold beer ready for each of the riders when they arrive each afternoon after their day’s riding.
For this trip I’m the support team: I am mini bus driver, I am cook, I will shop each day for provisions and set up (and take down) camp, driving ahead to the next camp site and repeating it all as the journey progresses.
As the start of our Raid approaches, we pack up the bus with tents, shelters, airbeds, camping chairs, cooking equipment and cool boxes. Our riders need only bring their bike, sleeping bags and pillows and whatever clothing they require for week; we provide the other essentials making the bike box packing that little bit easier.
We drive over to St Jean de Luz, an easy 2 hour drive west and I set up our first camp whilst Chris heads off to pick up our guests at the airport in Biarittz. It’s an exciting feeling meeting people who share the same passions as you for the first time, finding out why they have chosen to take on the challenge, what they are most excited about, the other challenges that they’ve undertaken before this one. And there is something even more exciting about sitting chilling on a campsite whilst doing all of this. But, there are bikes to be re-built, and then an evening meal to devour and as the sun sets, we wander along the coast top path to a tried and tested ‘shack’ for a hearty dinner before returning to camp for final preparations and an early(ish) night before the challenge begins the next day.
Day 1: St. Jean de Luz on the Atlantic Coast to Tardets.
With a steaming pot of coffee on the go and freshly baked croissants and pastries picked up from the local bakery, the morning gets off to a good start. For the cyclists, they’ll head out from the campsite and into St Jean de Luz for their official start. This is a bustling little harbour town full of surfers and cafes, but turn “left” towards the distant med, and the bustle is soon left behind and today they’ll be rolling through the Scottish feeling Basque country. A real highlight of the route today is the tiny winding road through the gorge of the Pas de Roland - very off the beaten track, and with beautiful scenery. It’s not the route I’ll be taking though, my journey for today will be very different to that of the riders. Once everyone has left the campsite, I begin to pack up. Each rider’s crate is loaded back onto the bus and I begin to let down airbeds, pack up all the food and cooking equipment, dismantle tents and attempt to fit everything neatly into the bus. Anyone who has experience of pop-up tents will know that users of these tents fall into two categories – those who can fold the tent back into its bag quickly and efficiently and those for whom the task is impossible. It’s a bit like folding fitted sheets, which by the way I am expert at, washing drying and ironing 12+ sheets every week during the summer season back at AYP. I am not though, expert at folding the pop up tent, which refuses to fold and insists only on popping back up with every attempt I make! With everything else packed and in the bus, I admit defeat and throw the tents into the back as best I can.
The night’s campsite is in an amazing spot in Tardets Sorholus, with a friendly restaurant on hand serving Michelin star quality food which is where we’ll be eating this evening. En route, I stop to buy essentials, more fresh fruit for breakfast in the morning, snacks for the afternoon and ice for the cool box. As soon as I begin to put up the tents (an easy job as most have already popped open), the dog decides to dig a hole and bury her bone… It’s a routine she’ll continue with throughout the journey, burying a new one each afternoon, and no doubt a tasty treat for any other dogs who happen to find the bones after we have left! With the tents up and camp ready, I can sit back and enjoy the autumn sunshine as I wait for the riders to roll in later on in the afternoon.
Day 2: Tardets to Argeles Gazost.
Day 2 will take the riders through beautiful wooded, fast rolling roads towards the Ossau valley and the looming Col d’Aubisque, the first major climb of many over the next few days. The Aubisque and its long serious climb from the Laruns side is a tough slog but they’ll be rewarded with spectacular views all around and a stunning descent of the balcony road before hopping over the Col du Soulor and completing the descent to Argeles Gazost. I’ll be taking the more direct route via the autoroute on roads we know well – we’re on home ground for the next 2 days. Installed on a well-equipped campsite, tonight’s ‘nutritious’ evening meal from the local takeaway is well deserved for the riders who’ve had a tough day and as we sit around the camp fire with our beer and pizza, thoughts turn to tomorrow’s stage of the challenge…
Day 3: Argeles to Luchon
The biggest day; beginning with the long ascent all the way from Argeles to the giant Col du Tourmalet followed by the Col d’Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde. Fatigue will be making itself felt by the top of the Peyresourde with plenty of miles now in the legs, but the descent to Luchon perhaps makes up for this, (it’s one of the best in the Pyrenees), and with refreshments in a couple of our favourite spots, this is of course our patch, it will soften the memory of all those metres climbed. For me, it’s washing day. After packing up camp, I return briefly to AYP to wash cycling clothes and restock on essentials, it’s a chance to have a quick swim too whilst the washing dries, before I head on over to Luchon to one of my favourite camping spots of the trip. After setting up camp, I meet the team at a bar in the centre of Luchon where we are a little delayed waiting for one of the riders who has taken a short cut and not yet made it, and then it’s back to camp for showers and snacks before heading just around the corner for some live music and a Moroccan feast. The stars are impressive tonight and light our way back to the tents for a well-deserved rest.
Day 4: Luchon to Tarascon
The skies are grey as I arrive at Tarascon but no rain has been forecast and I manage to set up camp quickly and efficiently. I even have time to walk the dog before the riders who have tackled the cols de Mente and Portet d’Aspet in quick succession followed by some fast rolling roads into St. Girons and then the long and scenic Col de Port into the craggy landscape of the Ariege appear, fatigue clear on their faces. It’s a quick meal out, cut short by the impending rain and I’m glad I put up the tarp earlier to provide us with the shelter we’ll need.
Day 5: Tarascon to Prades
As the riders begin another long day with a spectacular ride on the Corniche route, I find myself talking to an ex-TDF physiotherapist who is staying on the campsite. He wanders over with a bunch of rider cards and we discuss pretty much every rider in this year’s TDF. It’s raining by the time we’ve finished and I pack up the wet tents and bedraggled dog and head out towards Prades. It’s no problem that I’ve been delayed as this is a long day for everyone. The col du Jau is the final climb of the Raid but there are issues and I have to take the bus up into the hills as dusk approaches to deal with a few mechanical problems (exploding tyres) and to ferry the riders back to camp. It’s emergency dinner tonight – sausage and lentils – as there’s no time to eat out, but it’s filling and the chilli sauce adds some more flavour, and it’s appreciated by all.
Final day: Prades to Banyuls–sur–mer
A nice, relaxed and mostly flat ride for our cyclists today and I follow the same route in the bus. But first, there’s time for a nice walk around the lake at Prades, before taking to the road and then the Med is suddenly in view and a rolling road along the coast brings me to the wine heaven of Banyuls. I treat myself to a well-deserved glass of red before strolling along the beach to meet the riders who are in a celebratory mood. It’s smiles all around, that evening, especially when we find a tiny vaulted restaurant with tasty home cooked food and take the last table, watching as the rain pours down outside.
The next day, as we pack up for the final time, the dog digs her most epic hole yet in which to bury not only her bone, but herself too… We head towards the airport and it’s quiet on the bus, everyone is chilling or catching up on some sleep but what a week it’s been and what a challenge to have conquered.
We can't wait to welcome guests back to Allons-y-Pyrenees, and are looking forward to lots of new adventures.
Make sure you follow us on Facebook @allonsycycling to stay up to date with all of our current news and offers!
Want to find out more about our Tour adventures? Check out our blog post here.