23/06/2018 – Luchon (France)
When in 1910 the journalist of the French newspaper l’Auto, Alphonse Steinés, crossed the Col du Tourmalet with difficulty, and sent his boss and patron of the Tour at that time, Henri Desgrange, the famous telegram “Atravesado Tourmalet. Very good route Perfectly practicable “, the history of cycling changed forever.
History of the Luchon-Baiona test
Despite having suffered to cross it in the snow, he decided to tell his boss that the Tourmalet can be climbed by bike.
And his boss believed him. By then the Tour, created in 1903, was in low hours because the stages were always flat and no longer captured the attention of people as in the first editions. And that same year, in the Tour de France, the first Pyrenean stage of history was run. The route of that stage was brutal: Luchon – Bayonne, of 325 km and the ports of Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque in the first half of the stage. Afterwards, many climbs and falls through the Basque-French Pyrenees to the coastal town.
That stage, disputed on July 21, 1910, gave the start signal at 3:30 in the morning. That was a stage full of anecdotes. Gustave Garrigou, for example, was the only one who climbed the Tourmalet without getting off the bike, for which he received a prize. Octave Lapitze was the first to ascend the first three ports of the day, Peyresourde, Aspin and Tourmalet.
But in the Aubisque comes another cyclist, François Lafourcade, who after a great ascent, and on the verge of fainting, left us another phrase for the history of cycling: “You are assassins,” he told the organizers at the top . On the descent Lapitze took it, after losing 15 minutes at the top, and went only to Bayonne. He beat Lapitze, with a total time of 14 hours and 10 mins. And he also took the Tour.
Leaving aside the professionals, years later the cycling tour Luchon – Bayonne was created, which recalls this stage. Now it is celebrated every two years, on the same route of that stage. It can be completed in one or two days, although the most daring choose to try it in one day.
And that was precisely my intention. Do it in 1 day only. For this I counted as always with the company of my fatigue partner Juanma. We do not know how to say “no”.
One of the things that most characterizes this test, among others, is the complicated logistics involved. It is not a test with circular route and also the distance between the points of departure and arrival is 320 kilometers. Neither is a cyclist in use, because you will find few in the need to face more than 100 kilometers without supplies.
On the other hand it was a Brevet what already in itself the differences of any other.
Summing up the logistics, the organization offers you with the inscription accommodation in Lucho and transport you have there from Bayonne, including the bicycle. You choose to do the stage in 1 or 2 days and collect your belongings in Bayonne. Seen like that, it’s easy.
Our intention, since it was a brevet, was to make it “calm” trying to enjoy it but that if in a day. I have always liked the night tests and for some hours we anticipated that we would do it at night.
And here, one of my first mistakes is already assumed. To carry out that strategy you must go with that mentality really recorded in your head. Something that did not happen and I wanted to face it like a cyclist.
On the route there is little to say, it is presented alone.
The itinerary to face these 330 km and 6200 meters of positive elevation was as follows:
LUCHON – Col de Peyresourde – Arreau – Col d’Aspin (C1) – Ste-Marie-de-Campan – Col du Tourmalet (C2) – Luz-St-Sauveur – Argelés-Gazost – Col du Soulor (C3) – Tunnel du Litor – Col d’Aubisque – Gourette – Laruns – Louvie-Juzon – Arudy – Oloron (C4) – Tardets – Mauléon – Col d’Osquich (C5) – Irissary – Bonloc – Cote de Bonloc – Hasparren – Constantinra – Briscous – BAYONNE
The truth is that I wanted to climb the legendary Tourmalet but I could see that it was not the hardest of all at all.
In Bayonne, we collected the accreditations and loaded the bicycles.
They give us a commemorative jersey of the test that I personally liked a lot.
We slept in Luchon in shared rooms, after a light dinner offered by the hostel. The town of Luchon is a thermal city located at an altitude of 600 meters, but like many other French cities I have known, it gave me a feeling of having had better times, with nice old but neglected houses, and a feeling of sadness. I have to say, yes, that the main street was quite nice with shops on both sides and curiously a chair lift that takes you to Luchon Superbagneres station a step away from the Spanish-French border by the famous port of Portillón that communicates with the valley of Aran.
And at 6 in the morning you could start the start. The funny thing is that not everyone left at the same time, because you could delay your departure a little more if for example you did the two-stage test.
One of our biggest doubts, as far as logistics is concerned, was whether to carry a backpack or not. With so many kilometers ahead and few refreshments it is necessary to carry things “just in case”. We had seen in some photo of previous editions that some had and it did not seem bad option. It was my second mistake.
Many had a support team, with friends and family with a car or van that brought them everything they needed and that were betting on different stages of the journey. We realized this when nothing else came out the vast majority of participants were “with what was”, the jersey and little else. We instead charged like mules.
And the adventure began, and never better said.
I will not focus on each of the ascents, because each one transmits something different always surrounded by a greater or lesser level of hardness and suffering. This is something you must live on yourselves.
But if I tell you that already in the first port of Peyresourde knew that the adventure was going to get very uphill. The heat that I was already starting to do, the altitude maybe and my bad preparation of the last weeks began to take its toll on me. Each port cost me more, and still I was passing them as I could. In a special way, the heat hitting me on the back of the neck for hours during each ascent, I get very tired, not helping in any way the backpack that I carried on my back.
Of all of them, the Tourmalet for its length and the heat that passes, but especially the Col du Soulor, I found the most demanding.
I came to pass them despite this, thinking that later in the flatter terrain until Bayonne I would recover. But it was not like that. This stretch of many kilometers is literally a leg breaker and I continued to get very hot, becoming more and more expensive. When we were about 200 kilometers away, my head and body said “already”. I could not continue. I was between the towns of Oloron and Tardet. I could not follow the wheels of the grupetas that came from behind and that forced me to go alone and delay the departure of my partner. I freed him from it and he was able to continue to complete it.
The problem then was how to get out of there. It did not have a support vehicle and the organization does not offer any option for retirees. Come on, you’re looking for life. I knew it was like that and there was no problem, except to look for how to do it.
Luckily, we thought that maybe some support vehicle from other cyclists who would take our pace could be a solution. We spoke with a couple from Vizcaya who were following three friends of theirs and we got it right.
HIS kindness was absolute and I even got to enjoy the hours I travel with them. Luckily my companion made grupeta with the cyclists that they followed and therefore, I followed although not in bicycle to my companion until arriving at Bayonne. That if at least it went round.
Many days have passed to evaluate this race in its proper measure, and it simply seems “brutal” to me.
A career for reflection on the effort, potential of the human being and the overcoming of the limits of the human body. La Luchón-Bayona has left in my landscapes, memories and feelings that I will not forget.
As you know from other experiences that we have told, we try not to repeat any test in which we have participated, looking for new places and sensations, but in this test “I have left” something.
I can not explain it but I would like to do it again. Only this has happened to me with another test also held in France (it seems that I am not good at this country) as is the Altriman.
More information on Luchon Baiona