Port de Bales (1755m) - A Bonus Day on our Bikes

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Monday 3 November 2014

Port de Bales (1755m) - A Bonus Day on our Bikes

The forecast rain had arrived heavily on Sunday night and we woke up to a damp and drizzly Monday morning in Bagneres de Luchon. Although we had enjoyed and made the most of more than 2 weeks of autumn sunshine it was still sad to find the mountains hidden in the mist and knowing it was time to move on. However, as the morning wore on a small glimmer of blue sky did emerge to the north and we wondered if we might fit in one more ride after all?

One nearby climb we has wanted to tackle was the Port de Bales, a 1755m pass that was a popular feature of the Tour de France and had featured in this years race as well (stage 16). We reasoned that if we started the climb from the more northerly side at Mauleon-Barousse we might just enjoy some of that blue sky and stay dry after all. This is the steeper of the routes, climbing 1185m over 19km averaging 6.3% but with some sections at more than 11%. Its easy to see why this is a hors categorie climb.

Starting out into the damp afternoon air felt chilly after days of sunshine and the warmth of the motorhome during the drive to Mauleon-Barousse, but it wasnt raining and we would soon warm up. The handy way markers indicated a gentle gradient for the first few kilometres, however, we soon began to realise that some of the markers didn't match the reality. One kilometre marked 8% was distinctly gentle, while another marked 5% had us out of the saddle and working much harder. Better just to take it as it comes we decided.

Staying primarily in the forest amongst the rapidly falling leaves blowing across the road we were soon high above the valley floor and looking out over the rolling wooded slopes. At times it was like riding through orange confetti which was a very surreal and magical experience.

Progress was steady until around 4km from the summit when we rounded a rocky bend to be confronted by a biting wind howling down from the the top of the pass that was now in sight. The Port de Bales is a very flat topped pass, more of a ridge than a col with mountains on both sides, and the wind was barrelling over it and right towards us. Swiftly adding some layers we began again, inching our way closer to the top.

The final few kilometres were especially beautiful as we tracked the side of the valley head, looking still green and lush despite the time of year. Passing over the same steep roads that Le Tour had raced up months beforehand we rode over the colourful road paintings cheering on the favourites wondering how different it must have looked with tens of thousands of fans crowding the riders. Now it was just the 2 of us in wonderful isolation amongst the mountain beauty.

Cresting the ridge the wind strength was immense and we hastily took some pictures before sheltering behind the summit marker to appreciate the view. Snow had arrived overnight and looked thick on the 3000m summits away to the south, a reminder of how quickly conditions can change. From our distant vantage point though it was stunning and we stayed as long as we could in the biting wind before starting our descent. It had been an unexpected and very welcome bonus to squeeze in one more ride before winter arrived for good, we just wished we had packed more clothes for the descent in the biting November air.

Cycle Information: 
Motorhome Base – Bagneres de Luchon
Start/ End Point:  Mauleon-Barousse
Distance: 19km
Ascent: 1185m
Average Gradient: 6.3%

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See All Our Cycling Climbs in the Pyrenees

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