Climbing in the Pyrenées

Today I climbed the Col de Marie Blanque. I’ll never whinge about going up the Sally Gap again. I’m staying with my uncle Barry and my auntie Bairbre in a small village at the foot of the Col called Sarrance, about 50km from Pau. We had a bit of a false start in the morning which involved a trip to the bike shop in nearby Oloron to purchase a new seat post clamp, but it meant we caught a glimpse of Denis Menchov, Jurgen van den Broeck, and Robert Gesink heading out towards the mountains, which felt slightly surreal.

With the saddle sorted and the clouds creeping ever closer down the valley, myself and Barry (who rode the Étape last Sunday) set off toward my first Pyrenean climb. The climb starts off quite gently and gets progressively harder and steeper as you approach the top. About three kilometres into the nine kilometre climb, even though I knew the vicious gradients were still up the road I thought to myself, ‘this isn’t so bad, what’s all the fuss about?’. At which point Barry turned to me and said ‘if you’re riding in a group, it’s around now where you turn to they guy next to you and say ‘this isn’t so bad, what’s all the fuss about?”. So I said nothing and kept going.

With five kilometres remaining to the summit I found myself cursing all the Zaytoons and sneaky cans I’d had during the World Cup. What’s worse are the completely unforgivable Daytoons, where you can’t even use the excuse of being on a night out to drunkenly convince yourself that a massive kebab is full of healthy vegetables and essential protein. With three kilometres to go, my breathing was so heavy and my legs were so laden with lactic acid that my mind could no longer concoct intelligible reasons for me to curse myself.

When the one kilometre to go sign I was expecting actually turned out to be the two kilometres to go sign, I realised I had to stop and take a breather and eat something. I stopped for five minutes or so and once I got back up on the bike and moving (which isn’t easy on those slopes) I immediately felt an improvement. Even though the last two kilometres are the hardest, I felt better on them than I did during the previous two, and I made it to the top without the need for further rest.

And here’s all the photographs to prove it:

Setting out from the house in Sarrance with Uncle Barry in our Brim Brothers jerseys.

The view from the front door with eerie clouds creeping down the mountains.

The signpost at the foot of the climb which kindly lets you know what you're letting yourself in for.

Just passing the three kilometres to go sign. I thought since there was so much fog about it seemed appropriate to try climbing on the drops like Marco Pantani, maybe it would make me climb better?

It didn't

But refuelled and re-energised I was on the way again with just less than 2km to go.

I seem to have gone blind here as I approach the summit.

Success! I made it. I remember being much happier at this point, but I don't seem to have been able to express that happiness using my face muscles, it would have taken far too much energy.

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  1. Richard Lee - July 21, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

    Hi Cillian,

    Nice post! Reminds me of my mind altering ride up Mt. Seymour (North Vancouver, BC) the other week. It just kept going up & up…

    I went into a state of slow motion & pain, looks like you did, too!

  2. irishpeloton - July 21, 2010 @ 7:18 pm

    After this Richard, I couldn’t even fathom how anyone could manage the Étape du Tour. My hat is permanently off to them!

  3. Colly - July 27, 2010 @ 11:52 am

    I recognise your Uncle Barry, he was riding behind myself and my cycling buddy on the Wicklow 200. Think he used to use the gym in DIT as well?
    Well done on the climb. After the Alpes this year I hope to check out the Pyrenées next year!

  4. irishpeloton - July 27, 2010 @ 12:25 pm

    He did yeah. He’s a lecturer in DIT Kevin Street. Has been for years.

    Les Dix Pyrenées? I’ll look forward to the blogs and photos on that next year Colly.

    Managing to cycle up a mere one serious mountain has made me appreciate what you managed to do yourself all the more. Chapeau!

  5. Colly - July 27, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    Thanks dude.

    Will say hello to Uncle Barry the next time I see him!

    Les Dix Pyrenées: sounds like a plan! 🙂

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