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Massat is the nearest town to our French base, which is half way up the Col de Port. Since we'll be at home for the night, we're happy to do a communal load of laundry for the group.
We'll be at the airport to meet your flight, usually coming into Carcassonne, Biarritz, or Toulouse. Then we load up your luggage and head off to the hotel, where we'll have tool kits and track pumps available so you can put your bikes together. Depending on your arrival time, you may be able to go for a quick spin to test everything out and make sure it's all in good working order before dinner.
Cycling the Pyrenees coast to coast is a wonderful experience, taking you through some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in France. If you'd like to have time to savour the experience and enjoy the scenery, this is definitely the cycling holiday for you. We ride it in six full days, so that's a day and a half longer than the Raid Pyrenean, making it particularly suitable for groups with mixed abilities.
The French Coast-to-Coast is a fully-supported cycling tour, following the same route as the official Raid Pyrenean, apart from a couple of optional cols that we believe make the ride even more interesting. We start at Hendaye on the Atlantic coast and end at Cerbère on the Mediterranean. Stages are designed to be as equal as possible, within the geographical limitations of the mountains.
We start off in Hendaye and ride along the coast for a while before heading inland towards the mountains. Before long we leave sight of the ocean and ride through the lovely Basque countryside with its red-timbered houses and rolling green hills. The first climb of the day is the little bump of the Col de St Ignace (169m), and then we usually stop for coffee in the quaint town of Espelette, famous for its red chilli peppers, strings of which adorn the buildings in the town, before we tackle the modest Col d'Osquich (500m). Then it's only a few more kilometres to Montory where we stay the night. A nice hot shower, a dip in the pool, a satisfying meal and a good night's sleep and you'll be ready to do it all again the next morning.
We head out of Montory and carry on along the valley for 25km to Escot before we start the climb to the Marie Blanque (1035m) via the "easier" side. We descend to Bielle and then continue along the valley to Laruns. Time to top up your water bottles and grab an energy bar or gel, although you'll see us regularly on the way up the long hors categorie climb to the Aubisque. The first 5km is all 4 or 5%, until we get to the small, pretty spa town of Eaux Bonnes, where we have to cycle right around the central green, almost doubling back on ourselves. From here it ramps up to 7, 8, 9 or even 12% for the remaining 12km. We finally reach the magnificent hors categorie Col d'Aubisque (1709m), which is the main challenge of the day. There's a café at the top where you can enjoy a rest and a coffee if you wish before we carry on. They make the best cappuccino you'll find anywhere in France, and it tastes so much better when you've struggled up 17km to get to it. We descend 8km, passing through a short tunnel and along the famous Cirque de Litor, with its narrow road hugging the side of the mountain and a fairly steep drop on the other side, but some of the most beautiful and spectacular scenery you'll see in the Pyrenees. A final 2km climb to the Soulor (1474m) and you have yet another col under your belt - two for the price of one, can't be bad! Then we descend through Argelès-Gazost and continue 18km along the valley until we reach Luz-St-Sauveur at the foot of the Tourmalet.
Today we cycle over the highest col in the Pyrenees, the Col du Tourmalet at 2115 metres, another hors categorie climb. It's 18km, averaging 7.5% and with sections touching 12%. The last kilometre is a particularly challenging 10%, not least because by then you're exhausted. There's a café at the top where we can stop for a welcome snack and a coffee and then we head off down past the ski resort of La Mongie on the 29km descent into St Marie de Campan. Once there we head along the valley towards the Col d'Aspin (1489m), the top of which looks like something out of the Sound of Music - nothing except grass and cows. The descent from the Aspin into Arreau is one of the most pleasurable and exciting on the Raid Pyrenean route - if you like descending you'll really enjoy it. There's little respite today; we leave Arreau and head straight into the climb to the Col de Peyresourde (1569) metres. At the top there's a café where they make great crèpes and omelettes if you're feeling peckish, before our final descent into the pretty spa town of Bagnères-de-Luchon. There are lots of interesting little shops here for souvenirs and gifts for the family.
We leave Bagnères-de-Luchon and ride 20km along the valley for a while, then cross the river and head up the Col des Ares (797m). Then we descend for a while before turning off to the wicked little Col de Portet d'Aspet (1069m), passing the memorial to Fabio Casartelli, the young rider who died tragically in the Tour de France in 1995. This is a nasty little climb and everyone's relieved to get to the top. Then we have the 20km descent down the other side to the main road, where we turn left towards Saint Girons and the long, winding gorge to Massat.
This is a demanding day, but there is a choice, depending on the strength of the group and how everyone is feeling at this point of the trip. We usually decide the night before which way the group wants to go, and if we have a large group with two support vehicles, we can actually split into two groups at this point and offer both options.
We cycle out of Massat and straight into the fairly modest but quite scenic 12km climb up to the Col de Port (1250m), which takes you right past our front door. We cycle over the top and down into Tarascon-sur-Ariege.
From here there are two possible routes. The quietest and most beautiful is to ride through the town and climb onto the Corniche, a small, undulating road that runs 48km above the valley, and emerges part way up the challenging but very beautiful Port de Paillères (2001m). The easier route is to cycle from Tarascon 27km along the main valley road into Ax-les-Thermes to the bottom of the climb. The first route is a nicer ride, along very quiet roads, with panoramic views, but adds 19km overall to the day, and about 700 metres of climbing.
From the top of the Pailhères there's a beautiful descent into Quérigut, before we start the modest climb to the Col des Hares that doesn't even have a col sign. We continue along the undulating road past the ski resort of Puyvalador, and into Les Angles, where we stay the night.
From Les Angles we climb gently for 6km and then we have the very fast 40km descent into Prades. From there we cycle more or less on the flat through fruit orchards and past endless vineyards for about 60km until we hit the coast. Suddenly you get a glimpse of the sea, everyone gets a bit excited and usually the pace goes up, and it becomes a team time trial as we travel along the undulating coast road, which dips down now and again into one charming coastal town after another, before continuing up along the headland. There's a long, fast descent into Cerbère, where you can enjoy a cold beer. Time to chill for a bit, or even to have a swim in the Med before packing up your bike and enjoying a celebration dinner.
After breakfast we take you to Perpignan, Carcassonne or Toulose to catch your flight home. We may also be able to cover Beziers.
If you're feeling strong and we're doing okay for time, you could deviate from the official Raid Pyrenean route after the descent of the Portet d'Aspet, and instead of doing the last fairly flat 45 km to Saint Girons and Massat, you could turn off and tackle the Col de la Core (1395m). This adds 12 km to the day and about 600 metres of climbing.
Ensuite accommodation in 2* or 3* hotels, in shared rooms. Single rooms are available and a supplement of £250 applies.
Continental or buffet-style breakfasts every morning, supplemented with muesli if needed.
3-course evening meals every night with wine, a beer or a soft drink.
Snacks to keep you going during the day, such as bananas, chocolate, and quality energy gels and bars.
Bottled water and carbohydrate powder for your bottles, as well as High5 Zero electrolyte tablets.
Maps of the route for you to refer to as you ride and GPS files for you to upload to your device.
Souvenir full-zip Owayo French Coast to Coast jersey.
As many photos of you as we can take during your trip - usually a few hundred pictures - so you can relive your journey from start to finish when you get home.
We'll never be more than a few kilometres from you at all times, so you don't need to carry loads of kit with you "just in case". We'll try to be at the bottom of every climb so you can shed unwanted clothing, top up your water bottles and grab a snack or energy bar, and at the top of every col so you can add a windproof layer before you start your descent.
We don't make our prices look cheaper by leaving out evening meals, alcohol, or even airport transfers, so if you're looking at prices, it pays to make sure you're comparing like for like.
730KM, 19 COLS, AROUND 12,500 METRES OF CLIMBING
DAY 1 - HENDAYE TO MONTORY - 140KM, CLIMBING 1,700 METRES
DAY 2 - MONTORY TO LUZ-ST-SAUVEUR - 120KM, CLIMBING 2,800 METRES
DAY 3 - LUZ-ST-SAUVEUR TO LUCHON - 95KM, CLIMBING 2,800 METRES
DAY 4 - BAGNERES DE LUCHON TO MASSAT - 110KM, CLIMBING 1,500 METRES
DAY 5 - MASSAT TO LES ANGLES - 115KM, CLIMBING 3,000 M OR 131KM, CLIMBING 3,700M
DAY 6 - LES ANGLES TO CERBERE - 140KM, CLIMBING 500 METRES