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This is a demanding day, on a par with Day 2. We head out of the village of Massat and straight into the fairly gentle climb up to the Col de Port (1250m), passing our house half way up. From the top we descend into Tarascon-sur-Ariège, and then cycle 27km along the main valley road to the ski resort of Ax-les-Thermes, which is probably the busiest and most boring part of the whole route, but unless you want to do significantly more climbing and go up onto the Corniche, there's not really an alternative. We usually stop in Ax for coffee and perhaps a pastry to give you a quick energy boost, and then we start the long but amazingly beautiful climb to the Port de Paillères (2001m). Once you're out of the town, the roads are very quiet and the scenery is spectacular. From the top we descend for a while and then climb briefly again. The road here is undulating until we get to Mont Louis and then we begin the fast, 36km descent down into Prades, where we stay the night. If you get to the hotel in good time you can enjoy the swimming pool before we head into town for dinner.
Traditionally we treat the last day as a team time trial. The pace is fast because you have to be in Cerbère before 1pm if you want to meet the conditions of the challenge - and it's the last day, so everyone gets excited. The record so far is just under three hours. You ride past endless vineyards and fruit farms on a slight downward slope, before you hit the coast where there are some fairly short, sharp climbs onto the headlands between the towns, and then it's the long, fast descent into Cerbère. We usually chill for a while with a beer before we pack up the bikes, and then there's time for a swim and perhaps a nap if you wish before we enjoy our celebration dinner overlooking the sea.
The Raid Pyrenean (sometimes called the Raid Pyrenees) is one of the most popular and well-known European cycling tours available, and a very demanding event where participants cycle from one coast of France to the other across the Pyrenees, in less than 100 hours, keeping as close to the Spanish border as possible. This is an official cycling randonée overseen by the Cyclo Club Bearnais, and a medal and certificate is awarded to everyone that completes it in the required time. Although we offer the Raid Pyrenean in both directions, most people ride it in this direction, starting at Hendaye, on the Atlantic Coast, and finishing 4.5 days later in Cerbère, on the Mediterranean. It also makes a very good charity cycle ride.
As with all supported cycling tours, we'll be looking after you closely throughout the day and we'll never be more than a few kilometres from you at any time. We work on a leapfrog basis, where we pass you, go on a few kilometres and then find somewhere safe to park. We wait for you to pass us, taking photos as you do, and then we do it all over again. Our stages are carefully planned to ensure that your days are as equal as possible and that you get to the hotel each evening with time to enjoy your dinner and achieve a good level of recovery.
We start at 9:00 am and you now have 100 hours to complete the challenge. We begin our ride along the undulating coast road, with stunning sea views, before heading inland through the distinctive Basque country with its red-timbered buildings and rolling green hills. We have a couple of small climbs today, the Col de St. Ignace (169m) and the Col d'Osquich, only 500 metres high, but enough to wake you up. Even so, it's quite a challenging day, especially if you've not cycled mountains before, but soon we'll be in Arudy and you'll be able to relax and enjoy a hot shower, a cold beer, and a good meal.
Today is when we hit the real mountains. We leave Arudy and have a 16km warm-up before we start the 17km climb to the Col d'Aubisque (1709m), passing through the pretty town of Eaux Bonnes on the way. You'll see us every few kilometres as you climb, so you can always top up your water bottle or grab something to eat - or just stop for a breather and a chat. When we finally get to the top there's a cafe where they make the best Cappuccino you can get in France.
St Marie de Campan is famous in Tour de France history because one of the cyclists in the 1913 Tour, Eugène Christophe, broke his forks 10km up the climb to the Tourmalet while he was in the lead. The rules at that time stated that riders had to make their own repairs, without outside help, so he walked 10km back to the town, weeping all the way, and the local blacksmith showed him how to use the forge. Finally, hours later, after finishing the repair, he was disqualified; he had allowed a seven-year-old boy to pump the bellows. You will see a picture that commemorates the event on the wall of one of the buildings in the town.
From St Marie de Campan we head straight into the climb up to the Col d'Aspin (1489m). This is one of the most undeveloped cols in the Pyrenees (there's literally nothing there except grass and cows) but the descent into Arreau is probably the fastest and most enjoyable descent on the Raid Pyrenean. When we get to Arreau we start the climb to the Col du Peyresourde (1569m). There's a little café at the top where most riders like to stop for an omelette or crèpes, before descending again into the charming spa town of Bagnères de Luchon.
We cycle along the valley for 22km before turning off to make the modest climb up to the the Col des Ares (797m). Afterwards we ride along a ridge for a while, then we start our last climb of the day, the short but very challenging Col de Portet d'Aspet (1069m), passing the magnificent marble monument to Fabio Casartelli on the way up. This young cyclist was tragically killed in the Tour de France in 1995. From the top we descend for around 30km to St Girons, before turning right and cycling almost 30km along the more or less flat Arac valley to Massat, near our home base. Since we're at home, we're happy to do a load of laundry for you if you wish.
We'll be at the airport to meet your flight, usually coming into Toulouse, Carcassonne, Biarritz or possibly Bilbao. 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, and perhaps even go for a quick spin before dinner.
We can drop you back to Perpignan, Carcassonne, Toulouse or possibly Beziers.
715KM, 18 COLS*, 100 HOURS, AROUND 12,000 METRES OF CLIMBING
DAY 2 - ARUDY TO ST MARIE DE CAMPAN - 114KM, CLIMBING 3,000 METRES
DAY 3 - ST MARIE DE CAMPAN TO MASSAT - 170KM, CLIMBING 3,000 METRES
DAY 4 - MASSAT TO PRADES - 157KM, CLIMBING 3,000 METRES
DAY 5 - PRADES TO CERBERE - 92KM, CLIMBING 700 METRES
Ensuite accommodation in 2*-3* hotels, in shared rooms. Single rooms are available and a supplement of £225 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 Raid Pyrenean 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.
DAY 1 - HENDAYE TO ARUDY - 182KM, CLIMBING 2,300 METRES
* or 19, including the optional Marie Blanque
From there it's almost 10km to the top of the Col du Soulor (1474m), beginning with an 8km descent that takes you along the famous Cirque de Litor (see the photo below), where in 1951 the first Dutch rider to ever wear the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France fell over the edge and landed 20 metres below on a tiny ledge, avoiding a fall of several hundred metres and certain death. His quick-thinking manager tied a tow rope to 40 spare racing tyres and pulled him back up. Unfortunately, the tyres all became so stretched, the whole team had to abandon the rest of the tour. There's a small 2km kick up to the top and then we descend into Argèles-Gazost and follow the valley for nearly 20km to Luz-St-Sauveur. Just when you thought it couldn't get any harder we tackle the mighty Tourmalet (2115m), another 19km climb. Again, you'll see us frequently on the climb, and there's a café on the top where we can stop for coffee and a snack if you need to recharge your batteries. Then it's 17km downhill all the way to the hotel in St Marie de Campan.
Dates in red are definitely going ahead