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The Raid Pyrenean (sometimes called the Raid Pyrenees) is one of the most recognised and popular European cycling tours, but not many people are aware that you can ride it from east to west too. This is an official event, overseen by the Cyclo Club Bearnais, and a medal and certificate is awarded to everyone who completes it in the required 100 hours. Few cyclists have ridden this supported cycling tour in this direction, although it's just as challenging and enjoyable as the standard Raid Pyrenean, so if you've already cycled it from west to east, why not try this for a change? You'll be surprised at how different it seems. It also makes a very good charity cycle ride.
There's no getting away from it, this is a long, hard day, but at least the first 80km is fairly flat, and the last 20km is downhill. We head along the coast from Cerbère to St Cyprien, where we turn west towards Villefranche, an old medieval walled city. From there we head towards Prades, turning off at Marquixanes towards the Col de Jau (1506m). We descend to Roquefort-de-Sault and then there's a little bump at Bosquet and we're climbing again to the beautiful Port de Pailhères (2001m). The view from here is absolutely stunning Then it's downhill all the way into Ax-les-Thermes, where we stay the night.
We start with a 25km downhill ride along the main valley road from Ax-les-Thermes to Tarascon-sur-Ariège where we turn left and climb to the Col de Port (1249m). We descend into Massat and cycle about 30km along the winding Arac valley to St. Girons, and then we turn left and follow the signposts for the Col de Portet d'Aspet (1069m). This is an 18km climb, most of which is fairly easy, but it does ramp up in the last 5km. We ride down the other side, passing the magnificent marble memorial to Fabio Cassartelli, the young Tour de France rider who was killed here in 1995, and continue for a while until we come to the Col des Ares (797m) before we head down into Bagneres de Luchon, a pretty spa town and a great place to do your shopping for souvenirs and prezzies.
Bagnères de Luchon and Argèles-Gazost are both pretty spa towns, but unfortunately with enormous mountains between them! Today is fairly low on mileage, but you have three hors categorie climbs - the Col de Peyresourde (1569m), the Col d'Aspin (1489m) and then the biggie, the Col du Tourmalet (2115m). Time for a coffee on the top if you like and then we're off down the other side and straight into Argèles-Gazost.
A short, fast ride from St Jean Pied de Port through the beautiful Basque country and before you know it, we'll be at the coast. Don't be put off by the profile, it really doesn't feel anywhere near as bad as it looks. Then we follow the coast path south west towards Hendaye, where we're sure you'll enjoy a well-deserved beer!
We will be at the airport to meet your flight, usually coming into Perpignan, Carcassonne, or Toulouse. Then it's back to the hotel, where we'll have track pumps and tool kits available so you can put your bikes together and perhaps even go for a quick spin to check everything's in working order before tomorrow. Later we'll have a great dinner while we get to know each other and discuss the event in detail. Then off to bed - it's a very long day tomorrow!
We leave Argèles-Gazost and head straight up the Col du Soulor (1474m), after which there's a short, gentle climb to the Col d'Aubisque (1709m), which is the last major climb on the trip, unless you want to cycle the easier side of the optional Marie Blanque (1035m). The Cirque de Litor, which forms a balcony along the side of the mountain between the two cols has some of the most beautiful scenery in the Pyrenees. Then it's down to Arette and along the valley, riding over the "blip" of the Col d'Osquich and on to the quaint Basque town of St. Jean Pied de Port, famous for being a major stop on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route, where we stay the night. You can almost smell the sea ... We usually dine on Basque chicken and Gateau Basque, which is very traditional in this region. You'll be more than ready for it!
After breakfast we head to the airport in Biarritz, Carcassonne or Toulouse.
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 Reverse 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 - CERBERE TO AX-LES-THERMES - 179KM, CLIMBING 3,500 METRES
DAY 2 - AX-LES-THERMES TO LUCHON - 166KM, CLIMBING 3,000 METRES
DAY 3 - BAGNERES DE LUCHON TO ARGELES-GAZOST - 110KM, CLIMBING 3,000 METRES
DAY 4 - ARGELES TO ST. JEAN PIED DE PORT - 160M, CLIMBING 3,500 METRES
DAY 5 - ST. JEAN PIED DE PORT TO HENDAYE - 80KM, CLIMBING 500 METRES
700KM, 18 COLS*, 100 HOURS, AROUND 13,000 METRES OF CLIMBING
* or 19, including the optional Marie Blanque