I had the question "why?" posed to me. When it comes to mountains the traditional responses seem to reference "because its there". That sort of works, except that most times someone climbs a mountain they have travelled from somewhere that it wasn't. Definitely the case for me today.
The day dawned colder and cloudier than yesterday. Promise of thunderbolts and lightning; very very frightening according to Trevor; no arguments from anyone else!
The first 30 km were reminiscent of a trip to Sweets, in that they were flattish and we stopped for coffee. Totally unlike it in any other way as judged by the scenery, surroundings and sense of anticipation. I tried meditating on the "why", but the distractions of the unfamiliar kept dragging me away from the abstract question.
The Col du Portillo(h)n ridden from the Spanish side was a good sharpener. Forested and with a generally acceptability surface and gradients that kept away from the painful end of the scale. 4.0 to 4.4 on the remote control until Guy passed me with about 3km to go to the summit, then 5.0 Max to get back to his wheel for the Col. The fast crowd were already engaged in photos and adjusting clothing for the descent. The mild sprinkle of rain gave an early warning of the météo to follow.
Chris started the agreeably winding descent and I gave chase, although quite why wasn't clear. There is something very "proper" about coming down a mountain pass on a road bike. Gravity showed its usual love of me and I did my best to ensure that I was still with the Thorpedo at the bottom. This is mostly a case of keeping up and keeping on the road, using any available clues to judge what's around the next corner. We reached the first junction in Bagnères du Luchon and the group reassembled with the kind of grin that might easily be the answer to the day's question.
After topping up bottles in Luchon, it was off and up the Peyresourde. There were fewer signs to keep one posted of progress and the climb started with a warning shot of its slightly stiffer grades interspersed with big ring sections. 4.4 to 4.7 in the heat, rising to 5.0 more frequently as the combination of 10%+ and sunny conditions combined to test the riders.
With Chris and Jon way up the road and no one in sight behind I had time to flit between the gorgeous scenery and the question on my mind. This turned out to be less "why" than "how". Constant minor adjustments on the saddle and bars, gear changes to reflect the gradient and remembering to eat and drink so that the task in hand didn't get out of hand. The was a sense of us baking in the relatively sparse shade as Trev passed me on a long straight section. all thoughts of keeping with him were over in a few minutes as the pain started to call from my legs. There are three more days to go my brain reminded me, and you can't go at that rate even if you wanted to.
When the final hairpins came into view they looked like they belonged to another mountain altogether. They really make a pass into something Guyconic, planting your efforts in the terroir montagneuse, more than just an extended ascent of an English hill. 5.2 and hang the consequence.
The vista from the summit told a tale of foreboding; up ahead storm clouds they gather! Our stay in the mountain refuge eating omelette chips and crêpes was perhaps a little longer than I needed, a feeling made physical by the cooling perspiration soaked jersey and my concern that my choice of waterproofing layers for the descent were far from adequate for what was coming.
This time I set of first but Chris soon passed me and I reflected that I probably descend better following him than trying to lead. There were hairpins and some very fast straight sections on this side and I felt more comfortable as we progressed despite some heavy drizzle. Once regrouped however the next 20 minutes of biblical downpour showed that I had been very much mistaken not to purchase the waterproof that Dave was giving a premier outing. Thankfully the rain was warm-ish, or that might just have been me frantically pedaling to make sure I didn't falter. Note to self for tomorrow.
As we hit our host's favourite D26 I nearly made a hash of a corner in Hachete. The air temperature was noticeably warmer through the initial rises and falls off this pretty, undulating lane, and I felt an enormous sense of well-being despite the damp arm warmers and lycra. Perhaps I have found out the answer to the question in the place I had least expected; a lane not dissimilar to the day to day riding from home really gave the opportunity to reflect on a job well done and smile.
6.10 riding time.