Tour de France 2023 – Report Week 1

Tour de France LogoThis post is a recap of the Tour de France 2023 week 1/7 stages…

Stage 1

I started last Friday at our stop-over near Montréjeau, heading for the Port de Balès.

We had a little trouble navigating there and as I looked at the route on the Strava app, I decided to start a recording.

Which turned out to be a good thing, as I managed to get rid of the Garmin recording at the end of the stage🤦‍♂️

As expected, it didn’t take long before my back trouble started to act up during the climb up the Port de Balès.

The downhill freebie towards Bagnères-de-Luchon offered some relief, but on the Col de Peyresourde it got worse.

Whereas Port de Balès only had a small – but much welcomed – snack bar at the summit, the Peyresourde had a real restaurant.

We paused a little longer there, descended towards Arreau where we ran into a road deviation, but we found the entry to the Col d’Aspin.

I missed the small snack bar at that summit, as it is a little further off the main road, I quickly descended towards Saint-Marie-de-Campan and on to our apartment in Bagnères-de-Bigorre…

Garmin recording, taken from the Strava app.

Stage 2

Not in the slightest disheartened (that’s a lie, but okay), I took on the Hourquette d’Ancizan the next day.

Despite the – tainted, as there’s a 1 km, 7% downhill in it – moderate grade, the Payolle end shows double digits a bit too frequent for my taste.

The views at the summit are great, but there’s no restaurant or snack bar,

Nevertheless, I did not deviate from the plotted stage and took on the Granges de Lurgues.

That turned out to be a mistake; besides the scorching heat making the – insane – grades even harder, the whole thing is not really worth the effort, despite the toilet room and fresh water tap at the summit…

Besides, the first half of the descend back was a menace because of the road condition.

True to my motto, I did not get in the car after that descend, but took on the other end of the Hourquette as planned.

The now all but deserted summit was foggy and cold and my cunning plan to catapult into the 1 km uphill in the descend, was thwarted by donkeys blocking the road…

Garmin recording.

Stage 3

After a breakdown almost as bad as the one I had during my 2021 Tour de France, I plotted an “easy” stage.

(There hardly are any climbs that are easy in the area, for me anyway – if anything, they can be short and steep, or they frequently have short walls of double digits when longer.)

I tackled the Sarrat de Gaye from both ends – the longer ascend from Saint-Marie-de-Campan nearly got me on my knees, but the other end from (close to) Payolle was almost a freebie.

I soft-crashed in the descend, but I decided to get up the first 5 kms of the Tourmalet, just for fun…

Garmin recording.

Stage 4

This brought me the whole Tourmalet.

Obviously, with my medical issues, this seemed harder than it actually is.

Although I, for one, never consider 8, 9% grades easy, but it doesn’t get much steeper than that, except for maybe a few 50-100 meter stretches.

Still, coupled with said issues, the Tourmalet is a tough nut and even Annemiek van Vleuten – finally – cracked on it when Demi Vollering attacked the day before.

The views at the summit were great and the descend back was an adrenaline rush, but I was reminded of how a crash can end when I started the climb up to Le Chiroulet.

There was a cyclist laying motionless on the asphalt, surrounded by people holding a blanket above him to cover him from the blistering sun.

Apparently, he had touched the wheel of the cyclist in front of him and crashed – as the descend there was almost false flat, so the speed couldn’t have been that high, I guess he just had a bad fall…

I could – quickly – pass, but Paula had to wait in a car queue until the ambulance arrived – just a few minutes later – which took him to the hospital.

Anyway, this climb was one of the few that wouldn’t be considered difficult by most standards – it did have a wall near the end –  and the restaurant at the summit was nice.

Garmin recording.

Stage 5

For stage 5 we moved to another valley, where Argelès-Gazost was the starting point.

I first climbed the Soulor-Aubisque – the Soulor is the real climb from this end.

When we reached the summit, it was getting foggy and chilly.

The passage over the balcony road of the Cirque du Litor is ten times more spectacular in real life than it is on any RLV production.

However, the weather had changed for the worst and the actual short-ish climb up to the Aubisque was not a lot of fun and neither was its summit.

We sheltered and had a bite in the good restaurant there and by the time we left, it had cleared up.

I went down to Ferrières for the Col de Spandelles, but it turned out I had taken on too much.

It’s 10 kms at 8.5%, a challenge for me even without the scorching sun, but that made it (feel) 2x harder…

After what seemed forever, summoning every minion to flog me into “get it over with”, I finally arrived at a deserted summit.

The descend back to Argelès-Gazost was obviously a lot less trouble…

Garmin recording.

Stage 6

Known to never learn from my mistakes – well, not often anyway but keep reading – I put the highest col of this year’s Tour de France on the menu.

The Col de Portet (2,210 m) has the first 14 kms up to Espiaube in common with Pla d’Adet.

Sadly, like in 2021’s Tour, I was surprised to find the road up the Portet closed to motorized traffic between 8:30 and 18:00 from there…

I decided to take an extra bottle – it was not scorching hot at this altitude anymore, but the sun was still blistering – and go for it anyway.

I didn’t even remember the Tour finishes (2018/2021) up there, but probably that’s why it has proper asphalt in the first place.

Although I almost crashed on the way back due to one of those metal water gutters than run diagonally in the road, which are not a problem when climbing, but I was descending and just didn’t see it, as I was looking down to the next hairpin…

The pitch dark tunnel about one km from the summit has a bad surface, but it’s short and I had lights on the bike.

The summit itself was so windy that despite the fact I had already put my bike down in the grass, a forceful gust blew it away anyway…

After the descend, I climbed the last few steep kms up to Pla d’Adet from Espiaube, followed by a flying descend back to Arreau.

Garmin recording.

Stage 7

The much dreaded Hautacam1 was on the menu for this stage.

I didn’t quite dare to combine that with anything else – the other end of the Spandelles or Col de Borderès being about the only options – but I did start at my doorstep to cycle the ~38 kms to Argelès-Gazost.

That brought me the reverse of the Climbfinder entry of Côte de Loucrup, which was a nice warming up…

While it was sunny and warm, the first 3/4 of the climb where “hot”, but near the summit, it started to get foggy and chilly again.

The final kilometer past the Hautacam TDF sign to the Tramassel was not that much fun, but there was a restaurant, albeit there were 20 other people – hikers, mostly – that wanted crêpes, so I settled for a slice of cake…

The first half of the descend back to Argèles-Gazost I was wearing three layer of wind-blocking clothes, but I took two of them off for the final part.

Garmin recording.

I have already cycled stage 8 before writing this report, but the weather was so bad, I actually – for once – took Paula’s advise to put a lid on it halfway.

That gave me some time to write this report 🙂

1 It’s not as bad as I feared, but my RLV experience on the Neo was such – I nearly puked – that I thought it to be a menacing climb…

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