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19th September 2019

The Best Road Cycling Destination

The Lure of the Pyrenees

Capping the Iberian Peninsula with their familiar abrupt sweep; the Pyrenees form a natural barrier stretching from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and are as fundamental to the geography of Europe as the Alps or the continental divide of the Bosphorus. Crossed and re-crossed, contested and claimed; for centuries the range has been important to peoples and civilisations which have risen and fallen as the mountains held firm.

First navigated by the Romans and later breached by the Moors, this ebb and flow has finally settled the range astride the border of modern Spain and France, where beautiful wooded valleys, crystal trout streams and dramatic amphitheatres of rock characterise the French side.

For the last century or so, the hot slopes of the Pyrenees have been writing their own piece of history each summer as they play host to the Tour de France.

In 1910, tour organiser Henri Desgrange first made the tentative decision to send the riders into the high mountains, still unsure whether it was humanly possible to cycle the rough passes, and the Pyrenees claimed their integral role. Octave Lapize went down in Tour history by branding the organisers “assassins” (murderers) as the mighty Col du Tourmalet was crossed for the very first time, then, in 1913, the Tourmalet (and the Pyrenean) legend was cemented courtesy of the heroic Eugene Christophe.

Having broken his fork on the Tourmalet descent, Christophe picked up his bike, ran down to the hamlet of Sainte Marie de Campan and spent several hours re-forging the broken part at the local blacksmith’s. He finished the stage, but received a time penalty for allowing the blacksmith’s apprentice to work the forge bellows – and entered Tour folklore as a result. A tribute to Christophe’s stoicism today adorns the building which once housed the fateful forge in the picturesque Campan valley – worth a visit.

The Pyrenees hold a mystique for road cyclists which draws people to them, however, it is still possible to easily access high wild places, and common to find yourself on an empty road; most importantly, it is possible to experience the stunning surroundings without experiencing the depths of suffering of the original (or current) Tour riders (unless you want to!). Rolling plains and foothills rise abruptly into the high peaks, meaning a variety of different routes are within easy reach.

This piece originally featured in Cycling World.

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Allons – y – Pyrenees provides the perfect location to get out and explore them. Challenge yourself one day; allow miles of scenic flat terrain to roll past the next. Whatever the day’s efforts on or off the bike have entailed, the endless pool awaits for loosening off, cooling down, or simply to sit by with a well-earned cold one before a great meal.

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