Haute Route Pyrenees Stage 1


Stage 1 took us from the centre of Pau right up to La Pierre St Martin close the Spanish border. 96kms and 2700m of climbing destined to keep us busy. We woke to a stunning clear day in Pau with the mountains around our summit finish in sight at the start and providing a dramatic backdrop.


After a slow and rather awkward 10kms of neutralisation the flag went down near Gan and we were off. The pace was high with an annoyingly large number of riders who clearly wanted to give it some beans from the off. I’d hoped for a relatively settled run in to the climbs of the day but it was not to be. I found it stressful and twitchy. My lack of many race days this summer probably contributed to how I felt, I was out of practice in a hectic group environment. A few short ‘lumps’ separated the field and I found myself in a ‘lead’ group of around 50 riders. In fact, one or two riders had already broken away off the front at that point but with 2 massive weeks ahead of me that was not a concern for me. I tried to chill towards the back of the group where I could get the drafting benefit but not too much stress. The problem though with being near the back is that you are vulnerable to things going wrong, crashes and splits that can happen ahead of you. There were a couple of small crashes ahead but nothing to spoil my plans.

The pace remained ‘pulsy’ with efforts going on at the front of the group from various riders to bring the breaking riders back. I just wanted an easy ride and the whole thing was more erratic than I wanted. I needed a hill to sort things out and it came.

The first classified climb of the day was the Bugularan. 5kms long and it’s humble average gradient of just over 5% disguised the fact that some of it was properly steep. As we approached the climb on narrowing roads I needed to move up. This was going to get strung out and I needed to be in a better position. That climb whittled the group down to around 35 but will have hurt many in their efforts to stay on. It was tough for me too but my legs were good and I was relatively comfortable.

A short descent followed that I was relieved to get down safely with the bunch. 65km in, another 10kms of flattish riding and we’d hit the biggest climb of the day, Hourcère, with 11kms of climbing at an average of 9%, that was going to sort things out!

Also with me in that main lead group were team mates Stephen Blackburn and Adrian Beer. I’d not ridden with Stephen until this week but I knew he was strong and it was no surprise to see such an experienced rider where he was. I was pleased for Adrian, he’s a super strong rider but not your skinny climber type. He’d done well to stay with the group over the Bugularan and looked in really good shape.

We hit the Hourcère at 75km and in many ways it was a relief for me. Now we were on a big climb where our fitness levels would show up and separate us all pretty quickly. No more worries about group dynamics and avoiding crashes. Now it was just man against the mountain. All went well. Although I’d not ridden the climb before I knew what to expect. The first 3kms would average more or less 10% with the rest easing a little. I was happy with how I went, our group spread itself as expected and I found myself somewhere around 10th position. One of my rivals from Haute Route Alpe d’Huez, Richard Scales was right there and Stephen was just behind. I was happy where I was. If I could get to the finish in that position I would be happy. On the way up the Hourcère I was able to take in the stunning view over to our left, back towards where we’d started 3 hours earlier in the lowlands. It was spectacular, the Pyrenees really are beautiful. I had my usual safe encounters with livestock on the road which is a very normal occurrence in the Pyrenees. Cattle negotiated I was nearly at the top.


Our trusty support driver Martin handed me an essential bottle of water at the feed station just before the summit, I headed over the top feeling I’d done a good job.


Just 11kms to the finish now. 6 down and 5 up. The narrow descent was negotiated safely, the mapping on my bike computer helping me see the worst of the bends ahead of me and I was happy with how I got down there without too many unnecessary dabs on the brakes.

Into the final 5km up the finish. The moment I started to put power through the pedals after the descent my legs started cramping, badly. All those punchy small hills at the start of the day had taken their toll. I might be in trouble. I knew I’d drunk enough, this cramp was simply due to the efforts I’d put in and my body was arguing with me. I rode the next few minutes worried. I was still putting out reasonable power but the pain and muscle spasms were bad. I eased off a little with my efforts. I tried standing but that was a no go after one attempt as it put my quads into huge cramps. I needed to sit down and ride though it as I’ve done before, usually. I had a margin on the next riders behind me so as I tried to manage my cramp my position in the race was preserved. With 2.5kms to go the legs were coming back and I’d got through the worst. I still couldn’t stand but my seated power was good and I was back on track. Panic over.

The last few minutes to the finish are always hard but the gradients were more humble and I got into a bigger gear and got the bike moving. Louis, a young French rider who I’ve not ridden with before nearly caught me but I finished really strongly and crossed the line happy and relieved.

Stephen finished a minute or so behind me, a very solid ride for him. He ended up 10th on the day and I managed 8th. A really good start.

Jon Bray came in 30th, despite missing the lead group he’d climbed really well and worked his way through the field. Adrian finished solidly in 38th. Duncan and Riccardo not too far behind them. All in all a job well done.

Now it’s all about rest. I’m already daunted by what’s ahead of us. 13 more stages, most of which will be considerably harder than today. Tomorrow we culminate on the Port de Balès after 137km of riding. Rest time now!



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