Riding up and over the foothills of the French Pyrenees… Chalabre, France

Casting my mind back to October last year…. and The French Pyrenees. Three little words that impose a strong, punchy & playful impact on the mind of a road cyclist.

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I was invited on a Pyrenees Fitness week by one of our Skedaddle partners in Southern France. I wondered if I was up to the challenge, and so of course I accepted. This week of coached training is offered over two levels of grading. I’d originally joined the lower grade, but following my return from Spain, and feeling slightly epic 😉 I decided to up the anti and changed to the higher grade… Then I had the smart idea of taking it easy for 2 months before the trip, but hey ho, nothing could be done, and well, it was time to go and just get on with it! XD

On the morning of departure I made it to the boarding gate at Edinburgh airport with only 5 minutes to spare. I’d overslept for my early morning flight out to Carcassonne. So, that, coupled with trying to find a parking spot in the long-say car-park, and trouble checking in online with the Ryanair site meant for a less than ideal start to the trip. Luckily I travel light, and only had carry on luggage to scooted through check in relatively painlessly.

Arriving into Carcassonne, I was pleased to find it was an extremely small airport and  easy to navigate. I instantly started to relax into holiday mode! Our coach for the week Dave was waiting through arrivals… though it took longer than it should to recognise him. A slender, sharp looking chap, giving the impression of being a local French man in his beige hat. I was sure the man I’d exchanged conversations with at great length during guides week earlier in the year had been proper Yorkshire! He certainly pulled off a good disguise, and I’d been fooled, walking straight past him! I was embarrassed, but quickly got over that as we both laughed. I was introduced to another rider, Andy, who was joining my early afternoon transfer. The other 6 riders on the group where arriving on a much later flight.

The hour transfer from Carcassonne to Chalabre passed quickly. Taking in the gorgeous scenery and enjoying bike related narratives. Dave brought us up to speed on his racing season, and podium places, and also gave us a little bit of local knowledge on the bike clubs and competitions around the area. This was Andy’s third time out to Dave’s week of punishment. That was reassuring… he’d survived and he kept coming back for more! When I said I was there to enjoy the views, they both laughed and told me the only thing I’d be looking at was tarmac and back wheels… I later found that to be very true ;)!! We turned into the narrow street that housed the converted shoe factory which was to be our base/home for the week, and there was an instant feeling of comfort, a sort of… yes… I like this place! It was quaint, with an earthy rustic but also delicately pretty French feel.

The coaching and the riding

A progressive week of coached training, taking me through many of the techniques used for improving descending, climbing, my enjoyment of hairpins and a great introduction into the fun and benefits of chain-gang work and using my rides for training as well as character building. The week was challenging… both mentally and physically. Being switched on for 6 hours of hard riding and intense teamwork for 6 days running provided a good test of metal.

On my Suunto/Strava I managed to clock up 323miles, 21,755ft of climbing over 24 solid hours of riding.

We reached the summits of a few good cols, including Col del Teil and Montsegur (which is set to be a 2019 Tour de France climb) and the views were just as breathtaking as the climbing, and the descents… well… fast and furious!

A few other enjoyable points of interest where:

  • Lac de Montbel (where we stopped for a swim after a hot day in the saddle and a deliciously filling lunch)
  • Notre dame de Vals
  • Mirepoix
  • Pic de Balaguier
  • The balcony road of Gorges de St Georges.

The location, the accommodation, the cuisine and local wines

A rustic little French village, with friendly locals, perfectly located for riding into the foothills. The accommodation is indescribable. No amount of words or imagery could possibly do it justice, or give a true impression of what to expect. Dave is an exceptional artist, and coupled with Toni, they both have amazing creative talent which shows throughout their home. Toni serves up delicious feasts for breakfast as well as dinner, all locally sourced produce, and many tasty treats coming from their home grown patch. There’s always a great array of recovery snacks available post rides. Toni also has her own cookery book in the making, and we were able to sample a varied selection of her fruitful recipes.

The great company

Spending one week with a group of road cyclists, well you soon bond. Exploring and riding together, working together on the bike, drinking and breaking bread together. For me, the joy of spending time with this particular group was made even better as everyone was there to work hard and push themselves. The trip was more about the riding and the training and less about the scenery. Of course, we all enjoyed the fantastic mountainous surroundings that the French Pyrenees had to offer, but there was also a good understanding through the group that we were all there to work hard, and with this came great support and respect for one another.

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