Fly London to Toulouse; transfer to Ax-Les-Thermes. This is a lively thermal spa town on the banks of the river Ariège surrounded by roads heading up in all directions - the perfect place to start our holiday. We stay in our hotel here for two nights.
After breakfast there will be plenty of time to assemble your bikes or make any necessary adjustments to your hire bike. There are many fantastic rides to be done from the doorstep of the hotel, but today is intended to be a gentle introduction. The Col de Chioula (1431m) commands big views over the eastern Pyrenees and the ascent from the west has some very agreeable gradients. After lunch you have the option of enjoying a leisurely ride up the stunning U shaped valley of Orlu or stepping up the tempo a bit and beasting yourself up the stage ending of Bonascre (1380m) or the HC climb of the Col de Paiheres (2001m).
Easier Route: Col du Chioula [38km, 830m ascent]
Basic Route: Col du Chioula + Orlu Valley [52km, 1030m ascent]
Harder Route: Col du Chioula + Plateau du Bonascre [54km, 1500m ascent]
CC Challenge: Col du Chioula + Col du Paiheres [77km, 2111m ascent]
From Ax we set off on the route des corniches (coast road). This has to one of the 'nicest roads to ride a bike on in the Pyrenees'. It undulates its way along the south facing side of the valley of Ax with constant views and beautiful villages. This takes us to market town Tarascon for Lunch. Alternatively, those wanting a real challenge the Plateau de Beille (1800m) would seem an appropriate way to spend the morning (this is a very tough option as you still need to get over the Col De Port!). After Lunch we take on the Col du Port (1250m), before descending all the way to our hotel in Massat - a town that seems to have been lost in the 60's! Relaxing is a good option, but those with some energy to spare could always take on the mighty Col d'Agnes (1570m) - worth it for the views and the lakeside café! Make sure you do not snack out too much this afternoon, as dinner is huge!
Basic Route: Route de Courniches + Col du Port (1250m) [102km, 1410m ascent]
Harder Route: Route de Corniches + Col du Port + Col d'Agnes [108km, 2340m ascent]
CC Challenge: Plateau de Beille + Col du Port + Col d'Agnes [128km, 2980m ascent]
With two days under our belt our legs are now ready to take on two of the most popular cols in the Pyrenees. Climbing gently through ancient farmsteads, we barely notice the incline to the Col du Portet d'Aspet (1075m). A short descent through mixed forest (past the memorial to Fabio Casertelli) prepares us for the never-ending Col de Mente (1345m). After a pleasant winding descent we can stretch our legs with a very gentle (almost flat) finale into the bustling spar town of Luchon. There are two optional extras today, one at the start of the day, taking us over the Col de la Core (1395m) - famous for its cheese! The other Towards the end of the day there is the option of making an excursion to Spain and taking on the Col de Portillon (1293m).
Easier Route: Col de Porte D'Aspet + Col de Burret + Col de Ares [110km, 1300m ascent]
Basic Route: Col de Porte D'Aspet + Col de Mente [104km, 1600m ascent]
Harder Route: Col de Porte D'Aspet + Col de Mente + Col Du Portillon [122km, 2270m ascent]
CC Challenge: Col de La Core + Porte D'Aspet + Col de Mente + Col de Portillon - East [122km, 3050m ascent]
A free day in Luchon, giving us an opportunity to rest aching limbs in the thermal baths. Alternatively, why not try paragliding, 'Le Hot Dog' (inflatable canoe) or mountain biking. The die-hard tour enthusiasts and those who can't bear to be separated from their road bike for the day can take in the stage-end of Superbagnères (1804m) or the recently surfaced Port de Bales (1755m).
Col du Portillon - West (1293m) - [22 km, 670m ascent]
Superbagnères - [38.6km, 1200m ascent]
Port de Bales - [70km, 1300m ascent]
Classic Cols Challenge: Port de Bales + Superbagnères + Col du Portillon - West [131km, 3170m ascent]
We start with the Col de Peyresourde (1565m), even the support bus struggles up this one! The incentive to get to the top comes in the form of a café selling fantastic pancakes. Those that really want to abuse their bodies could take in the Col D'Azet (1580m) and the mountain hugging Pla D'Adet (1680m). On the basic route, next up is the beautiful Col d'Aspin (1490m) which has been used more often by the Tour de France than any other Pyrenean climb. A spectacular downhill takes us through the small and quaintly bizarre town of Campan and on to our hotel in Aste on the outskirts of Bagneres de Bigorre.
Basic Route: Col du Peyresourde + Col du Aspin [68km, 1750m ascent]
Harder Route: Col du Peyresourde + Col D'Azet + Col du Aspin [88km, 2315m ascent]
CC Challenge: Col du Peyresourde + Col D'Azet + Pla d'Adet + Col du Aspin [112km, 3215m ascent)
This day sees the ultimate challenge: the punishing Col du Tourmalet (2115m)! Making it to the top is always worth a photo! From here we can enjoy a 35km downhill all the way to the picturesque thermal spa town of Argelés-Gazost for an afternoon of justifiable relaxation. There are however a few (tempting) optional extras including the TDF stage finishes of Luz Ardiden (1720m) and Hautacam (1616m) or a nice detour 'up' the valley to the village of Gavarnie for a glimpse of the world famous Cirque. (BD)
Basic Route: Col Du Tourmalet [60km, 1515m ascent]
Easy optional Extra: Trip to Gavarnie from Luz St Sauveur [adds 38km, 665m ascent]
Harder Route: Col Du Tourmalet +Hautacam [96km, 2700m ascent]
CC Challenge: Col Du Tourmalet + Luz Ardiden + Hautacam [125km, 3670m ascent]
A free morning to take it easy, visit the marmot sanctuary and pack up the bikes. However, the really keen could have time to take in the stage-end of Hautacam, (1618m). After lunch we transfer 2.5 hrs to Toulouse and fly to London.