Cyclist Magazine Australia/NZ flew halfway around the world to climb the Pyrenean monument with its slightly more than 2.200 meters of altitude as part of their highly acclaimed "Big Ride" series and you can read the enthusiasm and reverence in every sentence.
Here is an excerpt from Cyclist Magazine Australia/NZ’s January 2020 edition (#42), available now at every well-assorted magazine retailer:
Lac it up
Don’t get it twisted – this isn’t your usual coffee ride, but the promise of Oranginas at over 2,000 metres seems reason enough to head skyward for the next two or so hours. That headwind is awfully persistent as we follow the flow of the Neste – which we’ll crossover a few times on the way to our first checkpoint at Fabian. ‘That’s thermic mountain wind,’ JP explains, which – for someone who dresses for the conditions based around the ‘feels like’ weather app reading – equates to headwind up the valley in the morning, headwind down the valley in the afternoon. I shouldn’t have asked.
We’ve ticked off one-tenth of our altitude for the day by the time we reach the turn-off for Route des Lacs. The road instantly shrinks to half width. Stone walls line the upper side of the mountain as the sound of water rushing down the river fills our ears. Tall valley trees and scrub line the lush banks as we cut through the surrounding hillside. The gradient remains fairly steady and, despite the earlier grumblings, that constant need to push just a little harder than normal starts to feel a little more natural.
The road slowly starts to shift towards the west with the help of the first of what soon becomes many switchbacks, and after just 19km I’ve lost count of how many. The last breathtaking set of Lacets des Edelweiss rises over 50 metres in height in what feels like hardly any distance at all. You’ll feel the pinch here, and despite ascending beyond the measly heights of Victoria’s Mount Hotham – with still some ways to go – the view down below doesn’t do justice to how high we’ve climbed.
Around the next bend, it all comes into view. There’s a sign pointing to the cafe, and straight ahead is the huge dam wall of the man-made Lac de Cap-de-Long.
Oranginas await just a few kilometres further up the mountain, but with the valley really opening up and showing off the brilliant colours of d’Orédon around 100 metres down to our right, those beverages are going to be needed.
The last push to our first peak of the day takes longer than expected, and while there’s a little goat traffic to contend with along the way, I should probably be grateful we haven’t encountered a traffic light for close to two hours. Back home, you don’t get uninterrupted riding like this too often.
It’s like a toddler has designed the final bit of road up to the reservoir, such are the twists and turns. After a final section of switchbacks, we reach the peak. Wow. JP beams with delight as we rack our bikes against his conveniently sponsored bike rack at Le Garlitz cafe. After just 24km of riding uphill, we take a seat and admire the views from the outdoor dining area. We’re going to need a minute or two before heading back down.