Vive Le France

January 3rd, 2018 by / In Experience Pursuit Cycles Ride Gorge DuTarn France Summer

When I was asked several years ago by a friend if I wanted to join him on a cycling trip to France with a group of his friends I didn’t have to think very hard about the decision. Bicycles are connectors. They connect us with our world in a more complete way than our cars, they connect us to each other, and they connect us to the inner child we often lose touch with. Now I try to return to France every year to ride, and immerse myself in the food, culture, history, and scenery that is on offer there. It’s a time to connect with old friends, disconnect from the day to day, and re-awaken a long term love affair with the bike…

Toulouse France, as good a place as any to start exploring the culture, roads, and sights of southern France. The airport, while not “big” is home to Airbus, and as such they can handle bigger luggage items like bicycles more easily than some smaller re-gional landing spots. Not an insignificant issue when starting out a trip, the wondering if your precious cargo will be there when you are, and in one piece! Thankfully everyone in our group has shown up on time, and so have their bags, and so off we go to explore and become introduced to some of the best riding the world has to offer…

This is not a trip in the high Pyrenees, but a 3 week immersion in small villages and their flavors, smells, and rhythms. We aren’t here to climb the iconic ones like the Tour- malet, and Peyresourde, but to get the feel of the countryside and it’s people…the climbing we’ll do will be more than enough without searching like Desgrange for monsters…

Our first stop is Meyrueis at the head of the Gorge de Jonte in the department of Lozere, and the riding is magical. These roads were part of the story in the book The Rider by Tim Krabbe, and even though this isn’t my first time here, I continue to find new routes previously unexplored. Mt Aigoual is an easy ride (distance wise) out of town, and the south reaches of the Massif Central are far from flat, so big mileage is also usually rewarded with big vertical numbers. The Tour de France has frequented this area, and there is even a monument to Roger Riviere on the Col de Perjuret where he crashed out of the 1960 tour on the descent.

We moved on to Anduze, closer to Languedoc and the wine growing regions nearer the coast, and again find small roads linking smaller villages to each other, but lacking almost any significant traffic. How can this be? I often find myself laughing out loud at the combination of good road surface, low traffic, and scenery and wonder how we can be so lucky to be here. Motorists here have more respect for cyclists, and smaller vehicles allow more room for all of us to use the space we need.

This trip we discovered a new spot for us…Mazamet, the home of Laurent Jalabert who raced very successfully in the late ’80’s and ’90’s and won the Vuelta, and stages in the Tour as well. There are numerous routes in and around Mazamet mapped as part of the Route de Jalabert, and they are fantastic! We rode up Mont Noir and saw more cyclists than we did cars! I have to give thanks and acknowledgement to our hosts Mark and Peter at La Villa de Mazamet for being exceptional hosts and taking such great care of all of us. We left this place with many roads and routes unexplored, and dreams of delicious meals in our heads.

Last stop Bugarach, closer to the big mountains, and the climbs get more insistent here. Foothills of the Pyrennees, I’m thinking we’re there…the Port de Pailheres, and the Col de Gau are real climbs, and Nairo Quintana will tell you the same thing… Close to Andorra, and the Spanish side of things many road signs here have two spellings on them to reflect the geography of the region. This is where the Cathars were persecuted, and the people here are friendly, but remind me strongly of the hippy culture of the US, funky clothes, dreadlocks, and old vans are pretty common down here. It’s completely charming. We’re also close to Limoux, where you can find a good meal, a bike shop, and a fair number of ex-pats training for bike racing endeavors. It’s a great place to ride, and to train, and just to visit in general…we love the place for the relaxed atmosphere, and out hosts in Bugarach at Le Presbytere are lovely and make the whole experience even better.

View from Le Presbytere….


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