Climbing the Cols of the Tour de France through Provence and the Pyrenees
Contributed by Terry Ambassador Karen Marshall
Featuring lots of lavender, Lord of the Rings landscapes, and some of the toughest riding you may ever do.
After a riding adventure with a too heavy bag last summer I made a vow: pack only the apparel you absolutely need to be comfortable riding all day, playing tourist and relaxing with a great meal and glass of wine at night. Our destinations were Malaucene in Provence and the villages of Castillion-en-Couserans, Arreau, Aucun and Lanne en Bartous deep in the French Pyrenees. In my bag for our 18-day adventure was an easy to smoosh, lightweight Terry wardrobe: four Soleil tops, a slew of sun goddess jerseys, four pairs of my all-time favorite peloton shorts, a new pair of CHILL shorts, yellow bolero, and my go everywhere black transit dress.
Mt. Ventoux is the highest peak in Provence at 1912 meters, a symbolic Tour de France segment and bucket list ride for many cyclists. I started this climb after a super-hot 69-kilometer ride from Malaucene to Sault, working our way up through forever stretching, fragrant fields of lavender. The beauty couldn’t overcome what my body was telling me… the heat index is off the charts, you’re dehydrated, today is not your day.
Feeling a bit defeated, I turned back and descended through the lavender landscape – stopping along the way to appreciate the heavenly scent surrounding me, knowing I made the right decision and refueled with a gelato.
I conquered my Ventoux the next day with a 26km climb to the top of the foreboding peak in more inclement weather. There were moments in the steep, barren climb where I simply said “grit, grit, grit” to myself over and over again. Moral of my Mt. Ventoux victory: listen to your body but never give up!
What is a col?
Suzette. Pyresourde. Aspin. H’ourquette de Ancizan. Issarbe. Soudet. Bagargui. Soulour. Aubisque. Lie. I’chere. Houratate. By definition, a col is the lowest point of a ridge or saddle between two peaks. When riding in the Pyrenees it’s also the highest point you’re grinding up to for what might be a few hours. My tally for our cycling adventure was 480 miles and 54,500 feet of vertical, commemorating incredible climbs on quiet roads in Lord of the Rings-like landscapes.
I ground my way up and raced my way down with my riding musketeers on each of these cols. Initially, I oddly found myself intimidated by guy talk – how tough and long the 8-17% gradient climbs were. The reality is I found the same power, grit, stamina, cadence and climbed side by side with the gents. RIDE LADIES RIDE! Never doubt your ability to get to the top, one pedal rotation at a time.
Our most spectacular climb was Col d’Bagargui where we were rewarded with wild horses grazing on a precipice over the valley thousands of feet below. The ridgetop route was a panorama with hundreds of shades of green and jaw-dropping mountain vistas.
My newest Terry piece this summer was a pair of weightless compression chill shorts. You forget you have them on. They matched up well with my Provence jersey as we toured the countryside, churches and Cols d’I’chere, Lie and H’ouratate. I chose them for our longest rides for comfort and performance. Chill shorts rule except when you leave them at home and have to opt for mountain bike shorts instead. On a 52-mile ride that included trekking up the Col d’Aubisque to the Col d’Soulor to watch the Tour d’ France 14th stage I repeated over and over, “You are such a bad-ss girl, you can ride this without bike shorts!” It was the only way to convince myself that riding without a chamois was doable.
Watching the Tour among the French people was magical; it’s a concert, parade, cycling race, generations of families, joy d’vivre and French nationalism all at once.
Home sweet chateau with the musketeers.
Let’s face it, “kit” is a guy cyclist term for male riding apparel that will never, ever fit a female correctly. Laden with manufacturer logos, the jerseys scream out, the short chamois don’t belong on our bodies and “kits” make us look like one of the guys, we’re blending in to a male dominated sport. One of my favorite moments of the breakfast routine at our chateau in Lanne-en-Bartous was the morning one of the musketeer cyclists commented, “You’ve got another Terry kit on” – a compliment, a recognition, a moment in time where I was proud that my Terry apparel worn day in and out represented women – formidable and fashionable – in a riding pack of our own. Next time you’re out on the road and see the “kits” say a large THANK YOU TERRY! for creating cycling apparel that’s made just for us, fits right, feels good, performs exceptionally, and looks fantastic!
If you seek a magnificent place to stay with friends and family in the Pyrenees, you’ll find the last home of the famous musketeer Porthos to your liking! Built in the 17th century, en. Chateau-de-Porthos is nestled in Lanne-en-Bartous in the heart of all of these rides.
Karen Marshall – #terryfaerie – is Executive Vice President at Marathon Health, a provider of worksite health centers across the nation.