I appear to have had another of those moments where I lost all rational thought, like I had a few weeks ago when booking onto the Marmotte, and have entered Ariegeoise XXL 2016, which runs in late June.
Not heard of if? I thought so. For some reason, this great event, which is run every year in the Ariege department of the Pyrenees (with a different route every year), is totally anonymous in the UK. Despite their being around 5,000 entries every year, I get the impression it’s very much a ‘local event for local people’ to quote the dwellers of Royston Vasey), with the majority of riders being French or Spanish.
However, this isn’t exactly some reliability ride or club sportive; at 168km and 4400m ascent, this is going to be quite a day out, and includes all the palaver you expect with a European Gran Fondo: event villages, service centres, feed stations, and a free jersey to add to the collection!
When I saw the route for 2016 a brief chill went down my spine; the day finishes with the huge ascent of the Plateau de Beille.
It’s been used by the Tour a handful of times, most recently in 2015, when Rodriguez danced his way up the col in a storm to take the stage. However, it is generally overlooked by Prudhomme and co., as is typical of the Ariege region as a whole. Just coz it’s not a favourite of the ASO gang, don’t write it off. I’d say it’s possibly the most brutish ascent I’ve ever taken on; long, unrelentingly steep (it rarely drops below 8%, and is mostly nudging on 10%), and with many very straight sections that offer no mental relief, this is one you want to go into feeling strong.
Matt and I climbed the Platueau in July 2015 in the mid afternoon sun of a cloudless July day this year. As it’s a functional road up to a ski station, as opposed to a tranquil pass only frequented by locals and idiots on bikes, it’s wide, open, exposed and torturous. The relatively new road surface and steep gradient seems to radiate heat in all directions – it’s a true furnace.
There’s another huge col on the route, the Pailheres. I don’t know this one, but the gradient graph says it all; it’s a truly typical Pyrenean climb that is constantly pitching up and down, preventing any rhythm or consistency of cadence. And at 16km long with 1200m ascent, it’s easily comparable to its better known HC passes in the Alps and Pyrenees.
The rest of the parcours doesn’t exactly look flat either. This will be a great way of seeing how my form is in the run up to Haute Route. Can’t wait! Or can i….?!?