Okay – a brief update on Day 3 before I go back and fill in the details for Monday & Tuesday. Today’s numbers: 92.8miles, 8,804ft of climbing.

Mr Bear’s travels are being logged by Julie – and photos of his expedition will appear very soon! In the meantime – you can always donate to his cause at Virginmoneygiving

This morning started in the rain – which came on before we left the quaint, but very quirky, gite we stayed in following the Peyresourde. We had had an interesting night – we had enough beds in what was a ski-lodge, but not enough rooms – meaning that the normal groups had to be split. Sarah ended up sharing with the Browns (Stu, Julie and Toby) and I was in bunk beds with the other three single guys. Very school-trip like! 

Breakfast was fairly basic (we’d had to cook our own meal the previous night, for which we were prepared) – but we loaded up with as much muesli and baguettes as possible. Some confusion was had over the usual French method of drinking from bowls, which confused some people unable to find any cups in the cupboard!

Into the rain – and instead of straight into a climb (like Day 2’s assault on the Aubisque) we were straight into a descent for quite a few (wet) miles.  I’d decided to dose myself up on Iboprofen, and try and stay in a low gear to avoid putting any strain on my knee. The total amount of climbing today was due to be about 8,800ft – and nothing as steep as yesterday, so I’d see how far I got.

wpid-wp-1408570893638.jpegOur first climb, Col Des Ares, was 5% max. This meant that I had a good chance of being able to keep my cadence high enough to not put too much strain on my right knee.  Amid catcalls of “I’m feeling less sympathetic”, “you were just faking” – the blur of my legs spinning at 85rpm took me past all the others who had climbed 16,000ft yesterday and were feeling the full effect of it today. It wasn’t something I was going to be able to repeat throughout the day – but I got to the top first and most importantly with only minor twinges in my right knee.  If the other cols were similar I had a chance of completing a full day in the saddle!

Onwards and downwards – a rainy descent took us to the bottom of the next col – which was also achievable, being only just noticeable (it’s 599 – not 1599m). However the Col de Portet d’Aspet was a killer. I had to keep the cadence high – so ended up stopping to bring my heartrate down a couple of times, but managed the climb without any problem.  Having succeeded at that one I was relieved – I knew that although the Col de Porte, our last climb of the day, was long but also that it maxed out at 6%, which now seemed achievable.

wpid-wp-1408570860072.jpegThere is a memorial to Fabio Casartelli where he fatally crashed during a descent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet on the 1995 Tour de France. It was a sober reminder that even on closed roads and with professional riders, some of these descents can be dangerous.

The descent from Col de Portet d’Aspet down the other side, led to a lovely long, slightly downhill run for about 20miles – with excellent straight roads and it was a joy to be able to spin the legs round and maintain a steady 20mph ish into our lunch stop. Lunch stop today was French Cafe Culture – iCycle-style. We set up the chairs on a pavement down a wide street… somewhere – I’d need to look at the maps to find where… and tucked into fresh pizzas and coffee with baguettes and creme caramel for those that wanted it.

After lunch we had about 10 miles to run before the Col de Porte – which turned out *not* to have a double peak (as per our original route) which was a Good Thing, and also was confirmed to be no steeper than my knackered knee could manage without any real problem.  The top was covered (as per usual) in cloud and rain, so the descent was ropey to start with – but soon dried off and the last 10miles to the hotel were another fantastic rolling ride. This time – to a French manor house – with showers and all mod cons. A total contrast to the countryside, home-made gite from last night.

wpid-wp-1408570835227.jpegSo now – all showered and fed, and ready for 140miles and 11,000ft tomorrow.  ‘Just’ one horrendous climb tomorrow and it’s then all downhill to the coast….