This is a report of our independent ride of the Raid Pyrénéen Randonneur from Hendaye on the Atlantic border with Spain to Cèrbere on the Mediterranean. A journey of 450 miles (720km), tackling 18 cols and 11,000m of ascent. Using fast-touring bikes and carrying 1 pannier each, we cycled to Hendaye from St Malo in Brittany, taking 5 days to cover 484 miles (774km). This was a fast, generally flat route (daily ave. from 15.7-17.8mph) via overnight stops at Chateaubriant, Bazoges-en-Pared, hitting the coast at Royan (ferry across the Gironde) and Mimizan. The route crosses extensive marshland around Rochefort and 1½ days’ ride (c.170 miles) through the dead-flat forest of Les Landes. The first long hill of the entire journey through France is on the approach to Bayonne. After finishing the Raid we spent the final (10th) day cycling to Barcelona (cheap Easyjet flights back home) via Figueres and Girona. This completed a journey of 1041 miles for which we raised £4500 in sponsorship for the Clarence Adoo Trust and Cancer Research UK. The following information may help you plan your own independent ride.
The Raid itself represents a serious commitment in order to complete it within the time limit of 100 hours: early starts, long days in the saddle and not much time to stop. Most package tour rides opt to use the full 4 days and 4 hours (finishing lunchtime on the 5th day), though we planned to finish on the 4th day (with the extra 4 hours for safety). We trained for this by doing a number of long hilly rides in Kent and the West Country, including a 240-mile 2-day round trip to Plymouth via Dartmoor. We used heart-rate monitors to practice keeping efforts well within aerobic (fat-burning) levels and this paid off in the Pyrénées with HR’s generally below 140bpm.
Entering the Raid: requires writing to the Cyclo Club Bearnais
for entry forms. You will have to give details of your start-date, number of
riders and fill in a rather laborious timetable of where you expect to be and
when. The report below may help with this. The entry fee is requested by international
postal order, although the Post Office had not heard of this, so we opted for
an expensive foreign draft from the bank. You can choose to pay for a medal
as well as the homologation. On receipt, the club sends out tourist and hotel
information (some tel. numbers unobtainable), Route Carnets and numbered Raid
tags for your bikes. Stamps for the carnet can be picked up at the outlined
checkpoints at almost any shop or bar. The ‘controle secret’ (someone
on route) may or may not happen. Completed carnets need to be sent back by October.
Cyclo Club Bearnais Cyclotourisme
59 Avenue Louis Sallenave
Telephone contact is limited to Fridays between 6-7.30pm (00 33 5 59 84 32 64) and there is no web site.
The route is generally on quiet roads (although this may have been affected by the time of year and lack of visibility for site-seers on the higher mountains). As a rule, yellow or white roads on the map are quiet and narrow; red roads obviously more major, carrying more, faster moving traffic, but often wide enough to have a half hard-shoulder ‘cycle lane’. The busiest section was around Ax-les-Thermes and heading towards Andorra. The route is not way-marked so maps are essential. Major cols are signposted and km/ave. gradients marked once you start climbing them.
The stages and overnight stops were planned after reading Alan Paxton’s web account of his ride (www.dcs.ed.ac.uk/home/alanpx/bike/raid.html) and all accommodation pre-booked using the internet to find fax numbers. Hotel de Gare in Hendaye was cheap; though really down the wrong, rather scruffy station-end of town it had the advantage of an excellent, cheap Spanish meal being only a 200m walk away. Hotels in Arudy and Arreau are definitely worth booking as there’s not a lot of choice in these small towns; Cèrbere is small and can be quite busy. All hotels were willing and able to garage the bikes. Early breakfasts (pre-8am) and late dinners (post-8.30pm) could be a problem.
The weather varied wildly: we left Hendaye in cool, mist (most people seem to), suffered torrential rain, thick fog and cold all day over the Aubisque and Tourmalet and pleasant sunshine from Bourg-Madame.
Fast-touring bikes with mudguards and pannier racks; Schwalbe Blizzard tyres (fast-rolling, 110psi), triple chainset with low, MTB gear options, SPD pedals and touring saddles. New brake-blocks strongly advised! One pannier each, weighing c.16lbs: longs, base layer shirt, waterproof were all absolutely essential; change of shorts; evening clothes and light shoes, fleece; overnight essentials; tools, maps, pen, paper, camera, carnet etc.
Our diary is on the following four pages...