Cycling Col Du Portet Summer21Cycling Col Du Portet Summer21
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Cape or no Cape

to cycle up the Col du Portet

By Bruno BOUBIN

“When, in a moment of intense late-night emotion, I stupidly blurted out: tomorrow, I’m cycling up the Col du Portet!”

You’ll need to be in good physical condition, and you’ll be able to win…

You'll need courage

I should have known it wasn’t a good idea. Especially when my companion challenged me, with a smile, with a “T’es pas cap” while committing to accompany me on my electric bike.

That’s when I should have realized that, past a certain age, playing the “cap or no cap” game can be childish.

Let’s be clear from the outset! Either you’ve already got a thousand kilometers of cycling under your belt and you’re simply going to suffer or … you’re going to cry.

The Col du Portet climb is 16 kilometers with an average gradient of 8.7%. Just by looking at the sign at the start of the village of Vignec, you’re sweating and not far from an acne breakout. Don’t let yourself be impressed. Just get used to the idea that you’re going to be riding a very small chainring and a very large cog.

Pack some energy gels and fill your water bottle. Sign yourself if you’re a believer and launch yourself up the first ramp, all the way to the “Poulidor” bend.

Don’t get carried away. By then, you’ll already be hot. A small but essential detail: don’t be intimidated by the fact that your companion, riding an electric bike, will admire your effort with that little smile that inevitably makes you want to curse her.

First objectivethe village of Soulan

The profile of the first five kilometers is between 9 and 10%. Your first objective is to get to the village of Soulan without feeling like you’re in a constant state of apnoea.

You can zigzag once or twice along the road to loosen up your legs on the steeper slopes, and take advantage of the little lucidity you have left to admire the scenery. Don’t be surprised when your speedometer tells you that you’re progressing at between 7 and 8 km/h, and don’t forget to warmly greet all the cyclists who will be dropping you off with a compassionate smile.

As for the one who keeps asking you “How do you feel?”, think of all the happy moments you’ve already shared. When you get to the village of Soulan, don’t forget to fill your water bottle at the fountain. It’s the last water point up to the Col.

Second objectivedeparture for Col du Portet

Take advantage of the little flat spot on the outskirts of Soulan to wind down a little. It’ll lift your spirits and take your mind off the 10% kilometer ahead. This one has the particularity of seeming endless.

This is certainly the moment when you’re going to ask your companion to go ahead. Otherwise, you run the stupid risk of forgetting “all those happy moments you’ve shared”.

Tell yourself that after this kilometer, you still have a choice. Once you reach the crossroads, you can give up with dignity by simply turning left and arriving at Pla d’Adet, otherwise … it’s to the right.

Once you’re at the foot of the sign that tells you that you’ve only got 8 kilometers left at an average of 8.6%, pretext to immortalize your feat by taking a selfie with the one you’ve finally made up with to savor a well-deserved break.

Last goalfinish at all costs

The trap in starting this climb to the Col du Portet is to think you’ve done the hard part. You forget that you’ve already got a few kilometers of climbing in your legs. All those that remain will gradually seem … extremely long. This is the moment when your companion, not very comfortable with this exercise and with a bike weighing a ton, will suddenly lose that unbearable little smile. I’m not going to lie, that’s when I had the hardest time. You feel like you’ve got less slope, but you don’t have enough leg strength to accelerate. Keep a low profile and keep telling yourself that you have to finish “whatever the cost”.

AdmireSheep and cows on the mountain pastures

Think of yourself as being in a pastoral area, so cast an amused glance at the flocks of sheep and the few cows. You’ll be able to read the encouragement in their eyes. Once you’ve mastered the twists and turns, you’ll find yourself back on a slightly gentler slope all the way to the tunnel. A word of friendly advice: as you pass through the tunnel, don’t try to make friends with the sheep or cows that sometimes take refuge there. And if you start trying to strike up a conversation with one of these four-legged creatures, swallow all the gels you’ve got left – you’re hypothermic. During the last kilometer, don’t hesitate to talk about the descent with your companion, giving her that little smile that should definitely calm her down.

You didn't do Quintana, but you got there

Once you’ve passed the sign indicating that you’ve just passed your bet, remember never to play “cap ou pas cap” again.

But, given that you won’t feel your legs, you’ll be all red with a trickle of drool down your chin and you’ll feel like you’re on the verge of apoplexy, you should remember that.

Well, you didn’t do Nairo Quintana, who won the first finish of a Tour de France stage on the Col du Portet in 2018, but you got there. Take a selfie with your partner with a view of the Saint-Lary resort and, above all, don’t forget to take one of her head at the bottom of the descent. It could always come in handy.

For more information on access conditions to the Col du Portet, log on to the dedicated cyclo colduportet.fr website or the Saint-Lary website

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