Assassins and Tour Guides…

July 27, 1910 was a very hot day in the south of France and race officials anxiously waiting at the top of the Aubisque watched to see if any rider could make it over both the Tourmalet and the Aubisque. The second rider, Octave Lapize, appeared in great distress and pushing his bike. Upon reaching the top Lapize angrily shouted “ASSASSINS…” at the race officials as he passed…

Since 1910, when high mountain passes first became part of the Tour de France, the term ‘Circle of Death’ has been used for the most difficult race stage in the Pyrenees. The 1910 version included 4 huge Cols, including the 3 I took on doing my own ‘Circle of Death’: The Col du Peyresourde, the Col d ‘Aspin, and the giant Col du Tourmalet.

Three Summit Selfies on the Circle of Death

I was in the Pyrenees on the 2nd day of 44|5’s week long tour from Toulouse to the Atlantic Ocean. This tour provided the hardest 6 consecutive days of riding I have ever done: 350 miles and 47,000 feet of climbing. Over 7,800 feet a day! This ride alone featured 10,900 feet over 70 miles. Perhaps not as long or hard as a Tour Stage, but at the very least a ‘semi circle of near death’ for a 61 year old cyclotourist. It was also the most climbing I have ever done on a single day’s ride.

44|5’s Pyrenees Adventure Tour was sold out, and 7 of the 10 riders were friends I had toured with before. Only one person in the group had no connection to at least one other guest. This familiarity made for lively conversation at dinner, but on the road this day silence was pretty much the norm: these mountain passes require all the oxygen you take in go towards propulsion and not to your vocal cords.

I started the day thinking I would do the first two Cols and evaluate whether I should attempt the Tourmalet or not. Since the day was cool (unlike our first ride which was pretty warm) I actually felt pretty good at the lunch break, so I started up the Tourmalet thinking I would probably make it. And I did. 4 Km from the top in the ski resort town of La Monge I decided to stop for a Coke. Unfortunately I forgot that my money was in the car, and I would have to ride about 200 meters back down to retrieve it. There was no chance I would do that, so I drank some water and took a few Endurolytes and headed up to the summit. And I made it. At 2115 meters it was the ‘Cima Coppi’ of our tour.

The rest of the day’s ride was pretty much downhill to our lovely Art Deco hotel in Argeles.  Cycling is really embedded deep in the cultural fabric of France. There were three signed jerseys in the fitness room of the hotel. Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Bernard Thevenet. I felt like I was in a cycling museum. Two of the greatest cycling champions and another rider who ‘only’ won 2 Tours. I wonder if the jerseys were protected by an alarm system. Some unscrupulous cycling fan might want an incredible souvenir.

The next day we did a ‘recovery ride’ up Hautacam. 30 miles and 5,100 feet constitutes ‘recovery’ on a 44|5 Tour. I could have shouted “Assassins!”  at our guides John and Gerry, but over the years and multiple tours they have become good friends and I would never do such a thing. Hautacam is a 15 Km climb averaging 7.6%. And do not be deceived by the Kilometer signs counting down to the summit. ‘Kilometer 0’ ends in a parking lot, where you still have another 1.5 Km to reach the cafe at the very top. I thought I was finished when it turned out I had another 100 meters to climb!

These two were in stock. The Peyresourde is on the way.

While the ride wasn’t exactly recovery, we did finish early enough for lunch in a restaurant and an afternoon siesta. About 5 pm I went for a walk into the village for some gelato and souvenir shopping. I wanted to purchase the three road markers for the three Cols I had climbed the previous day. The shop had plenty of ‘Tourmalet’ stones, but I got the last ‘Aspin’ and the ‘Peyresourde’ was out of stock. Google to the rescue! When I got home I ordered one from England to complete my set. Mementos of a monumental day.


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