Favourite Climbs: Luz Ardiden, French Pyrenees-Blog Post by Grant
The climb of Luz Ardiden, within the midi Pyrenees, is firm a favourite of mine.
There are many reasons why I love to visit the piece of road which twists and turns it’s way out of the town of Luz, up to the ski area high above. My first visit was during 2006. The climb formed part of a ride, which featured the Tourmalet as well as Luz Ardiden.
I was relatively new to riding the climbs of Europe at the time, and Luz Ardiden had come to my attention when it featured in the 2003 Tour de France.
This was the year Lance Armstrong had struggled to achieve his usual dominance, and holding on to the Yellow jersey looked doubtful. Some of the drama of the race was played out on Luz Ardiden. When launching an attack, Armstrong snagged a spectator’s musette, which brought him and Iban Mayo crashing to the ground. Armstrong managed to continue with the attack, and there are numerous photos of him crossing line, ashen in colour, eyes bloodshot, but he retained the Yellow Jersey and his lead.
As I climbed Luz Ardiden for the first time, I tried to find some indication of where Armstrong had crashed, and imaged the intensity of the moment, as well the effort required to race up a climb like this. For me, part of what makes cycling so fulfilling and rewarding, is how readily we can immerse ourselves in it. We are able to experience the roads or trails which form part of its history, and there are even instances where the drama of a race plays out as we watch at the roadside or on screen.
The views from a climb can be so rewarding, but I believe it’s the whole experience which make some a little bit special.
Luz Ardiden has always featured later in my ride, and I am normally starting the ascent by late afternoon, with one or two climbs already in my legs. Initially the road is quite tree lined, reasonably wide, and a river can be heard as it flows to the valley floor. I enjoy the slightly cooler temperature of this early section, and breathing in the humid air.
It’s a point in the ride where Emma (my long standing partner) and I deliberate on how our legs may fare as the road begins to elevate. This is something we revisit at the top.
As the climb rises, it gifts with views across to the town of Luz Saint Sauveur, and the mountains beyond. I love to glance across, and look forward to each time I am able to see another aspect of the scenery.
Within the earlier reaches of the climb the road occasionally winds through small clusters of houses. One of these is also home to what must be holiday accommodation, with an open air swimming pool. Jumping in to cool off seems so appealing in the heat of the day.
These small areas of population disappear and the climb begins to become more challenging. The road is now formed by a blend switchback turns and ramps. Trees continue to edge the road side, casting shadows and creating shade. By now, I will feel hot from the exertion of climbing, and hope to be cooled by the shade, but the trees hold back any breeze and sweat continues to bead on my arms.
The sensation of propelling the bike upwards now fills virtually every pedal stroke, and my legs resonate a feeling of pushing against resistance, blended with a fatigue induced numbness. Strangely, I have developed a certain fondness for this, as it’s unique to the bike trips which I love so much.
Years of riding in the mountains has given me the confidence to know I can sustain the effort, it’s just a case of ensuring the heart rate does not go too high, sipping from the drinks bottle and maybe taking in an energy gel.
The reward for taking on the challenge of Luz Ardiden becomes even greater in its upper reaches. Initially, its the gaps within trees which offer glimpses across to the high mountains, which form the opposite side of the valley. This is followed by the road breaking out of the tree line, and there is now potential to look up to where the ski station sits within the mountain side.
Although the landscape becomes more barren at this point, my visits have always coincided with the summer months. This open area is free of its winter snow, and is blend of green and grey, where grass manages to take hold between the steep, bare rock.
The road continues to weave its way up the mountain side, but the distance between the switchback turns becomes less and less, and a fork in the road is another indication that the summit is quite close.
During previous visits to Luz Ardiden I have focused on trying to sustain or even increase my pace to reach the top climb as quickly as possible, but this time, I purposely eased back. I love to ride my bike in these mountains, and enjoy being there so much, it seemed illogical to rush.
The ski station is readily visible, and marks the end of the climb. If climbing at full gas, it makes a perfect target, but the final switchback never seems to arrive, and real determination is needed to keep pressing on, turn after turn, while heading for the finish.
During this recent ascent, I chose to enjoy viewing the valley, the expanse of mountains, and the wonderful twisting ribbon of road which enables this experience.
The ski station has a huge title sign which clearly indicates your arrival at Luz Ardiden. It’s car park makes a great place to take in the views, and to any finish off the water and energy drink, which have become lukewarm by the afternoon sun.
I watch Emma making her way through the final few turns of the ascent. I am looking forward to learning how the climb went, but for now, it’s time to enjoy the moment and breath in the mountain air. It may be a year or two before I return to ride this fabulous climb, so for now, what’s the rush….