Still biking? Definitely…

“Still biking Grant?” is a question I’ve been asked many times throughout my life, by friends or different people that I’ve met along the way. Riding a bike has been such a big part of what I do, it’s hard to imagine it not being the case. I think it’s the momentum, freedom and just being outside, that I love so much



The Sweetest Climb: Port de Pailhères


By Grant Williams

I am always on the look out for new climbs, and it was beautiful images of the Port de Pailhères in France, that caught my eye, whilst eagerly skimming the pages of yet another cycling magazine, which had recently dropped through our letterbox. 

The riders had visited the climb during October 2012 and the mountain tops were snow covered. These were in contrast with the dark colours of the valley and a vivid blue sky, with the road snaking its way up to the summit. These images were more than enough to make me want to visit, and experience what they had. 

The Port de Pailhères remained out of reach for a few years, but the desire to visit was constant. I love being on my bike in the high mountains. The memory of these times, or planning the next adventure, both play a huge part in who I am. 

A passion for these bike trips is something I share with my partner, Emma, and we were both excited about visiting the Ariège Pyrénées, an area neither of us had visited before.  We chose to stay in a pretty village, just above Ax-les-Thermes. The western approach to this wonderful climb begins in this town, so it seemed a perfect location. We had two weeks to explore the area. 

Our journey to these places tends to involve travelling long distances in the car, and it’s usually late afternoon or early evening when we arrive at the destination. Any fatigue quickly disappears when the road signs begin the show the name of climbs we are here to ride, and the excitement of being in the mountain environment builds.


The first day involves setting up the bikes, and putting the ride kit in some form of order. This is well practised, and quickly leads on to a look at maps and weather forecast.  Rain was due by early afternoon, but that was a few hours away, we were in the Pyrenees, and the Pailhères was on the doorstep. Why not just take a ride up, and see how far we get before the dark clouds sweeping into the valley prompt us to turn around, and head back down to the apartment? 

There was already some cloud cover, but it was warm, and it felt great to be breathing in the mountain air, clicking through the gears, and reconnecting with the movement and sensations that come with being on the bike. 

When riding from Ax-les-Thermes, the Pailhères gifts the rider with a mix of sensory treats. Quite early on the ascent, we enjoyed the beauty of the mountain lake Goulours, heavily wooded on one side, more open on its others. The water a mix of blue or glass clear, depending on the angle of view. We stopped and gazed for a few moments, before heading on, promising to return and walk its shoreline. 



Sections of the road surface were fresh when we visited, the new, black macadam was smooth, and made the steeper gradients which occur through the tree line, that little bit easier. The presence of the new surfacing was softened by the River Lauze which edges the road. The water looks so fresh and clean, sparkling when the sunlight catches the flow. The sound of the moving water forms a beautiful distraction from the deep breaths of exertion while climbing, or the blend of bicycle and the wind, during a descent. 


The pitch of the road eased before the ski village of Ascou-Pailhères came into view, and the bike effortlessly gathered momentum. This was one of those moments of contrast on a climb, when the forces of gravity and gradient temporarily relent, the legs spin easily, and the body and breathing relax. 

Cattle wandered freely, enjoying this grassy area, and evidence of their presence decorated the road surface…. I would look out for this natural hazard on the way down!  Glancing up at the high mountain peaks, it was easy to become completely immersed in the moment, but I was searching for view points that would allow me to look down the valley, and check for signs of rain clouds moving in. This was hindered by the landscape and trees, so I rode on, passing through the ski village, clicking up though the gears, as the road began to elevate again.

A wide area of macadam, static ski lifts, and being further into the mountains made me feel quite small, compared to the scale of the surroundings. Another wonderful sensation of the mountains.   As the climb rose above the tree line, the surface suddenly changed to being quite pale and weathered. The road cut into the hillside was edged by rock, deep orange and black in colouration. 

The height gain created the potential to view the valley below, the horizon was slightly darker, and one or two compact black clouds had ominously drifted in. Looking up, the sky remained relatively clear, and a large switchback gave way to what looked like a virtually straight run to the top.


I continued on, climbing a relatively consistent gradient of around 8-9%.  The air was slightly cooler now, and the landscape sparse, with no more than grass covering the mountain side, and the occasional flower adding life and colour to the rocky outcrops. Having watched the Tour de France reach the summit of the Pailhères, I knew of its barren top, and the reality was similar to how I had imagined.

I glanced behind to increasing cloud below, and recognised that heading back had got to happen soon. Looking up, the road curved left, then disappeared over a brow. If that was the top, it was reachable on this ride, so clicking down a gear, I pressed on. 

Continue reading “The Sweetest Climb: Port de Pailhères”

Road Cycling in the Cevennes

Road Cycling in the Cevennes – Blog Post by Emma

We spent the first of our three weeks in France, during July, in the remote but beautiful region of the Cevennes. We have Phil Deeker of Rapha Cent Cols fame to thank for this, after we spotted some amazing photos on social media a couple of years ago, and also having watched Ray Meares’ ” Wild France” programme on TV. The region was described as being tranquil with a spectacular landscape; mountains, gorges and limestone plateaus.

This beautiful region of natural park is situated north east of the Ariege Pyrenees, and west of the Alps. It sits south of the city of Clermont Ferrand and north of Montpellier. We chose to base ourselves in a small hamlet, which sits above the town of Florac, and it turned out to be a perfect location. Florac itself was approximately 5 miles from our gite, so we stocked up at the local supermarket and boulangerie on Sunday morning, and by lunchtime we were keen to get the legs turning, after two long days in the car.

Day 1: 19 miles Les Bondons

We decided to do a short ride as we were tired from the journey. We cycled to a pretty village called Les Bondons, which involved a nice winding climb to get us started, leading to a striking plateau. The scenery, although you would not describe it as mountainous on this particular ride, was still spectacular with the “puechs” a distinct feature of this landscape. The roads were quiet and we descended back to our base on a very small road, with a rather bumpy surface.

Day 2: 65 miles Mont Aigoual

The weather was beautiful, and we were ready for a longer day in the saddle. Mont Aigoual was our destination, at 1567m, this was definitely a mountain as opposed to a hill! To reach Mont Aigoual from Florac you have more than one option due to the network of roads. We chose to ride through the pretty village of Vebron and then through the Gorges du Tapoul. This is probably one of the quietest roads I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding: so scenic and peaceful…..and also quite challenging with a good chunk of 9% as we climbed to the village of Cabrillac.

From there it was the final stretch to Mont Aigoual, the road was a constant, slight uphill, but never steep at this point. As we reached the road to the observatory, we saw a large group of cyclists. Up to then we’d not seen any other road cyclists. The views from the summit are simply magnificent, a clear blue sky, light winds and 28 degrees made this a pretty perfect day. We returned via a different road from Cabrillac, descending Col de Perjuret. Having ridden down this road, we decided it was a “must do” to ride up it during the course of our trip.

Continue reading “Road Cycling in the Cevennes”

Mountain Essentials

By Grant Williams

The highlight of my cycling is riding in the mountains, both in the UK and Europe. Every year, my partner Emma and I spend our summer holiday cycling in spectacular areas such as the Pyrenees, the Dolomites or the Alps.

As this is the focal point of our year, a large amount of effort goes into searching out places to visit, choosing the right equipment, training, and nutrition.  Mountain Essentials gives an insight into some of the things which have been added to our cycling to make the preparation more effective, and the time spent riding even more enjoyable and rewarding.

Wet Bag


This bag is such a useful piece of kit. Whether cycling at home or abroad, we frequently travel by car to the start point of our bike ride. For this arrangement to work out, all ride essentials must be taken along.

The Wet Bag is an item of luggage which really assists clothing and equipment being organised and easily transported. This is achieved through a number of great design features.  Before owning this bag, there has been at least one instance of driving several miles before realising my cycling shorts were still in a drawer at home!

For me, the labelled storage compartments are just so helpful in ensuring the kit I want to take is packed, and the process of locating certain items when getting ready for a ride is made so much easier. Then after the ride, it also feels a little more organised, and the potential of forgetting something is reduced by simply using the bag labelling as a prompt.

I have found that the labelling on the bag may not completely match your kit, but a familiarity regarding what is where, soon develops. The bag measures approximately 36cm long x 24cm x 24cm. Although its size is quite compact, it is actually quite cavernous.

The bag I currently use (pictured within this feature), was sold by Rapha, and is no longer available, but Scicon offer a similar bag. Castelli’s wet bag is also worth checking out, although it is of a slightly different design.

Equipment for Hot Weather

White Kit
L1 Gloves and Ultralight Socks by Q36.5

I love riding in the mountains when the skies are clear and the sun is warm, and use equipment which is designed for this. There are a number brands who make kit specific for hot weather, which provide high levels of UVA and UVB protection. This is something well worth checking when you are choosing the clothing you will use.

To complement the hot weather jerseys and shorts now available, I also choose lightweight, well vented, breathable, accessories to minimise heat absorption, and assist comfort. This ranges from helmet, gloves, socks and shoes. I have found Oakley’s Polarised, Black Iridium lense especially good for the bright sunny days in the mountains of Europe, and generally switch to this from my usual choice of Oakley Prizm Road.

I can certainly vouch that on a really hot day, a glove, sock, or shoe designed for riding in higher temperatures can feel much more comfortable when the sun is beating down, and there is a long way to the top of the Col. Continue reading “Mountain Essentials”

Pyrenees Triple Col Loop

Blog Post by Emma

We’ve visited the Midi Pyrenees in France five times now. On our first two trips, we spent just one week here, before moving onto other destinations in the French Northern or Southern Alps. However, every time we moved on, we both felt a deep longing to stay. Since then, we’ve extended our time here, and have certainly not been bored when spending three weeks in the Saint Lary Soulan area.

There are so many fantastic rides from Saint Lary Soulan, with many of the climbs made famous (or notorious) by the Tour de France, within easy reach. One of our favourites is a loop that comprises of three Cols: the Horquette d’Ancizan, Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin.

From Saint Lary Soulan, it’s only a few miles to the pretty village of Ancizan, much of which you can do away from the main valley road. The main Cols are signed for, so you can easily spot the left turn which indicates the start of the Horquette. Helpful markers will tell you how far it is to the summit, and the average gradient of the next kilometre awaiting you! I love having this info, but on occasions it can make you groan, when you keep seeing 10% average, marker after marker. This isn’t the case on the Horquette, but certainly can be on other climbs in this area.

This early slopes of the Horquette are tree lined, and it’s been very quiet on the occasions we’ve ridden it. It’s gradient is challenging but does not contain anything too brutal, but it’s a very constant climb, winding up and up, for around 10km.

After approximately 4 km, the gradient eases a little and you head out of the trees. A spectacular view of the snow tipped mountains opens out, and you can look down on the pretty towns below. This allows you to take a breather and enjoy the landscape, before the road takes you back into the trees, with the gradient increasing again.


The panorama at the summit is stunning, and we were lucky to experience a cloud inversion on our recent ascent of this beautiful mountain. We could just see the Pic du Midi, but the tip was only visible for a short time, amidst a wisp of grey cloud.


Horquette d’Ancizan looking towards Pic du Midi, hidden by cloud

Continue reading “Pyrenees Triple Col Loop”

The Tour Comes to Sailhan

Blog Post by Grant:  The Day the Tour Passed through the Pyrenean Village of Sailhan


The sound of the Tour cavalcade could be heard in the valley as we walked up to the village.

This parade of quirky vehicles and the friendly folks they transport along the route of the race, really gives the Tour the appearance and feel of a travelling carnival.


The atmosphere within the village intensifies as the riders in the break pass by. The cheers of support are fabulous to hear, and be part of. Rafal Majka was the first rider through. Having watched him so many times on televised races, it was a little surreal to see him ride past within a few metres of where we were standing.


The “big favourites” were next. Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Alberto Contador sped past. The riders had slowed slightly to take a bend in the road, but the pace they were travelling at was incredible. It’s wonderful to watch, and there are just a few moments when it seems possible to breathe in the whole intensity of the race. Continue reading “The Tour Comes to Sailhan”

Mountain Madness

Blog Post by Emma

Grant and I have been cycling in the mountains for our summer holidays for the last 13 years. We simply love it, and cannot imagine the main focal point of the year being anything other than our trip.  The areas we have cycled are within France (Pyrenees, Northern and Southern Alps) and Italy (Dolomites and Italian Alps).

However, many non-cyclists I know simply cannot comprehend why we want to ride up such arduous, mountain roads, and they find it laughable that we call this a holiday! On our recent trip, we chatted to a guy who was on a mountain road tour, but a driving one, in his McLaren road car.  He found it incredible that when driving over Mont Ventoux, he saw so many cyclists.  “They must be mad, it took me 20 minutes in the car.  It’ll take them forever” he exclaimed!  I can vouch that it does seem like an eternity, having trundled up it in around two hours, several years ago!

Sometimes, I do wonder why we do it! When you see fellow cyclists working their way up the climbs, contorted faces, sweat pouring and every aspect of body language indicating they are NOT having a good time!  I suspect I look like this on many occasions! Recently on Col du Soulour, in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, an elderly French gentleman hollered at me from his picnic table; I only caught the last few words “faire de la cuisine”……this means “to do the cooking”.  I did wonder if he was telling me that perhaps I should stick to that particular task, rather than cycling up mountain passes!  Cheeky!

Continue reading “Mountain Madness”

Mountain Lakes and the Yellow Jersey

 By Grant:  A write-up about one of our most memorable days in the Pyrenees, July 2014.

A big part of what I love about cycling, is that it can create the opportunity to experience and enjoy such a variety of different things.  Whether you enjoy bike rides with family and friends, or get a buzz from seeing improvements in measured performance, it’s all there for the taking.

For me, it’s a passion for the outdoors, and I can recall numerous times when simply riding my bike in the hills or mountains has brought a smile to my face.

The tougher days can do this too, as these are frequently the ones we remember. There have been many times that friends and I laugh when reminiscing about frozen drinks bottles, legs that won’t turn, or rides that turned into epics. However, this article is about a day when everything slotted into place.

It started with a morning riding in the high mountains and the afternoon watching the Tour de France peloton ride past! A dream come true.

It was July, and Emma and I were on holiday in the French Pyrenees. We try whenever possible to coincide our bike trips with the Grand Boucle. Throughout France there is understandably a heightened enthusiasm for cycling when the Tour is underway, and it makes it great to be there.


I think the buzz about the Tour can also be felt in countries such as Italy, where the passion for cycling is so strong, and the fans are following their favourite riders as the battle for the various jerseys takes place.

Continue reading “Mountain Lakes and the Yellow Jersey” Spring E-Magazine

Recently both Emma and I were given the opportunity to contribute to the Spring edition of the E-Magazine.  Our articles cover how to get the most out of one week’s road cycling in the Dolomites and a memorable day watching the Tour de France in the Pyrenees.   Follow the link below to read this jam-packed, free e-mag.  There’s road and MTB routes, gear reviews, other travel articles and rider interviews.  Thanks for visiting our blog and we hope you enjoy the e-mag. Spring Edition E-Magazine


A Long Weekend in Brittany

Blog Post by Emma

During early March, Grant and I took a little holiday in Northern France. Luckily for us, my sister lives in Brittany, in a lovely rural area called Medreac. It’d been a few years since we visited, so we headed across for a long weekend.

The weather was cooler than expected for the time of year, but we left snow behind in the UK so we were not complaining! We had three full days staying at Maria and Jean-Francois’s fabulous home, situated in a tiny hamlet comprised of just three houses, surrounded by fields and a forest nearby.

The plan was to ride two out of the three days, weather permitting. Although the temperatures were cool, there were no frosts to contend with, and the weather seemed to follow a pattern throughout our stay: a lovely sunny start, with the sky clouding over and drizzle by late morning, then blue skies by lunchtime! This was perfect and the brisk Brittany headwinds ensured the roads dried up quickly.

The rural roads of this area are fantastic for cycling. When we first cycled there in 2004 we had gone with the notion that the riding would all be flat. How wrong we were! It’s certainly not like cycling in the mountains, but there are plenty of rolling hills to contend with, and combined with the headwinds, it can make for tough conditions on the bike.

I love passing through the beautiful little villages, seeing the traditional buildings, churches, boulangeries and quirky village shops. Road cycling is almost like a religion in rural France; one day we saw a huge group of cyclists, possibly up to twenty riders of varying ages.

Our first ride almost went pear-shaped quite early on, as we nearly managed to get lost within a mile from the house! The small lanes that are not detailed on the map tend to all look the same! Luckily, we were soon back on track and managed a ride of almost sixty miles. We chose the “Foret de Paimpont” as our destination and worked our way through the rural roads, with a few stops to check the map. At certain points on the route we barely saw a soul. It was so quiet considering it was a Saturday. We marvelled at how much space there is to be enjoyed in this amazing country. The ride took in various villages, lots of forested areas, and a couple of picturesque lakes. Agriculture is one of the prime industries here, but it still creates a pretty landscape, with subtle beauty.

On our non-cycling day we enjoyed a lunch in Dinan, indulging in both savoury and sweet crepes in this pretty town, with ancient buildings and cobbled streets. It was very quiet, unlike the summer months when it’s bustling with tourist trade. Breton crepes are a little bit like our Staffordshire oatcakes, the specific ingredients will of course differ, but if you like your oatcakes you will definitely enjoy a crepe! Banana with salted caramel is highly recommended for dessert.

For our second outing on the bikes we headed north of Medreac, our route taking us onto even quieter roads than our first ride. We passed through villages with nice sounding names such as Trefumel, St Juvat, Calorguen (apparently Bernard Hinault used to live there), Plouasne and Evran. The prettiest part of the ride was a lake called Etang de Neal. Quite simply, we could’ve kept on riding and riding, with the network of rolling roads so vast. However, we didn’t want to overrun our luck with the weather, and we returned with just over 40 miles on the clock, having got away with another dry ride!

The weather in this area isn’t dissimilar to that of the UK, but it is usually a little warmer than back home. I think Brittany would make an excellent area for an early season training holiday, if you are looking to improve your base fitness, or are perhaps in training for a classics style sportive. However, the weather can be as unsettled as the UK, so if guaranteed sunshine is what you want, then it may not be the ideal choice in Spring. We have a friend heading off to the Flanders sportive this weekend, and as he pointed out, you need to be able to do the mileage, and you need to be able to do it come rain, wind or shine! I think a Brittany training holiday would certainly give you practice in all weathers!

We had a great time, with generous hospitality as always from Maria and Jean-Francois. It was lovely to see my niece Connie, all grown up now. I ate rather a lot of French bread and we treated ourselves to some delicious cakes from one of the local bakeries. Lots of temptation! Hopefully we will have a little more time on our next visit, there are certainly lots more roads to explore.


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