Tom’s Report

I loved this trip so much I just can’t stop talking about it

The Trip in General

It was well organized, a great value. The level of service from the staff was incredible—very friendly and helpful–really made me feel ‘part of the group’.  The group ended up being a perfect mix of guys– all enthusiastic riders without being any cut-throat ‘scalp hunters’– very enjoyable camaraderie— I remember Colin saying beforehand that this was something like what he was looking for, -I don’t know if this was luck or careful planning but it worked out well.

The Rides

Incredible!!– a just right mix of classic, historical climbs like the Tourmalet, and these great “secret” outrageously beautiful climbs like the trip to the reservoir on the first day, or the Hourquette d’Ancizan–the riding ended up being more fun and more beautiful than I imagined.  The only downside is that it makes the rest of the summer’s riding a bit of an anticlimax. The guides did a great job of keeping the group together and making it such that nobody got lost but everybody rode at a rate comfortable for them.  I’ve been dumped on a road by other (and more expensive) tours with a crappy cue sheet for a very non-impressive route and had to sort out my own way to the next hotel– which can be stressful– here we just followed the guys– no cue sheets, no stress–it was great!

L’Ariegeoise

The closest an old schmo like me will ever get to a Tour de France experience!—swooping through the villages with the locals cheering you on (I think they were cheering me on–they were speaking French), zipping through the traffic circles, epic climbs, riders from all over the world–it was great—I admit I stressed a little bit about it beforehand, as I don’t often ride that far and have never climbed that much in one day.  i think I’d be a bit more relaxed about the next one.  I was very appreciative of the preparation– previewing the hardest climb and the trickiest decent ( the Col de Marmere) beforehand was very helpful–i made some mistakes up the Plateau de Beille the first time which was very helpful during the race.  The race day help of getting us to/from the race and the help through the initial “twitchy’ k’s” of the race was very helpful.

The only downsides— every trip to a place like this is a mix of the great rides you do vs. the great rides you leave behind—you can never ride everything so there’s always stuff you are so close to and don’t ride.

Guides

Encouraging, helpful— managed to keep everybody safe and together— I never felt like I was holding the group up or that I was held back by the group. No need to stress about the rides or even pay attention to where I was going–just follow the guide!– I loved the cheering each other on at the top of the climbs.  I also loved the lower slopes where we were climbing together, telling jokes and cracking wise about “how 4% is the new flat” and how cat 1’s have gotten easier than they were a week ago.

Since I’ve been talking about you all to others, you might as well see what I’ve been saying:

Mark:

Great guy, very strong rider, helpful in a ton of ways—great with the logistics of the trip, getting us to meals on time, getting us town to town, spotting good places for coffee, etc.  Really nice for me to get to know him very fun to ride with, and was very helpful in getting me through the early part of l’Ariegeoise.

Scott:

Great to be around– an extremely hard worker, funny and helpful— Really did a lot to make sure the bikes got place to place in good shape– was like a personal tour mechanic— I was astounded that by the time I got my duffel bag down to my cabin, he had my bike unpacked and built.  On the night before the cyclosportive, he checked my (and everybody else’s) bike-aired the tires, lubed the chain, etc. –this was really above and beyond.  He particularly shined on Tourmalet day— taking pictures getting fresh water bottles, getting pics and video— really went out of his way to make this a special day.

Ullrich:

What a great luxury to have a French-speaking ‘local’— I really enjoyed his company and the lessons on French culture and language–this added a whole extra dimension to the trip— I really would have loved to listen  to much more on the history, etc. of the area.  He has a a wealth of information on the area and a is great cook and it was a true pleasure having him  to chat and ride with—he added incredible value to the trip and I would have liked more of his lessons on French history—he never seemed irritated by my incessant questions on French translations, etc–also a very smooth rider so I tried to match his line on the descents.

Colin:

Undeniably the kingpin—knows the roads like the back of his hand.  He has a truly infectious enthusiasm for bike riding.  His love of these mountains is obvious and he has a very genuine desire to share the area with us.  I never felt like I was a good climber coming into the trip, and my main goal for the trip was to become a satisfactory climber (or know that I couldn’t). The first thing I discovered was that I was also a crappy descender–really shaky and terrified on the downhills.  I really got a great deal of high quality instruction from all the guides, but especially Colin and by the end of the trip, felt pretty strong on most climbs and came to really enjoy the descents.  I also like hearing all the stories of the racing days, etc. Really very meticulous about the details and concerned with making sure everybody had a great experience.

Vicdessos:

Loved the ski cabins. I loved the simplicity of it all.  It really had the feel (I would guess) of a cycling team— staying together, eating together, telling tales, training for and riding a big event.  I loved all the food– hearty, simple and plentiful, loved getting together for dinners together outside.

Arreau:

A very nice hotel– the staff were very nice, food was great, village was fun to walk around. Very well situated for riding.

Sightseeing:
I was appreciative of the side trips to see the cave paintings, Foix, Montsegur.  It really added to the experience.

A couple of comments on the first Hotel in Toulouse and John’s wheels.:
It is sometimes the most impressive to see what happens when things don’t go exactly to plan.  In many settings you’re really just on your own to deal with it.  With John’s various mechanical difficulties, it was first of all impressive to see that the guides really felt badly for him.  Then there were heroic efforts (bike shop visits, repairs, etc, etc) to try to keep him on the bike.

With regard to the Hotel— I doubt that anybody complained about it, and it was only for one night, but it was very impressive and a sign of integrity that the group got us into the nicer Pullman Hotel and saw to it that we had a comfortable, enjoyable ‘send off’ for our last night in France–again, really above and beyond the call of duty and reflective of a desire for the trip to be a great experience.

Well, I’ve carried on long enough– the Pyrenees are addicting– like heroin– a stint of euphoria, followed by an intense desire to do it again.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Tom