The Haute Route West

The Pyrénées. With the possible exception of the Dolomites, no other mountain range strikes as much fear and wonder in the hearts of cyclists. Years of following the Tour de France have educated us in the ways the Pyrénées present a greater challenge to cyclists than the Alps. Indeed, the first great mountain included in the Tour de France was the Col du Tourmalet—and its acceptance was based on a lie, that the snow-covered mountain was passable.

Let’s be honest: A cyclist’s idea of a good time counts as torture in most third-world countries. What we think of fun most folks file under manual labor. Such is the nature of adventure.

Bike tours may be the most devilish of lies. They package ditch-digging in a Disney-safe package, presenting us with sumptuous meals and memorable beds, all so that we may go out each morning and crush ourselves on roads most drivers avoid.

All romance aside, even on vacation it’s easy for the repetition of big days in the mountains to run together, for fatigue to make you wonder why you’re not sitting by the pool enjoying a glass of rosé. That’s why a theme can help.

This winter Peter Easton of Velo Classic Tours and I began talking about a challenging twist to the average bike tour. Why not do a traverse of the Pyrénées Mountains? Begin near San Sebastian, Spain, and ride through the Pyrénées Atlantiques, Pyrénées Orientales and Catalan Pyrénées to finish in Girona. Along the way, take in the most memorable of the Tour’s famous Pyrénéan climbs.

Think of it as the double-album greatest hits collection. The two week tour is built around two eight-day itineraries to give you a chance to do either the west, the east … or both. We respect that not everyone can get the time necessary to spend two weeks in the mountains.

It is our belief that offering an itinerary with the arc of a story, a pilgrimage from sea to sea, gives meaning to each of the days. Beginning in the heart of Basque Country and ending in what has become one of the most storied towns in cycling for American cycling enthusiasts. Echoing the close-knit community of Peugeot’s Paris-based foreign legion riders—as led by Phil Anderson and Allan Peiper—Girona has become the home away from home for numerous North American cyclists, and teams.

Think of this as the Pyrénéan answer to the Route des Grandes Alpes—the Haute Route West, if you will.

For those of you unfamiliar with Velo Classic Tours, Peter Easton is known for selecting the best hotels and restaurants in a town. He’s as likely to tout the local chef as he is the nearest climb. He’s a man of many dimensions and a day of big riding deserves to be followed with a great meal.

Tourmalet, Hautacam, Arcalis, Marie-Blanque, Bagargui, Superbagneres, Aubisque, Envalira—they are mountains that redefine limits, giving those cyclists who conquer them a greater sense of possibility, a new way to define achievement.

This thing won’t be easy, but it might be the most fun you ever have on vacation.

Check out Week 1 and Week 2, and if this sounds like your cup of tea, get in touch with Peter at Velo Classic Tours. Be sure to read what he has to say about the tour here.

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  1. vtrich

    We did a similar ride this past summer. Followed the basic route of the Pyrenean Raid. We rode west to east beginning in Biarritz and ending in Argeles sur Mer. We did it in 6 riding days with a rest day in St. Giron. These were pretty hard days with at least 3 good climbs each day but many of the “off the beaten path” climbs. My only regret was that each of our finish/start towns kinda blend together as I try to recall each day’s adventure. Typically we’d finish the ride of the day,…clean up,…relax awhile,…have dinner,…go to bed,…get up,..throw our bag into the transport van,…and start for the next town. The Pyrenees are truly spectacular. They are vast and wildly varied. This year we are doing your Route des Grande Alpes,…with our own personal touch.

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