Martin, owner of TOMI # 16, took part in the 2021 edition of the Transpyrenees organized by Transiberica.cc.
He agreed to share his adventure with us in writing.
After waking up (very) early in the morning and already about ten km of cycling, I arrive in Llançà where the start of this Transpyrenees 2021 takes place. It’s already hot, a lot of riders are already there talking, looking relaxed. We still have a little time to check our panniers, our bike, put on cream and fill the water bottles.
Just before 8 a.m., everyone gets on their bikes and takes their places behind the start line. It is in the middle of this peloton that I cover the first kilometers of this adventure which will take us to the other side of the Pyrenees in San Sébastian. It is a fixed course which, after a short passage through France, crosses Andorra, Aragon, Navarre and the Spanish Basque Country for a total of 1020 km and 23,000 m of elevation gain.
The start of the route follows the Mediterranean coast. In the excitement of departure, the pace is lively; no one really rides alone yet.
It is after about 150 km that I take a first break in the superb fortified village of Villefranche-de-Conflent for a quick lunch. I remember that the first big passes arrive and that the trail we are following will take us away from densely populated places. It is therefore a question of gaining strength. And in fact, passing Olette, the trail leaves the N116 and sends us through the laces of the Col de la Llose. The ascent, although relatively gentle, is very long (24 km at 5.1%), and the rocky cliff along the road intensely reflects the scorching mid-afternoon sun. The gourds are emptying dangerously, it is difficult to eat anything. But with no shadow on the horizon, the only solution is to keep moving, slowly and surely. The fountain of a small village on the rise is saving and allows you to refresh and quench your thirst. It is however a question of setting out again quickly enough to be able to reach Andorra as soon as possible.
The landscape eventually changes and rocky cliffs follow green forests and a shady road. The summit is reached but the refreshment bar there is closed. Fortunately, the track passes about twenty km further next to a large supermarket open on Sundays which acts as an official refueling point for everyone. The first stories are exchanged by dining on pasta salads and other foods filled with sugar and caffeine.
New hungry cyclists arrive regularly while others leave with a full stomach for the Porté-Puymorens passes and the Port d’Envalira. The latter marks the entry into Andorra as well as the Cima Coppi of the race, culminating at 2408 m above sea level.
I reach the latter around 9:30 pm. The double ascent marked me physically and mentally, and it is not the ambient 11.5 ° C that helps me keep my morale up.
My leggings, windbreaker and neck warmer don’t keep me warm enough on the descent and I have to stop for a hot chocolate before I can continue.
I had made up my mind to reach the cul-de-sac ascent of Arcalis at the end of the first day of the race. There was then a pass between my lens and me, the Coll d’Ordino. After a pleasant start to the ascent in the calm night, intermittent rain invited itself to the part before turning into a deluge when it came time to approach the descent. This will have been one of my worst memories of the race and it is soaked to the bone that I reach the foot of the Arcalis, in the town of Ordino. So I decided to sleep there in a hotel and postpone the ascent to the next day. I arrive in my room around midnight and fall asleep after a hot shower and twenty minutes spent trying to dry my shoes with the hairdryer.
After a night of around 5:30 am, I get dressed and get ready to set off. The hotel’s breakfast is only served from 8 a.m. So I decided to leave my bags there and ride the Arcalis with the bike and on an empty stomach. Curious sensation. The ascent is very beautiful and, coming out of a tunnel, I change valley and see the famous switchbacks that lead to the summit.
Once the summit is reached, I take advantage of the fresh air and the sun for a few moments before rushing back down to the hotel to satisfy my hunger.
Although short, the Andorran part of this Transpyrenees is the one with the most vertical drop per kilometer. The coasts are long and very steep. After two passes climbed at less than 10 km / h on average and a gravel passage of 3 km, I almost got out. There remains the Coll de la Gallina, which will be etched in the memory of many participants: 12.2 km at 8.4% average. The climb is as beautiful as it is difficult; in the pins, I’m a dancer on the 34/34. Fortunately, it is not too hot. At the top, a double reward awaits me: a superb view, and a descent by a road reserved for cyclists!
A last stop to eat and a few kilometers further, here I am in Spain. If Andorra offered us many possibilities of supply, the Spanish part will have been much more desert. The landscapes crossed remain magnificent, but I sometimes spend long periods on the bike wondering when the next gas station or the next village will arrive. It is also in one of these rare villages that I decide to stop for dinner and that I stumble upon 3 other cyclists that I had already passed several times the day before. Mentally, it’s a big boost.
The track leaves little by little the main roads without traffic and leaves in the hinterland; I cross several villages lost in the setting sun. Strange feeling that these furtive passages in civilization between two long periods when one is alone with oneself.
I had in mind to spend the night outside, along the trail. If this time, the night remained dry, I had underestimated the freshness of the Pyrenees, even at the end of June. While crossing a large village around midnight, frozen over, I once again decide to sleep in the hotel.
Shortly after waking up around 6 a.m., I learned that the first three had already arrived in San Sebastián. I still have half the road ahead of me.
Before leaving LLançá, I had marked the petrol stations, restaurants and bakeries on the road, and I decided to drive about forty kilometers and pass a pass before having breakfast. The track follows a very wide road, in very good condition, untouched by any traffic. One would believe oneself in the desert so far away the gaze.
After a fork on a tiny but asphalt road, the best hours of this adventure begin. A hilly path takes us to the mountainside deep in the Pyrenees. We cross small villages, torrents, we see the mountain, the snow, the olive trees. And all without worrying about cars.
And the rest of the route gave us a great surprise, since it took us into the canyon of Añisclo. Generally speaking, I took most of the photos from the bike while riding slowly. In this canyon, I had to stop about twenty times in a few kilometers because it was so sublime. It will have been the easiest pass to pass. It’s the kind of place where the legs turn on their own.
A few hours later, I realize that the organizers have in store for us another big surprise on the course, since the last pass before the town of Jaca is not asphalted. The only solution is to keep riding with your fingers crossed. I must have crossed them quite hard since I managed to avoid the punctures.
In Jaca, I come across Jérôme, another French cyclist having dinner whom I had already passed the day before. We decide to leave together at nightfall. I know I have about 300 km to go before the finish and the thought of finishing in one go is starting to creep into my head. As we chat, the miles go by faster.
At the top of a small pass, I see a small mountain hut by the side of the road. It is not very late, but suddenly I am very tired, and let Jerome continue his journey alone in the night. After some time spent somehow spreading out my bike gear and unfolding my sleeping gear, I lie down and try to get to sleep.
It’s not spiders that bother me then, but bats. After a dozen hours on the bike, it was impossible to fall asleep. I decide to pack everything up, put on my bike gear and hit the road again in the dark night after about an hour in the refuge. It is then around midnight. The start is mentally terrible. The descent is on a bumpy road and I expect the worst at every turn. I catch a cold and have to put on all the clothes I brought with me.
The lamp before I had, plugged into the dynamo hub, is perfect for lighting up the whole road in front of me. On the sides of the road, however, it’s total darkness except for a few pairs of eyes here and there. I even get chased by a few dogs.
At the start of the next pass, I have to stop to remove a few layers. At the start of the descent, I have to stop to put them back. I fall from fatigue on the bike, my eyelids are very heavy. Around 2 a.m., in a village, I couldn’t take it any longer and stopped on a bench. Without undressing, without taking off my helmet, I stretch out in my sleeping bag and sleep about 2 hours. When the alarm goes off, I try to get back on the road quickly to warm up. My GPS shows 2 degrees.
By moonlight, I cross the border between Aragon and Navarre. I am in the middle of nowhere but I am not alone. I hear animals singing but I can’t see them.
I continue my journey in the Basque Country. In these deep valleys, the sun does not really rise until it has crossed the tops of the mountains which surround them.
Fortunately I had bought a lot of food the day before. The few villages I pass through are still asleep. Anyway, there is no mini market or gas station.
Physically and mentally well started, I cling to the idea of reaching San Sebastián the same evening. In this type of event, we advance more by being slow and stopping little than vice versa. The road gradually loses in altitude but the passes are no longer rolling. While the sight of certain panels informs me that I am approaching the goal, there is a pass with a few kilometers at almost 20% of average slope. The most beautiful insults that I know are shouted at the organizers, but the legs keep turning.
The air becomes more and more marine. Around 4 p.m., I only have 3 passes left. It seems to me to be little, and ultimately still a lot, as if it was never going to end. We start with the legs, and we end with the head.
I meet all kinds of animals in the Basque mountains: horses, cows, goats. And finally, I begin the descent towards the French border. A U-turn in Irun and finally comes the final climb, that of Jaizkibel. The stopwatch officially stops at the top of this pass.
In this climb, I begin to realize that I will finish my first ultra race. I know I will make it to the top. I smile on my own. I’m almost there.
After 83 hours and 58 minutes, it’s liberation. In front of me, the Atlantic Ocean reminds me that I have connected the two Spanish coasts.
All that remains is to descend to San Sebastián and join the other finishers of the day on the beach. The tiredness disappears temporarily and it is under the setting sun that we discuss all these hardships and all these good times that we have had from Llançá. Never has a beer made me so happy!
Congratulations to Martin for his commitment and his success on the Transpyrenees, which was his first official ultra-distance race, and clearly not the last. And thank you to him for taking the time to share his experience.
Find here all the information on the Tomi # 16 of Martin, used during this event
And if you want to know more about the events organized by Transiberica.cc, go to their site