It's no secret but every cyclist dreams of climbing a pass while alone on the road in order to savor each switchback by adapting its trajectory, enjoying the landscape and above all, sweating in safety and without stressing about being surprised by a crazy car.
This dream, I was able to realize it several times, last June on the 5 passes circuit in Ariège Pyrenees. We had 4 days to discover some of the routes that the destination has to offer for cyclists and if, I had to choose only one for you and although the choice is hard, I would recommend this one.
The 5 passes circuit in Ariège
We have chosen to do it in the direction recommended by Ariège Pyrénées Tourisme (beginning with Port de Lers). We left the Gite des Châtaigniers de Florac (a great cycling welcome) early enough from Surba to tackle the 103km and 2400m D +. As its name suggests, 5 passes are on the program and we start with Port de Lers (note: Port means Pass, do not look for a boat despite the pond below, you will meet more paragliders than fishermen, although …)
The port of Lers
Even if the start is not very pleasant on the traffic side (it will be the only moment on 103km), it is to better savor the rest of the kilometers where the road is offered to you ... while resisting you a little, even a lot otherwise it's less funny. This first ascent is certainly the longest and most difficult of the day.
Fortunately, the freshness of the altitude, the cascades of melting snow and the landscape that is discovered over the kilometer markers with the too optimistic average difference in altitude push us to continue at a regular rhythm of pedaling. The Ariège passes are little jokers because the percentage of the climb does not reveal how brittle portions can be. Over 1km, you can lose 3% over a hundred meter before attacking a wall of 11%… but the average on the terminal will remain motivating, unlike the feeling of your thighs.
So, we do not flinch because these passes also know how to distract us thanks to their calm (not the noise of a motorbike or a breathless motorhome) and their unspoiled beauty.
Passage through the Col d'Agnes
Once the Port de Lers has passed, we head for the Col d'Agnès, the 2nd on our list. In the meantime, we enjoy a gentle descent on the green plateau welcoming the Lers pond where cows have taken up residence right at the time of the midday aperitif. We stop for a few photos (and we advise you to do the same without forgetting to cut the stopwatch on the counter) before going back up to the Col d'Agnès. It's short but intense.
At the end, the other photo on the panel holds out its arms to us but… the shot not to be missed is at the start of the descent on the complete panorama.
Be careful, the descent is rather technical and long until the picnic break in Aulus-les-Bains but, as on all our routes, the road is in excellent condition and the few passing motorists pay close attention to you. Your stomach is crying out, that's good because the village is perfectly equipped to accommodate cyclists: supermarket, bar, clean public toilets with toilet paper (yes, you read that right, no need for a bush!), water fountain. What more ?
Oh yes, to meet lots of other cycling enthusiasts with whom to chat and talk to find other routes… for next time. We will not get into the debate of the sizes of which go up the fastest, the main thing is that we all go up!
The Col de Saraillé
We must already take the road because the 3rd pass of our route awaits us. More discreet, it is for me a well hidden little gem. Who says hidden, says roads just for you, so don't tell the course too much either. Direction the Saraillé pass : we cross beautiful peaceful villages with the famous Cominac barns. The view is completely unobstructed on the mountains whose peaks are still snow-capped. The legs start to tire but apart from a big butt kick to get as close as possible to a small Church, the climb is regular.
The Col de Caougnous then the Col de Port
Once at the pass, the descent is also pleasant until massat, our last water supply point on the village square before tackling the double and last ascent of the course: the Col de Caougnous followed by Col de Port, of the 2 in 1 which does not refuse. The road is hot, but a light breeze cools us down. These last kilometers do not have murderous percentages, on the contrary, we are happy to have chosen this direction of the course. Arrived at the Col de Caougnous, my companion suggests to me to make a small detour by the wall of Péguère indicated on the left. We discovered it the day before and strangely, a second climb does not tempt me, but I will leave this suggestion there if you feel like it!
The last kilometers to the Port de Lers let go and we are greeted at the top by a few supportive cows and especially the saving bar of the Auberge du Col de Port. A little Orangina while savoring this 5th photo panel (never forget that) and the landscape.
We descend gently (or not because a splash in the pool us) on a well cleared and maintained road. The heat of the return to low altitude bathes our already smelly jerseys, the meter flashes, the 100km are crossed ... more than a few to the swimming pool (had I already mentioned that?)
We find our lodging with tired thighs, sore buttocks but satisfied minds. Wow! We've taken our eyes off AND our legs, enough to make any cyclist happy. Now it's your turn to explore these routes 😉 and if you're running out of ideas, I've explored some 'other routes that I tell you about directly on my blog!