Alex Bikes

Ottawa bike politics.

Day 4: Tarascon to St-Lary


Today’s start was later than usual, it usually is.

The Col de Port is almost immediately outside of Tarascon, and the start of the day is the best time to start climbing. After a 10km prelude, I got to the real start which is a 5.5% grade for 9.8km. Given that it was cool and I was fresh, this was not a problem, and I did the whole climb without stopping, and even kept up with the unloaded cyclist ahead of me.

I hit the same situation as before; I wanted to go further in the day, but there was a second larger hill starting around the 80k mark. I didn’t really feel like starting the 800m Col d’Aspet at 4pm, both for tiredness and logistics. I figured I should start looking a few villages before the base of the hill, to get me as close as possible.

In Orgibet, there was a sign to a Chambres d’hôte, which sounded promising, but was off the beaten track. After a km or so of the road at about 6%, I wondered how far this was out of my way, but I didn’t want to turn back in case it was a great opportunity and just 100m ahead. Then I found this:


So the entrance way swoops back down the hill I just came up, and I couldn’t make out the actual building. It may have been there, maybe not. Or maybe they were full. So I cut my losses and cursed the Col de Rien.

So I wandered into the absolute last town before Col d’Aspet, which is St-Lary. I asked around, and found a Chambres d’hôte from an old woman. Talk about kitch… plastic dolls and trinkets everywhere. But I now have different expectations, so this is ok with me.

I went to the local epicerie and felt like a drinker when I bought both a beer (pre-dinner) and wine (with dinner). I had a baguette with cheese for dinner, but then the owner brought me back in for crepes. Afterwards, others from the town came over to the chairs they have in the front yard to chat.

The state of small French towns is sad. You can see A Vendre signs everywhere; younger people are moving to the cities where there are jobs, so these cute places are being abandoned. The people who do live in them are vacationers (many of whom have inherited the properties) or older people (who can’t afford to live anywhere else since their property is worth so little). St-Lary used to have a few hundred people and several stores. Now the winter residents count just 32, with the summer being closer to 130. And you see this everywere.  Maybe this is a buying opportunity.

Le Tour brings some economic potential to the depressed area. Because of its proximity to Col d’Aspet, it gets the tour going through there most years. The owners of the place were a retired couple with too many trinkets, he a retired SNCF worker who had left the region just once (a pilgrimage in Spain). He had watched the tour every year it had passed through, and saw Fabio Casartelli plumet to his death in 1995.  He had this huge collection of water bottles and other things he’d found by the road, including a Jan Ulrich special. One thing he said was that there were always scouts coming through, charting the hills or to prep the professional teams.

And I’m done with taking breakfasts at the places; this morning’s (included, mind you) was a toasted baguette and some jam.

Tomorrow is Col d’Aspet. 800m climb out of the gate.


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