Nerac to St Gaudons

Not even 140K today, but it felt like a lot more!

Nice weather from the off today and first town on the route was Condom, beloved of British road sign stealers!

Condom is twinned with towns in Germany and Spain, but not the UK for some reason. I am sure there is a joke in there somewhere about condoms and twins for more determined folk than I. The severe limit on space in the panniers meant that the road sign remained safe from this particular Brit.

Most of the morning was spent completing a long gradual ascent; however, it was actually comprised of a series of stiff 15mtr up 10mtr down type undulations. This probably won’t show up on the route profile but it was infuriating.

The overall trend was uphill all the way to Auch where all the morning’s effort is quickly lost in a rapid drop down to the river Gers. The drop may be rapid but the actual descent was far from that, as it involved carefully picking my way through steep and narrow cobbled streets.

Having never visited Gascony before, Auch was an unexpected delight. A small city split in two by the hill it is situated on. The view over the valley from beside the cathedral required a lengthy stop to take in.

There is an impressive stone staircase down from the cathedral that features a large statue of D’Artagnan which led me to incorrectly assume Alexandre Dumas was from around here when, in fact, D’Artagnan was. Apparently he was a real person made famous by the book; this is where I find out I was the only person who didn’t know this.

Stopped for some water at a service station on the way out of town and was waylaid by the owner who was keen to discuss my tour with me. Turns out she spent four years touring most of Asia on a bike twenty years ago and only gave it up to start a family. She was very complimentary about my ambitions and professed to being jealous. However, listening to her experiences rather made me feel my trip was the equivalent of popping down the shops!

Not far out of Auch a sign informed me that in two days the road would be closed to traffic so that le Tour could use it. I had been one of many in Hyde Park for the prologue and it would have been nice to see them again seventeen stages later, but I didn’t have the time to spare.

Since leaving Auch the plodding climb had resumed in a similar fashion the morning with perhaps fewer infuriating descents. However, by Massuebe, I was heartily fed up with it and the busy N road I was on and began to look for another route.

I decided I could cut 20K off my carefully planned serious climb avoiding route by ‘hanging a left’ to take the shortest path. I knew it would be tougher, but I longed for some quite roads and fancied a challenge. I got both by the bucket full!

The next 20K was just a non-stop sequence of 80 to 150 meter climbs of 6 to 10% with the Pyrenees looming larger in the distance as a backdrop. By far the biggest effort exerted on the tour thus far and so worth it!

This was the first real test my legs had been subjected to since day one and the granny gear came into play of course, but the fact that they held up have me confidence for the mountains to come.

It was a quiet route and I gave up expecting to find a shop to buy any water from and reverted to begging it off locals. For those, like me, with little or no French to call on I found “Bonjour monsieur/madame. Voulais vous recharger mon biddon s'il vous plaît?” did the trick and often resulted in the supplier making an effort to supply the coldest and best tasting water they had available.

Eventually, my 20K short-cut having taken far longer than the planned route, I reached St Gaudens and sought out the Youth Hostel, which turned out to be a good one. No dorms, just private rooms with en-suite, evening meal and breakfast all for 20 euros! (Bring your own sheets though)

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Day:6 of 15
Date:24 July 2007
To:St Gaudons
Distance:137 KM
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