The weather looked fine so climbing out of France and into Spain seemed like an ok plan. It was also a Sunday, so apparently there would be no lorries using the mountain pass, the Col Portillon. Even better as it must be terrifying to be passed by slow moving juggernauts on narrow mountain roads.
This col is hemmed in by high valleys either side, and to me, it made it feel as you were never gaining height, with no appreciable views of upward progress, unlike the Col De Peyresourde which we climbed earlier in the week. It was a bit demoralising, the gradient was also tough at times, the steepest part being at nearly 14%, but mostly hovering around 8%. At least it was fairly shaded from the sun so you never got fully roasted. There’s no 360 degree spectacular view at the top, just a view of a short distance back down the valley.
The descent is a great reward though for making the effort to get there, some good switchbacks on a wide road, with huge pine trees making the scenery feel somewhat prehistoric. There are also really spectacular views down the Val D’Arran if you stop halfway down.
The descent finishes at the valley floor in Spain at a small village called Bossost. It’s quite attractive with a tree lined avenue and a big river running alongside the main strip. It’s very touristy, lots of restaurants and bars. We were passed by a big peloton and their leader shouted ‘vamonos’ to us, a friendly bunch!
We took the road down the valley, skirting alongside the big river with its spring melt strewn boulder bed exposed as it was the end of summer. A good fast descent of around 20kms to Saint Beat, and then the last major col to climb the Col de Mente. The climb was very tough as it was very exposed to the sun, my computer read 29.9 degrees! The average gradient is just a shade over 9% and there are quite a few pitches which are steeper. So not easy. We were glad of the fantastic fountain at the top. The restaurant was packed, but our legs would not have taken kindly to a long stop.
The ride from this point was largely downwards, with the minor col de Ares to tackle. It’s a gentle climb of 5%-6% so never too tough, nice and shady too after a long hot slog up the Col de Mente. The last challenge was 20kms mostly alongside the main valley road back to Luchon. It wasn’t unpleasant, not too much traffic, just into a headwind which on a big main road always seems to amplify the difficulty level! Overall a great ride, but tough.