Rolling out of Argelès-Gazost for the second morning in a row, the Haute Route peloton set off for a shorter stage on day four, but one that featured more climbing than the previous days and included ascents of the Tourmalet, Hourquette-Ancizan and the Col du Portet.
The stage began with a long drag up the valley towards the foot of the Tourmalet, riders formed large groups and worked all together to make their way towards the first climb of the day. Turning left out of the valley and through the town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur, the groups began to splinter as most riders found their own pace to ride up this first climb of the day.
The sun rose over the summit as the riders snaked their way up the perfectly paved road, allowing them to get the odd wave of warmth as they weaved in and out of the shadows. Cresting the top of the climb in the front half of the peloton, Christopher Breckon made sure he enjoyed the ascent up this mythical climb: “We rode a good pace in a group with the Finnish team doing tempo on the front,” he said, “but when we got near the top I sat up and made sure to take some pictures as it was beautiful”.
Gregor Frew felt that the second ascent up Tourmalet in under 24 hours was actually easier than yesterday’s climb: “I enjoyed Tourmalet more today than yesterday actually,” he explained, before musing about the climb up the Col du Portet that was still to come: “I’m not sure really what to expect but it looked steep on TV so I think it must be quite steep!”
Descending off the Tourmalet riders had to contend with the occasional pony, sheep or donkey crossing the roads, a timely reminder of the wildness of the nature that the Pyrenees is renowned for. Once they reached the valley a short flat section ensued before turning off the main road and onto the breath-taking climb of Hourquette-Ancizan.
Winding at first through the trees, the road emerges into an open plain with a stunning backdrop of the snowcapped Pyrenees. Such is the beauty of it, that guest-rider on the day Mike Cotty admits it was the catalyst for moving his home out to the Pyrenees two winters ago: “I’d never ridden it before,” he explained, “but when I did it on the Haute Route in 2016 I remember calling my wife that same evening and telling her we had to come and check out the Pyrenees properly!”
Alastair Roberts from the UK was equally as impressed with the Hourquette-Ancizan climb today: “It was stunning when it opened up there,” he said, “we were in true sheep country!”
Reaching the summit of the second ascent of the day riders were able to rest and recover as the extremely technical descent down the other side was neutralised. Whilst refueling many took the opportunity to befriend the donkeys that were hanging around the feed station, taking pictures with them and enjoying once again the wildness of the Pyrenees.
After completing the technical descent, timing resumed in the valley and riders headed towards the town of Saint-Lary Soulan before taking a sharp right hand turn and heading up the ascent of the Col du Portet. The first half of this climb has a steep but consistent gradient, but once you turn off the main road onto the closed-road ascent up the final section of Col du Portet the road becomes a little more inconsistent and the surface is more demanding.
Snaking up the front side of the mountain riders could appreciate once again the views on the valley down below as they neared the summit, drawing on their last bits of energy to cross the finish line and reach the highest summit of the week.
The opinion was unanimous at the summit, the fourth stage was a stunner!
“Such a good day!” said John Thomas at the finish line, “I can’t even explain how good a day that was!”
“It’s amazing,” exclaimed Gilles Espouy, “I live around here so knew what to expect today, thankfully it wasn’t as hard as I anticipated”.
“Every stage is just stunning,” added Pierre Ournier, “they’re really well designed and it’s just brilliant from start to finish.”
At the front of the race the status-quo remained the same, with Ruari Grant, Hannah Patterson-Rhodes and Team Mintuliina taking the stage wins once again in their respective categories.
Tomorrow is time trial day for stage 5, riders will head down the ramp one by one to take on the Route des Lacs all the way to the summit of Cap de Long.