The stage got off to a tough start, with only 1km of flat riding before heading straight into the foot of the Col d’Azet. The peloton immediately splintered as each rider fixed their own pace and made their way to the summit. Rising out of the shadows just before the summit, the riders were greeted with an incredible panoramic view when they reached the top, taking away any breath that they may have still had left in their lungs.
Taking a break at the summit, Bernt Barner-Rasmussen took the time to appreciate the moment and drink in the views “What else can you ask for?” he said, “we are so privileged to ride here this morning! I think if I was a painter I would stay here to paint, the colours are just stunning.”
A nice descent into the valley ensued, with winding hairpin bends on wide and empty roads, before a long rolling section that lasted nearly 60km before reaching the foot of the Port de Balès. Jim Cotton admitted it was nice to ride some different terrain, “It was nice to mix it up a bit today with some flat as well,” he said, “I stuck in a group and we weren’t riding too fast so we got to recover for the rest of the stage.”
Female stage winner on the day, Sophie Poza, admitted however it was tougher than it looked in the road book: “It was quite different to ride on the flat, with so many little kicks up and down the pace was quite high so it felt harder than it looked on the road book”.
Once they reached the foot of the Port de Balès another long ascent awaited, climbing out through some villages to start with before emerging above the tree line and winding along the front of the mountainside to reach the summit. The untimed descent down the other side allowed riders to refill, refuel and recover at the summit before heading to the final double climb up Peyresourde and Peyragudes.
“The climb up Port de Balès was a long one,” said Hadrien Caruso, “it was good to be able to recover on the descent before the final section to the finish, I tried to follow Pierre and Ben but couldn’t stay with them at the end,”
“We are inseparable,” said Benjamin Pellet of himself and teammate Pierre Ournier, “it was magical to be able to finish on the Altiport today, the road is really impressive.”
“I’m not sure I can say that was good,” admitted IgorLaguens of the final 300m on the Altiport, “but it was definitely fun,” he said with a laugh. “That was the longest 300m of life” added Alastair Roberts.Enjoying some strong end-of-week form, Andrew Haughian of Canada reckoned it was his best stage so far, “That was a great stage today, I think it’s the best I’ve felt all week after having an easier day yesterday,” he explained, “I think the cryotherapy really helped recover, maybe I’ll try it again for tomorrow”.
At the front of the race today we had two new stage winners in Pierre Carlet and Sophie Poza, both finishing just a few seconds ahead of the leaders Ruari Grant and Hannah Patterson-Rhodes. In the Duo race it was Team Minttulina who took the win once again.
Tomorrow is the final stage of the 2018 Haute Route Pyrenees, only one climb stands between the riders and the finish line in Pau. They will all be looking forward to getting their finisher’s medal tomorrow afternoon, and using it to open a well-deserved recovery beer from Vélosophe.