Ax-les-Thermes via the Col de Pailhère


The Hôtel Axat put on quite a good spread for breakfast. We needed it. We couldn’t pay by credit card but they would’ve taken a cheque!

Our route started climbing immediately but very gently next to the Aude River through the spectacular Gorges of St George’s. The lower opening of the gorge is a massive sword slash through a huge rock wall. The road overhangs the river briefly and is cut into the base of the cliff under apparently stable overhanging rocks.

The serious climbing started near Chateau d’Usson from where we had 1216 metres to scale over 15 km but never more than 10%.

There were several zigzag sections and the mountain scenery was spectacular as the road wound through several villages towards the peaks at the head of the valley. We rode with the sound of the lively river nearby joined by the jangling of cow bells as we reached the upper pastures. Cows gave way to goats and sheep on the highest slopes where they grazed between large patches of snow.

The Tour de France has passed this way several times in recent decades. Near the top the road was painted with encouraging messages and the names of famous riders including Alberto Contador, Thomas Voeckler and Jens Voigt. I remember watching (on TV) the TdF climb this col in 2007. On that stage they started near Montagne Noir north of Carcassonne and after reaching Ax-les-Thermes via this col had to continue to the top of a similar climb at Plateau de Beille. One col per day is plenty for us. In fact, I’m not keen to do one tomorrow.

There is a refuge at the saddle. It had a locked but broken door. The inside was disgusting with piles of rubbish. We were reminded of our day on the Transfăgărășan Highway in Romania in 2010.

As we reached the summit a nearby thunder storm brought ground level cloud and light rain so we did not tarry. We rugged up and headed down – scarcely pushing the pedals as we rolled to Ax-les-Thermes.

One Response to “Ax-les-Thermes via the Col de Pailhère”

  1. rosalind powrie Says:

    You both get jerseys for that yellow? Green? I forget but looks like a un cycle memorable xRos

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