The switchbacks of Luz Ardiden

Allez la Douze: Dropping Flies

by frank / Sep 16 2013 / 95 posts

An ancient Velominati legend states that when the The Prophet created the common fly, he gave it a maximum air speed of exactly 12 kilometers per hour. When he created the common Cyclist, on the other hand, he gave us a maximum climbing speed of 11.9 kilometers per hour.

The worst flies on the planet live in the Pyrenees, where it is hot and humid. I recall an overcast typical day in the Pyrenees, the kind of day where the flies pull back the drapes, look outside, and decide to take the whole family out to the Cols for an afternoon of Cyclist Surfing. As it happened, we were on a big ride that day; we started with the Col d’Aspin, went over the Tourmalet, and ended at Luz Ardiden as the sun was tucking in behind the shoulders of the mountains surrounding us.

It was here, on the lower slopes of the last climb, down within the suffocating effect of the tree line where our sanity was most severely tested. Luz Ardiden is the cruelest kind of climb, the sort that is always one hour from ending, as Will Fotheringham once pointed out. With 13km to go, the speed you climb at is 13km/h; with 12km to go, the speed drops to 12km/h, then to 11, and so on with always an hours’ riding left before you.

The guns had been thoroughly drained of any power after 160km over two of the most fearsome climbs in the Pyrenees; the mind was not far from cracking. I do not know what is worse; the noise of their flying droves, or their endless dancing upon the arms and legs, but the flies here are incessant. It is hard enough, climbing at track-stand speed, without the added challenge of doing so while wildly swinging an arm or two about and cursing every manner of airborne invertebrate.

Our reserves were tapped and the bottom of The V-Well scraped for every bit of speed in an effort to escape this torturous hell. Above the treeline and into the pastures, the flies found more appealing hosts than boney Cyclists, and we were left to once again commune with butterflies – the only sort of flying insect I find at all tolerable.

Every summertime climb I have ever done has beeb accompanied by these pests; and every summertime climb – irrespective of my fitness – has been enjoyed at a maximum speed of just under 12 kilometers per hour. Having insects capable of flying a bit faster than the struggling cyclist is Nature’s enforcement of Rule #5, it is the Way of Things.

Vive la Vie Velominatus.

// Cyclotourism // Folklore // La Vie Velominatus // Nostalgia

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