On a spectacularly long, jaw-dropping descent through gorges and past medieval castles on their cliff edge perches, I considered how could anyone on a trip such as this ever describe the experience. It was day four and the major climbs were done and this was another big descent. A sign flashes past warning of 10% slope for 8 km as you bend into another switchback and squeeze those brakes. You wish for a little climb, a break from the relentless descent down to the Mediterranean coast.

Small villages with ancient churches and narrow streets flash by and then you see a cyclist coming the opposite way crouched in the climbing position, head down, facing the slope. A brief encounter, but you know the effort it takes on 20km ascents like these for you have been up and down Col de Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque, and many other Cols in the clouds. You have veered past the mountain cattle and sheep ringing their neck bells on the slopes of the Pyrenees. I thought of the fairytale from long ago of Jack and the Beanstalk and his climb up to the magical land in the clouds. That’s what it was like on Le Raid Pyreneen, I felt I was returning from a magical land in the sky. But then nobody believes fairytales, or do they?

The stats are stark – 750km, over 11000m of climbs, and 100 hours to do it, and the days on the bike are long and challenging. While the first day was easy, high temperatures took their toll on the group and we had to cool down in a stream. Great camaraderie and good humour brought us all along and the constant presence each day of Martin and the Focus on Fitness van kept us fueled and well-hydrated.

On the climbs, we had support all the way to the top and everybody was able to do each climb at their own pace. Regrouping at the top we descended wrapped in extra gear and then faced the next col. Food and accommodation at the end of each day was great and authentically French. Our routes were on roads less travelled, far from the usual tourist destinations.

As an average cyclist with no technical cycling experience, this was a challenge. My fitness levels were good but overcoming the mental barriers of the climbs was as important and the sense of achievement after summitting one col helped you face the next one. It was inspirational to see others put in the huge efforts each day and no complaints. We all had our good and bad climbs and in my case my good and bad descents.

The last descent into the town of Cerbere on the Mediterranaen was as good a feeling as crossing any marathon finish line. The pictures may tell part of the story but everybody who does this Raid will have their own unique memories and the trip touches us all differently.

A big thank you to Martin Kirwan and Focus on Fitness for steering this peloton safely over the Pyrenees. Attention to detail was excellent and all we had to do was pedal. Martin’s encouragement and his belief that we could do it dispelled any doubts we might have had.

This is an unforgettable trip. The jersey you get at the end is well-earned.

Go raibh maith agat agus gur fada buan Le Raid Pyrenéen le Focus on Fitness.

Daithi De Paor

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