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15-06-2023 | Nicolien Luijsterburg

Victory in GFNY Lourdes, a perfectly organised gran fondo

GFNY is one of the major organizers of gran fondos, known in part for the distinctive lime-green jerseys that participants are required to wear. In 2016, I participated in the Gran Fondo in New York, the place where it all began for this organization. An amazing experience. It stopped there, however, until now. Also, this is the first time for me in this part of the Pyrenees. So beforehand, I was very curious to see what the GFNY Lourdes Tourmalet would bring on Sunday, June 11!

Earlier that weekend, there was quite a bit of commotion in the southern French Pyrenees around Lourdes where, due to safety concerns, the women's pro peloton prematurely halted the multi-day CIC Tour Féminin International des Pyrénées cycling race.

Safety First

The weather was also challenging due to the many rainshowers and hailstorms that ravaged the region and left roads in not always good condition. The latter also created challenges for the GFNY organization. Among other things, it led to two route changes, one of which only happened the day before the gran fondo. However, none of this seemed to bother the GFNY France organization. Indeed, much attention is paid to communication with participants from which it is clear that (ensuring) safety comes first. This is also one of the reasons for the mandatory bright green shirt. A very big plus!


Photo: at the start with my boyfriend Pieter Frolichs, who finished 5th in the men's race.

With or without the Aspin

It has to be said: what a fantastic event and tight organization. Great atmosphere and a truly beautiful course. A real Pyrenean ride! As the name suggests, this gran fondo goes over the famous Pyrenean Col, Col du Tourmalet (2115m) preceded by the Col d´Aspin (1493m). The Col d´Aspin had previously been replaced by the Col de Beyrede but due to heavy rain in the last few days the road here had become impassable which meant that the Col d´Aspin was back in the course after all. I was very happy about this! The Col d´Aspin is a real classic you don't want to miss.


On y va! Under the expert guidance of the race car and motorcycles, the peloton is finishing out of Lourdes at 7:30 in an easterly direction. Due to the two big cols in the course, the rest of the altitude profile looks flat and friendly. Nothing could be further from the truth, however. The first 50 kilometers of the course contain several tough climbs averaging 10 to 20 minutes, and you'll feel it in your legs.

Ardenne-like

On this part of the course you don't yet have the idea that you are near the Pyrenees but nevertheless the surroundings are very beautiful. Maybe not as impressive as the real high mountains but it is nice to ride some alternative roads as well. It has a bit of an Ardennes feel to it with smaller roads, lots of greenery, and short(er) hills including the occasional steep slope. During a reconnaissance round a few days earlier, there was still a lot of mud and stones on these roads due to rainfall. However, the GFNY organizers swept this clean before the start, leaving the roads looking safe.


Col d'Aspin

When you start the Aspin after about 66 kilometers, the legs are far from fresh anymore. The first section has been tough and then the real mountains have yet to begin. But you forget the fatigue a little bit with the fantastic views and the tight road surface of d´Aspin where, except for the gradient of 6.5% on average, you encounter little resistance. It is a beautiful climb. The fact that there is also a triathlon over the Col d´Aspin makes it a bit crowded but it is doable. This was also well communicated by the organization. At the top you are rewarded with fantastic views of other Pyrenean peaks. What is striking is how green it is and how clearly different these mountains are from the Alps.

Tourmalet

At 91 km we have only one mountain to go. But it's not an easy one. Like the Aspin, beautiful views as you approach the summit. Only these don't lift the pain in the legs anymore unfortunately. It is a long climb of 17 km of which the last 10 km do not level out at all and fluctuate constantly between 8 and 10%. Some participants may have been able to take advantage of the slipstream of the Jumbo-Visma ladies who did a recon on the Tourmalet instead of the canceled cycling race. Surely that must have provided motivation. But for the most part you climb alone here and it's really choosing your own pace. Man/woman against mountain and altitude, as the summit is well above 2000 meters.

Rain

Then it begins to drizzle. For me a welcome cool down but for the participants who got to the top a bit later it turned into a real rain storm. You know it can be changeable in the mountains but still, the ferocity of this storm is quite a shock. Fortunately, I understand afterwards that everyone made it down safely and shuttle vans were also used for those who preferred not to continue on the bike.

At 109 km it's downhill to the finish at 156km. A delightful descent. Wide and clear: a real race track for those who like speed. The last part through the valley back to Lourdes is still tough. With still a lot of headwind and some final meters of elevation, it still feels like a long way to the finish. I'm alone here but pick up another person on the last 15 kilometers so the burden of the headwind can be shared a bit. It is a tough course and I have suffered quite a bit but I cross the finish line as the first woman. Fantastic! A result I am obviously very happy with! A little uncomfortable I stand for the first time with a champagne bottle on the podium. Nice detail from the organization.


Perfect organization

Looking back on this day, I have to say I enjoyed it very much. Not only the result but also the organization and the good atmosphere. A lot of attention for safety, good communication, a good award ceremony with nice prizes. Clearly an organization that knows how to organize a gran fondo. The course and the Pyrenees are beautiful and impressive. Lots of green to high altitudes and a lot more sparsely populated than the Alps. A place to return to because I have by no means seen all the climbs yet!

Full results can be found here.

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