05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day

You are now at post Nr. 05 out of 10 for this tour.
If you want to read the post of that trip in order, voilà:
00a Freiburg – Barcelona preparation
00b Freiburg – Barcelona READY to go
01 Freiburg – Lake Neuchâtel (206km, 1200m)
02 Lake Neuchâtel – Geneva (119km, 968m)
03 Geneva – Lyon (167km, 1585m)
04 Lyon into the Cevennes – on climbing and descending… (157km, 1885m)
05 Lac St. Martial – Tarn (187km, 2900m) Prototype of THE cycle touring day
06 Tarn – Carcassonne (203km, 2683m) – A long day in 3 dimensions
07 Carcassonne – Casteil (148km, 2635m) Arrival at the ‘base camp’
08 Walking over the Pyrenees and cycling down into Spain (110km, 2671m) – reality checks
09 Hot as hell. Tortellà, Costa Brava, Canet de Mar (145km, 1468m)
10 La Final: last 48km to Barcelona & recap. What a tour…

So far my travel days consistently progressed both in terms of their physical challenge and scenery. This day is no exception. It was extremely exhausting to me at times, particularly on the later climbs. But equally rewarding: the landscapes: no words. And how I flew down into the Tarn valley: a mind blowing experience. Here’s more: (today also more photos/videos)

I got up around 7.30h to put together all my stuff (packing the tent, bags and bike, dressing, etc.). Sadly I was optimistic enough to leave my high quality 4x-USB-charger and one battery pack in the socket in the bathroom. Someone took it. Damn, this was really a valuable piece of equipment. Also when building up my tent the night before, one part of the tent bars broke… an improvised fix did it for the moment.
Bye bye Lac de Saint-Martial (for video impressions check the previous post):

I decided not to leave on an empty stomach and got a small breakfast at the beach bar of the little Lac de St. Martial. Luckily! Because the day would start with a long and heavy climb. The gradient hardly ever went below 5,5% and by noon I already had accumulated 1000m of altitude. Yes, it was exhausting. But these views made it very bearable (also for my ‘climbing psychology’ check the previous post):

What is particularly striking is the smells around (again, more on that in the previous post)… especially when riding uphill, the pace is slow enough and one is sheltered from any headwind, so the fragrances can really work there way into my nose and mind. In this region it’s often the smell of pine trees, camomile and other things I do not manage to identify but smell very familiar.

Oh, I like that prospect on my Garmin:

And (intermediately) finally: arrival on top:​

On the summit I had a chat with a couple who recommended me to do a just 200m(!) detour to see the source of the River Loire! Without meeting these two I would have raced right past it! Voilà: “Here starts my journey towards the ocean”… how I love personifications – so powerful. Cute in this case.

But this was just a tiny fraction of that day’s stage. Naturally it continued with a great downhill ride…


…followed by a lot of up and down on a high altitude (about 1200m) towards Lagogne. There was also a short piece of gravel on the way: almost lost control of the bike on the pebbles and sand… (simply due to the filming with one hand. Yes, mom and dad, I’ll be more careful!)

In Lagogne I really needed some calories. The bar owner was just about to close for the noon break, but was willing to make me a pizza and let me sit outside while he closed; also had a nice chat about Tour de France (which I don’t know much about…)

What followed was a somewhat ‘risky’ bit: the D71 leaving Lagogne to the south. There was no streetview available for that road; which is usually a sign that it is not paved. But: this road was the perfect connection of the route, I hoped it to be scenic (just judging by  the terrain profile and intuition) and I believed, if this road has a number as a name it must be paved. This time my optimism turned out justified. The road started with a pretty level stretch, actually even a descent:


…but quickly turned into a real long climb. Exhausting, really. But boy/girl was it worth it: Naturally it was followed by a downhill ride from heaven; it started here, on the summit of that road. Surfing down into the valley:

From there on it was a lot more up and down… e.g. via the D41 (in case you’re bothered to look it up). A lot more down than up actually, which was nothing good: in a moment when I was already very tired, I had to do another ca 800m (of altitude) climb to get onto a plateau into which the river Tarn  – my destination for that day – had cut its way throughout the passt millionenia (yes, a new word. From now on). That was really heavy. But at some point I did reach the top, and it had its very own beauty:

The God of the cyclists (Merckx or someone) wanted to torture me a little more, though. This came in the shape of needles; almost literally: very sharp peaks on the plateau: short, but really steep climbs (>10%) in combination with headwind. Luckily relief stages in between, like it’s supposed to be for a solid torture session. But – to keep it biblically – at some point I saw the light: DOWNHILL. Into the Tarn valley. Not just a bit: really long, incredibly well paved, pretty steep, no sharp bends. I think I broke my personal speed record: 75 km/h. With luggage. In these situations my chosen setup really pays off: it is rock solid. Nothing is moving, all bags tightened – in combination with the stability features of my road-configured cyclocross bike: pure control!

Here’s one impression of that ride. Excuse my scream. It was honest. Hell yes!

And at some point, very suddenly, the Tarn valley opened up in front of me. These are moments that will last for as long as I do.

That silence after the wild ride… unforgettable. The town at the bottom is Sainte-Enimie. From there it was still another 35km to the campsite that I had in mind in Le Rozier. Sure, I could have put up my tent here. But since my next stage (after one chilled day at the river) should get me to Carcassonne – and not jut 35km before – the old rule was valid once more: every km I make today is one I don’t make tomorrow.

Luckily the wind didn’t reach out into the niches of the deep canyon and I was cycling along the direction of flow of the here still pretty wild water (meaning going at a slight but helpful decline). On top of that, now set in what I experienced already many times in the final part of a day’s stage: a sudden boost of energy that makes the pedaling feel so easy. I’m sure this is to some extent a psychological/psychosomatic effect – somehow the body ‘knows’ that the end of the tour is near, but that there’s still work to be done.

In any case, this is roughly how it looked. Of course there were places like crazy tunnels in the rock, brick-bridges, weird rock formations, chateaus, etc… but I really wasn’t in the mood for taking more pics. Yet here’s one impression:

At about 21.30 I arrived at the camp site. I had previously announced my arrival by phone. Turned out it was run by a Swiss family. And their snackbar-caravan was still open so they made me an excellent burger! I put up my tent, showered and slept; not necessarily in that order (except for the sleeping). I don’t remember. I was too tired… it was a long and eventful day.

STRAVA: click

Author: Malte Cyclingtourist

Hi, I'm Malte, cyclo-hedonist, endurance traveller, occasional bikepacking-racer (mostly road) – www.cyclingtourist.com – Strava: Malte Cyclingtourist – Instagram: @maltecyclingtourist

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