As I stated above, I’m down in the Ariège region of France for an inaugural bikepacking race. The start list is stacked with hitters from around the globe as race director Camille McMillan
managed to compel some of the cycling world’s most accomplished adventure cycling personalities to participate.
I haven’t really done anything epic
since Silk Road last year, so I’m feeling some butterflies for sure. But, my bike is dialed
at least ; )
And tracking links will go live soon. (Mine on my insta bio when I get it later tonight)
To better understand the unique terrain I’ll soon be traversing, read about the required sectors from the race manual:
- These 12 sectors are to be ridden in sequence.
- The transition between sectors is ‘Free Routing’ the riders plot their own route.
- There is one Checkpoint at ( grid ref ) 42.8559° N, 1.7170° E (summit of Mont Fourcat).
- Riders will have to plan a route from the end of sector 03 to the summit.
Sector 01 < The Start >
- Gravel and tarmac. It will follow the river Hers down towards the high Ariege. The river is the border of Ariège and the Aude.
Sector 02 < Iron Road >
- Old railway line that is now a cycle path
Sector 03 < Holy Grail >
- Mix of rocky downhill, gravel and tarmac and grassy hike-a-bike. The sector starts at the gorges of the Frau. This gorge is carved by the Hers river. It is the border of Aude and the Ariège. This gorge was once supposed to be a route for smuggling between the high Ariège and the Aude.
- The sector climbs past Montségur, and up onto the Massive of Tabe. Montségur, was the last strong hold of the Cathars, and the great myth of this Cathar castle is that the Holy Grail was kept there. Six monks escaped with the grail before the castle was captured by the Catholics.
- Checkpoint 42.8559° N, 1.7170° E
- To reach the CP you Hike-a-bike. Sector 03 takes you to the foot of the peak of Mont Fourcat. There are two ways to reach the CP from the end of Sector 03:
- along the ridge ( straight up )
- the slightly longer route ( right )…there is a water source this way . Taking the right hand path is recommended and could be made obligatory on the start day ( weather dependant ).
- This is a very testing part of the race.
* This is not to be tackled in the dark ( there are two refuges near the end of sector 03 and one near the peak )
- Any tracker movement on the Mountain above the tree line after sunset ( 20:40 ) is unacceptable. Please call
Sector 04 < Hunters Way >
- Mix of tarmac, gravel and forestry tracks. This sector goes over the Devils bridge ‘Le Pont du Diable’. It crosses the Ariège river.
- This bridge has many myths, no one knew how or who built the bridge, it just appeared…hence the myth of the devil. The truth is it was built in 1836 to link up mills driven by the Ariège river with the plains towards the Aude.
- After the bridge, the sector thens runs up into the villages and loops around the back of the the Prat d'Albis. As the sector desends you can see more Cathar ruins, view the Bédeilhac cave. Cro-Magnons decorated this place 14,000 years ago.
- The Nazis also did some work in the cave mouth, which they turned into a secretaeroplane factory. There is an aeroplane still inside the cave. The pilot who landed in the cave in the 1970’s could not get it out again so there it remains.
- It is also worth noting that you can find water nyphs in the village of Bédeilhac, and they will give you gold if you truly love them.
Sector 05 < Le chemin du bûcheron >
- Easy to miss the start of this sector. A mix of centures old ‘road’, tarmac and forestry path. The first part of this sector is a very old cobbled climb with stone walls. This kind of road or chemin is how most roads were in the Pyrénées before the car .
- The chemin leads past a small village and back onto the old D618 road. This road was the road linking all the major places in the Pyrénées and was part of the ‘Pyrénées thermal road’.
- There is an Auberge on the Col de Port and water just after the Col and just before you turn back on yourself down a forest road.
- This is a working forest and there are forest workers half way down the track. Look out for big machines ( Catapillars, Tractors etc ).
Sector 06 < The Rat >
- Rocky track and Hike-a-bike over the Port de Rat ( 2540 m ). This sector is not to be taken lightly, it is subject to extreme weather.
- You will leave the E.U. and enter Andorra on this Sector. Starting at Soulcem, the very stony road climbs for a few KM before ending abruply in a very Pyrénées way.
- There is a tunnel that has been blocked.
- The intention was to make this a pass to reach Andorra from France… it never happened, we still have to hike over the Col.
* This is not to be tackled in the dark ( there is wild camping at the start of the sector )
- Any tracker movement on
- the Sector after sunset ( 20:40 ) is unacceptable.
- Please call Camille if you need to move after this time.
- THIS IS A 2500 m COL
Sector 07 < Smugglers >
- This is a popular smuggling route. This border is often policed and you might have to show I.D.
- From the Andorra border ( Port de Cabús ), you go down the rough dirt road to the village of Tor. This village is famous for having 13 houses and 3 murders due to the tobacco smuggling. Family feuds.
* This is not to be tackled in the dark . Any tracker movement on the Sector after sunset ( 20:40 ) is unacceptable.
- Be aware the police patrol this border, you will need to show your passport. In the dark you will be questioned because of smuggling.
- Please call Camille if you need to move after this time.
Sector 08 < Pallars Sobirà >
- Tarmac , you pass a good mountain ‘ refugi ‘ . This sector takes you right up to the French border. At the end of the sector you are very close to the sector 09. This is as deep as you can go in the Pyrénées.
Sector 09 < Freedom >
- Remote gravel downhill. Not a good idea to go down here in the dark because you would miss the view of Mont Valier from the Port d'Aula.
- This is also where there was a great deal of traffic during the Spanish revolution and after that, during WW2.
- People escaping Franco before the war heading to France.
- People escaping the Nazis during the war.
Sector 10 < Alternative Bucolic >
- Tarmac roads through pastures and forest of the Ariege. You reach Massat, Massat is belle epoch, and also capital of counter culture.
Sector 11 < The Wall >
- Over the ‘Wall of Peguère’ ( tarmac ), then a mix of gravel and tarmac through the forests to the Prat d'Albi.
Sector 12 < The route of the good >
- This is mostly along a small part of the GR107. It is also known as the Chemin des Bonshommes or ‘ Route of the good men ‘
- An 11th century road that linked Foix and Catalan lands.
- This was a border road and an escape route for the Cathars from the Catholic persecution.
- Further then pops out behind the ruin of Roquefixade, onto the plains and out towards the finish.
Wish me luck! : )