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Trail > Extreme Mountain Bike Descent from Spain to France

Today’s mountain bike ride inspired me to post some pictures and a few words. It was the last day of Ben and Iris’s 10-day mountain bike holiday and Iris fancied a day checking out the latest fashions from Spain in San Sebastian. This left Ben and I free to take our bikes up a mountain that I had pointed out to Ben a few days earlier… read on for more.
 The bar and restaurant at the summit. Climbing one of the steep sections.
Larrun sits on the border between Spain and France and is officially the most westerly of the Pyrenees. It reaches to just under 1000m however it’s height is accentuated by the fact that the land between it and the French coast is very flat. We don’t take holiday makers on this bike route very often due to the tough climb up; the first half is off road on technical singletrack, however the last half is on a very steep fireroad which is only just possible with mountain bike gearing. I wonder if there are many harder climbs in Spain and the track reaches 24% in places and averages 15% over 3km. This is put starkly into focus when you realise that the steepest part of the Tourmalet is only 10% and on average just over 7%! Roadies don’t know how easy they have it.
 The start of the descent, before it gets really rocky! One of the rocky but straight bits
Reaching the top is a bit of a surprise due to the number of people milling about, especially just now in the holiday season. Everyone always shouts encouragement and arriving at the top you feel like you should have the Tour de France red polka-dot jersey on! The reason for the number of holiday makers is the old railway which runs up the mountain from the other side. Note that mountain bikes are not allowed. There is also a bar up here and, since we’re on holiday, Ben and I had a quick drink before putting on the armour for our descent.
 Rocky switchbacks (from Winter 2010) Rocky chute (from Winter 2010)
The descent. Oh my! On my first go I thought it was about 85% rideable and there were some switchbacks and chutes that I just couldn’t do. Today I rode about 99.9% of it, although I did have to try some parts a few times. Put simply, certain sections are just about the limit of what a non-trials mountain bike can do. I don’t say that lightly, I know there are a lot of better riders than me out there, but the trail is too rocky to allow anything to be tackled using speed and the harder chutes involve rolling over stuff the bike just clears, with your bum on the back tyre. Coupled with that there are turns… sharp ones. I was having to hop the back end about a lot to line everything up for the chutes. It’s a physical test as well as a technical test for the most skilled riders.
Ben at the summit!
My Cove GSpot was in it’s element on this part. Designed for trail center, low bottom bracket, lightweight bikes aren’t the tool for this; this is real mountain biking where a bit of clearance under the bottom bracket coupled with a nicely balanced head angle really pay off. After the slow speed, trialsy top section it was a relief when the trail started to open up a bit and we could get off the brakes and let the speeds pick up. The last half is a blast down buff singletrack, where high speeds mix with complicated rocky chutes as the scenery rushes up to meet you, hidden only by the dust kicking up from the tyres of the lead riders! The stats today were +/- 950m, 17km, 2 hours 30 minutes climbing and 1 hour 40 minutes descending. Not bad and we were back in San Sebastian in time for lunch.
Larrun from the beach.

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