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Words: Svein Tuft | Video & photography: Sam Flanagan
Canadian Mitchelton-Scott veteran Svein Tuft has always been an atypical professional road cyclist. He’s someone who prefers the simple life, in the mountains with little luxury; an explorer who fell in love with the sport through a bike trip with his dog when he was in his mid-twenties. He takes us on a three-day adventure around his residence in Andorra.
I’d always dreamt of this gravel ride of three countries – France, Spain and Andorra – wondering if it was even possible, and in late August, I finally had the opportunity to have an attempt.
I had just flown into Toulouse from battling it out in the crosswinds of the Dutch and Belgium roads of the Binck Bank tour, still feeling the fatigue in my legs and wondering what the hell I’d gotten myself into. I waited for my friend Sam (the engine) Flanagan, and then we loaded up the car and made our way to the Pyrenees for the three-hour drive to Andorra.
We live in the small village of Pal situated at the base of Vallnord, right where the enduro mountain bike trails start. After an awesome late afternoon lunch provided by my wife Justine, we set off on our SCOTT Addict Gravels loaded down for a three-day tour. Straight out of the blocks, we hit the 13 km grind to the top of Port de Cabus, bordering with Spain and Andorra.
This is where the road turns to gravel, and we began the massive descent of almost 1,500m down to the small village of Tor. Once we reached the valley in Alins, we started our climb up to Tavascan as the night was falling upon us. We ate some typical Catalan fare and studied the topographical maps to plan out the next day’s epic route back into France.
We woke up to a bluebird sky and idyllic temperatures. We started the climb out of Tavascan on a tiny goat-track of a road that turned immediately into gravel. On our way up to Quanca, we feasted on blueberries and raspberries in the high alpine forest.
Just past Quanca, the road ends and turns into single track. This required a little bit of hike a bike to get over the pass. Just before reaching the summit, we came across a beautiful lake called Estany del Port, and couldn’t resist a quick dip in its glacial waters.
We reached the Tavascan pass of 2,100m and began our descent into the Ariège region of France. This northern side of the Pyrenees is much wetter, which you can tell immediately by the big old growth trees and the slick rooty descents. Here the trail was quite steep and technical, but it blew us away how well these carbon Addicts could handle the steep terrain.
After about 6km of steep technical descending, we arrived in the valley close to the small village of Osesse, super hungry and parched.
Unfortunately, this was a French village, and nothing was open, so we had to press on.
The climbing in this part of the world is relentless and it seems as if the passes are coming at you from every possible angle. Our final big pass of the day was the Col de Latrappe. At this point, we were running on fumes and completely dry. Luckily, we came across a sweet little restaurant bar where the man made us some much-needed croque monsieurs and got us some ice-cold water.
Then we started our 1,000m descent to Vicdessos. We spent the night in a field outside of Auzat, right on the side of the French D8 national road. We set up bivvys in the tall grass. The night was chilly, with the hint of fall in the air.
Starting at around 500m in Auzat, we began the 2,000m climb up to the Port de Rat. The road is nice pavement at the start as it switchbacks up the valley, and at the end of Soulcem lake the road turns to gravel and continues switchbacking on to the steeper base of the high Pyrenees. The dirt road ends and you must find the trail that takes you up to the Port de Rat. It’s maybe an hour of hike a bike from there, and you’re back in Andorra looking down at the big ski area of Arcalis.
After a tricky scramble down from the Port you start the descent into Arcalis and Ordino. The entire trip the weather had been incredible and we considered ourselves very lucky, but in this final hour things started looking grim. As we descended from Arcalis, the rain came smashing down and we smiled at our good fortune. There was only one small climb from La Massana to Pal and we would be home.
I couldn’t have imagined this trip going any better than it did, and it left me thinking that if I only had to own one bike, the SCOTT Addict Gravel can really do it all.
I have been training and racing on the road for almost 20 years now, but gravel has brought me back to my roots, reminding me of how I fell in love with biking to start with. Every day is a new adventure now, while still getting the work done. It’s revolutionized how I perceive training and at my age I feel like a very lucky man to be loving biking so much.
If starting from Andorra La vella, make your way up to La Massana. From there climb up to the CG4 direction Pal. Take the CG4 all the way to Port de Cabus. From La Vella, it’s roughly 1300m of climbing. At the summit the road turns to Gravel and becomes the Carretera de Tor. There’s a big descent passing Tor and Noris, finally coming back on pavement in Alins. From there, take a left on the L-510 down the valley to the L-504 junction, then a right on L-504 heading north to Tavascan.
From Tavascan take the Cami de Graus through Quanca. This is a nice gravel road, climbing roughly 700m until the road ends and turns to single track/trail. There’s some good riding and some hiking until the pass at 2100m, at which point you enter into France. This is followed by some steep technical hiking downhill and some great technical descending sections. The route finally washes out on a small D road in the Ossese valley and turns into the D38. Descend until you come to the D8f. Take the D8f until the D18 junction and turn right. This takes you to the town of Vicdessos. Follow the signs to Auzat, and from there take the D8 up the Soulcem valley. A massive climb awaits. After Soulcem lake the road turns to gravel and you keep climbing deep into the big mountains. As the gravel road comes to an end there is a small trail on the left heading up to the Port de Rat. From here, it’s about an hour of hike and bike to the 2,500m pass. The trail then drops steeply down into Andorra-Arcalis ski area. The road is gravel at first, and then becomes paved as you get closer to the ski station. Take the CS-380 until Ordino, and then descend all the way back to La vella. The route could be done in one very massive day, but I recommend taking 2 days to really enjoy it.
To learn more about The Escape series, head over to the Scott website.