Summit monument -- Col d’Aubisque.
TOUR DE FRANCE HISTORY
The Col d’Aubisque bike climb is one of the most famous of climbs in the French Pyrenees and France. Aubisque first appeared in the Tour de France in 1910, and as of 2019, has been included 92 times in all, and 48 times between 1947 and 2012. Iit has been ignored for the past seven years as of the publication of this page February 2019; see bottom of page for list of all years Aubisque was featured in the TdF since 1947. The climb was included 12 years straight after its post-war inauguration in 1947, and has been a stage finish three times, which is fairly significant for a pass. For the 24 years between 1947 and 1970, the Aubisque was included in the Tour all but three years. The pass was also included once (2016) in the Vuelta a Espan֘a.
Stage 10 TdF 1911.
Photo: bikeraceinfo.com (an exceptional resource for all Grand Tours).
We rode this route in 2011 and 2018 . . . guess what . . . still the same. 👍
Same cliff, same mountain, same tunnel (as pictured above) over 100 years later.
Aubisque is our choice for Top TdF Nostalgic Climb.
The descent from Eaux Bonnes (western approach) towards Col du Soulor was and is a dangerous route, it’s a narrow road with sheer cliffs. On Stage 13, July 17, 1951, this hazardous stretch of road was the scene of one of the most horrific and famous crashes in Tour history. The unlikely leader on this day was the pleasant and good natured Dutchman Wim van Est. This Tour included pure and true cycling legends Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, and Louison Bobet, and, while an accomplished pursuit racer, van Est was never expected to compete for the overall classification in the greatest of the Grand Tours. Nonetheless, on July 26, during Stage 12, van Est, who started the day over nine minutes behind leader Roger Levêque, broke away and won the stage, finding himself in the yellow jersey by :02:29.
A deadly road.
However, winning the flat Stage 12 by using his specialty sprint to gain time on the peloton is one thing, but a sprinter holding a slim lead over the Aubisque would be quite another. And so it was that Van Est had lost his lead as he summited the mighty Aubisque and set about to regain some of what he had lost. However, the narrow and windy road descending from Col d’Aubisque towards Col du Soulor is a poor choice for downhill heroics. And so it was that fell and tumbled 70 meters down and nearly sheer mountainside. It was not just the fall that remains in our memories from this day, but the way Van Est was extricated from his predicament and that he was still alive and able to climb up the mountain back to the road under his own power.
Photo: Edwin Seldenthus as published in velopeloton.com.
Here is amazing YouTube footage of the rescue of Wim van Est. He was helped up the mountainside by a chain of tires strung together by spectators and his support team. Still alive and unbelievably without major injury, Van Est insisted on continuing the race, but was convinced by wiser authority to go to the hospital.
Making lemonade out of lemons (or $ out of near death?) -- when he flew off the Aubisque cliff, Van Est fortuitously (in hindsight anyway) was wearing a team issued Pontiac wrist watch which became the launching point for Van Est focused advertising campaign with this slogan: “Seventy meters deep I dropped, my heart stood still but my Pontiac never stopped.”
All the greats have raced on the Aubisque
Louison Bobet, Stage 11 1954 TdF (champion 1953-1955)
The Aubiaue has a rich TdF history that began with its very first appearance in The Tour. For the 1910 Tour, legendary TdF organizer, Henri Desgrance, decided to include Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque climbs, as well as three smaller ones on Stage 10 (insane!). The first rider over Col du Tourmalet on July 21, 1910 was eventual 1910 tour winner frenchman Octave Lapize. Lapize was overtaken on the next climb (Col d’Aubisque) and as he reached its summit he unleashed on tour organizers - this is not disputed - what he said, however, is variously reported as either some or all of the following: “murderers,” “assassins,” and/or “criminals.” The french version is most commonly reported asVous êtes des assassins!" which translates to “You are murderers.” Sadly, Lapize was to die seven years later from injuries sustained when his fighter plane was shot down during WWI.
Octave Lapize -- the first rider (hiker?) over Tourmalet, 1910.
Photo: Cycling Passion, Octave Lapize walks over the Col du Tourmalet.
Eastern Approach (Argelès-Gazost)
Fourth longest climb in France at 29.5 km.
The Col d’Aubisque cycling climb eastern approach can begin from Argelès-Gazost (29.3 km / 1,553 m / 4.3%; map) or from Arrens (Arrens is on the route from Argeles-Gazost -- 12 km at 3.4% from Argeles-Gazost to Arrens).
Crux of the climb begins as we leave Arrens at 12.3 km (17 km to go).
The Tour de France is not stranger to the Aubisque.
Col du Soulor is 9.5 km before Col d’Aubisque.
700 meters with sheer cliffs and tunnels.
Four km stretch after Col du Soulor -- a bit chilling for those with fear of heights.
We know who’s boss on these roads!
Steepest kilometer begins at km 17.6 (9.4%)
Western Approach (Eaux-Bonnes)
The western approach of the three to Col d’Aubisque is the most difficult, at 16.8 km and 7.1% average grade. We place this route lower on the “must do” scale because it does not include the epic four kilometers along sheer cliffs and through tunnels between Col du Solour and Col d’Aubisque that the other two routes do. However, if you are in the area and have the time, this is most definitely a climb worth doing. If you only have time to do two routes, we recommend doing Aubisque from the west (either from Argeles Gazost for the whole enchilada, or from Arrens if you’re just looking for the eqic climb, and also from Eaux-Bonnes, eliminating the Frières leg).
Sign at the start in Eaux-Bonnes.
Pick up the first km marker at km 1.6 from the start sign (15 km to top).
The iconic Hotel Des Pyrenees 4 km into the climb.
TdF lore 1 km from the top.
That’s a wrap from Eaux-Bonnes.
Steepest kilometer begins at km 7 (10.9%)
Northern Approach ( Ferrières)
Col d’Aubisque can be accessed from the north, beginning the climb in Ferrières. This climb is a lengthy 21.9 km and goes by way of Col du Soulor, which we pass at km 12.2.
Climb begins in Ferrières, 12.2 km from Col du Soulor, and 22 from Aubisque.
First Col signs for Aubisque don’t begin until 7.5 km from the Col at km 15.
This route includes the same harrowing four km as from Argeles Gazost.
At the top.
Steepest kilometer begins at km 10.8 (10.6%)
Writing in Vélo, Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle said:
“The Aubisque is one of those hors catégorie cols that make the legend of the Tour. The climb is in three parts. The first is fairly easy. The road is good and the specialists use 39 × 19 or 53 × 21. Then, at Eaux-Bonnes, you turn left and get to the real climb. This part, as far as Gourette, is a lot more difficult. The hardest part swings between eight and ten per cent from the seventh kilometre until Pont-du-Goua at the ninth kilometre and you need 39 × 21. Then, after 300m of flat in Gourette, a hairpin goes up to the Hôtel des Crêtes Blanches. Riders use 39 × 17 over four kilometres before going into 39 × 16 in the last two kilometres” (Vélo, France, March 2005).