Page Contributor(s): Patrick YOU, France.
Cycling Col de Portet - the King of the Pyrenees
Ride 16.3 kilometers gaining 1,405 meters at 8.6% average grade.
Climb summary by PJAMM Cycling’s John Johnson.
This climb is located in the Pyrenees Mountain Range which divides France from Spain. Col de Portet is a World Top 200 Climb (#124), and rightly so. We ride 16.4 km, gaining 1,599 m, to an elevation of 2,209 m at a challenging 8.6% average grade. Along a one kilometer stretch after the giant hairpin at km 1.5 we have a sheer cliff to our left - not so bad on a bike but terrifying in a car (at least for me . . . 😟).
The pronounced and dramatic lower hairpin of Col de Portet as seen riding up Col d’Azet.
FIRST HALF OF THE CLIMB
Climb begins in the very quaint and well kept Saint-Lary-Soulan (2019 population 844), elevation 791m.
The first 7.5 kilometers of Col de Portet overlaps with the more well known Pla d’Adet (included in 10 Tours de France as of 2022). Before coming to a 200 meter descent just before turning right onto the road to Col de Portet, the first 7.3 meters of the climb averages a rugged 9.3%.
First 7.5 km of Pla d’Adet overlap Col de Portet.
Photos between climb start and Soulan (4.6 km).
A word of caution -- for those drivers who fear the many narrow roads with sheer cliffs on one side that we come across often in the Alps and Pyrenees -- this is one of them! For a couple of kilometers just after hairpin one at the start of the climb, this a terrifying road for those with a fear of heights. I had no trouble riding it on my bike but was terrified while driving it. On the other hand, on our second trip to ride the Col, my wife had no trouble with the drive.
Memorial to Raymond Poulidor who finished second at age 38 in the 1974 TdF.
On the climb to Pla d’Adet Poulidor attacked and won the stage.
PJAMM Cycling climbed Col de Portet August 6, 2018 and July 14, 2022 -- exceptional experiences both times. This climb is a brute, cut directly into the slope of the mountain (2,215 meters/7,267 feet above sea level), and from our experience is rightly included in discussion of the hardest climbs in France. The climb is paved to the top and in good condition, no doubt in large part due to its inclusion for the first time in the Tour de France on Stage 17 in 2018. In addition to good road conditions, this climb offers breathtaking views from the start, and at the summit boasts “a spectacular 360-degree view of all the surrounding mountain peaks” (Dangerousroads.org), but boy is it a trek to get there.
Ride through Soulan at km 5.2.
UPPER SECTION (SECOND HALF) OF THE CLIMB
Upper section of the climb.
Turn right off of Route du Pla d’Adet at kilometer 7.2 and immediately climb through 14 hairpins on your way up 8.8 kilometers of a narrow Pyrenees farm road to the finish at an average grade of 8.3%.
Hairpins after turning onto the lightly traveled road to Col de Portet.
Views along the final eight kilometers of the climb.
Shepherd’s hut at km 10.2 on hairpin seven, after turning on the road to Col de Portet.
There is a very dark, but very fun, 50 meter tunnel a kilometer from the top of the climb - we suggest you bring a tail light to be safe.
THE TOP OF COL DE PORTET
This is the sign at the finish of our climb.
There is a snack shack, port-o-potty, and benches/chairs at the finish.
IN 2018, TOUR DE FRANCE INCLUDED COL DE PORTET FOR THE FIRST TIME
Consideration was given for Col de Portet to be included in the 1982 Tour de France, but that year the tour went only as far as the Pla d’Adet ski station, which is eight kilometers short of Col de Portet. Fast forward 36 years and Col de Portet was finally seen in the TdF.
Col de Portet was the TdF Stage 17 finish on July 25, 2018. While the stage was a very short 65 kilometers, 38 kilometers of that was uphill. The stage began in Bagnères-de-Luchon, first climbed col de Peyresourde, and then Col de Val Louron-Azet, before reaching the much more challenging Col de Portet. On July 25, Nairo Quintana broke away early on Col de Portet and won the stage. On this day Chris Froome would lose more time (+1.35 v. .52) to Geraint Thomas, the ultimate winner of the 2018 Tour de France.
Bagnères-de-Luchon - Start of TdF Stage 17.
The Col was again included in TdF 2021, Stage 17 on July 14. That stage was won by 2020 and 2021 Tour Champion Tadej Pogačar. Pogačar was of the opinion going into the 2021 tour that Stage 17 with its finish at Col de Portet would be the most difficult stage of the entire race. On July 14 Pogačar dictated the pace up the climb and sprinted to the stage win, maintaining his five minute lead, which he held to the end of the tour for victory.
TdF sign in Espiaube at km 7.5
Portet goes north and Pla d’Adet south here.
It was not to be in 2018.
Rated the second most difficult bike climb in France -- with a two kilometer segment averaging over 10%!
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