Summary submitted by Lynn Sugden, Sherwood Park, AB, Canada
It is not well known that as you travel east on D918, the Col d’Aubisque ends at the Station de Ski de Fond du Val d’Azun, and you then ride west to Col de Soulor, eventually ending in the town square of Argelès-Gazost, one of PJAMM Cycling’s World Climb Areas. We stayed five nights at Des Pyrenees on the square -- it was reasonably priced and a comfortable place to stay with a great view over the town square.
The real gem is to follow D126, south bound, from Asson up to the Station de Ski de Fond du Val d’Azun. This is the north-south portion of the Col de Soulor. How we found this climb is a story in itself. We stayed in Lourdes, among other things a cycling mecca and close to the Col de Tourmalet. The LBS is owned by Hubert Arbès, an ex-pro. He rode as Bernard Hinault's domestique while on Renault-Elf-Gitane in late 70’s and early 80’s. In 1980, Hinaut, in the yellow jersey after Stage 12, abandoned the tour. To avoid the media crush, they left by the back door and out of Pau. Arbès left the tour at the same time. He drove Hinaut to his house in southern France to hide from the media.
Talking with Hubert Arbès, once he established we were serious and not just tourists, he set us up on a couple very nice bicycles, map in hand and off to the Col du Soulor. No regrets whatsoever! Admittedly we found it on a bright, clear, warm day. The ride starts with the mountains of the Parc national des Pyrénées in front of us as we rolled over gentle hills and through small, rural French towns. Traffic was calm and accommodating.
As you arrive in Ferrières and Hougarou the climb begins. At times the grade is challenging, however, the scenery takes your mind off of any muscle discomfort or oxygen deprivation.
You travel out of the forest and into highland farmland, then into mountain grazing pastures. It is common to see sheep and cows wandering the slopes where there are no fences.
As you climb further you turn a corner that uncovers an incredible scene. Across the valley you can see the Col d’Aubisque cutting a path across the Cirque du Litor. At the intersection of D126 and D918, stop for the obligatory café. The ski station is 100 meters east of the café. The descent down to Argelès-Gazost is fast and enjoyable.
TOUR DE FRANCE HISTORY
Col du Soulor was first featured in the 1912 Tour de France and has been included many times since then. The race organizers truly were “assassins” -- as Octavio Lapize uttered on Tourmalet in 1910. TdF’s 1912 Stage 10, Luchon to Bayonne, was just plane gruesome -- 326 km with five cols: Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor and Aubisque. Torturous and unbelievable -- truly!
Col du Soulor first appeared in the TdF on Stage 10 1912
Photo - hyperleap.com - 1912 Tour de France.
Soulor has not been considered a category climb when it is part of the approach to Col d’Aubisque. During the post WWII Tour de France (1947) Soulor has been featured 12 times between 1973 and 2010 and will return in stage 14 July 20, 2019. Other than receiving the prominent HC rank in 1982, it has most often been ranked a Cat 1, but for Cat 2 in 2000.
Col du Soulor -- TdF made it famous and the Vuelta visited in 2016.