Summit of Tourmalet from above on south side.
Our website is founded on objectivity -- we use a formula to rank climbs. While one can argue that the formula could be different, there is no disputing that our formula is independent of subjectivity and personal bias. Thus, when we offer an opinion regarding The Most Famous Climbs in the World, we stray from our core value. However, there are four climbs in the world where we voluntarily ignore our dispassionate approach. So, in our opinion, the four most famous bike climbs in the world are:
#1 - By a good bit . . . Alpe d’Huez
The undeniable front runner -- 29 summit finishes in the TdF (1952-2013; returning 2018).
#2 - Col du Tourmalet
Featured in the TdF than any other climb (79 times from 1910-2017).
No other climb has been featured more in the greatest of all bicycle races. Thus, there really should be little objection to Col du Tourmalet being included in our #2 spot of the world’s most famous climbs.
#3 (tie) - Passo dello Stelvio
Highest finish of any Grand Tour -- Featured in Giro 12 times (1953-2017).
#3 (tie) - Mont Ventoux
Featured 17 times in the TdF between from 1951-2016 (11 summit finishes).
Top World Climbing Area -- Argeles Gazost/Luz-Saint-Sauveur:
The Tourmalet bike climb is at the crossroads of greatness: the starting point for this, one of the greatest bike climbs in the world, can also be used to climb Luz Ardiden and/or Col de Tentes (Cirque de Gavarnie). The Argeles-Gazost/Luz-Saint Sauveur area is one of the greatest climbing zones in the world, home to Ardiden, Hautacam, Soulor, Aubisque and several more.
The Tourmalet cycling climb is in the Pyrenees mountain range of southwest Europe and forms the natural border between France and Spain. Along with the French Alps, the Pyrenees are annually host to the mountain stages of the Tour de France. The climb begins in Luz-Saint-Sauveur which is a commune in France’s Hautes-Pyrenees department. The town has a population of 1,098 (1999) and is known by locals as “Luz” and its inhabitants are Luzeans. The incomparable Napoleon Bridge, completed in 1861 as a compliment to Napoleon Bonaparte who cherished the Pyrenees, is located at the southern edge of Luz-Saint-Sauveur over the Gave de Gavarnie Ou de Pau.
Napoléon Bridge -- Pont Napoléon Saut à l'élastique.
Tourmalet West (from Luz Saint-Sauveur):
The climb from Luz-Saint-Sauveur (western approach) is considered the more scenic of the two climbs. Both routes to the col are roughly 7.4%, but the western ascent is more difficult as those 7.4% occur over three more kilometers with a greater elevation gain of 110 meters. Luz-Saint-Sauveur is considered somewhat center-of-the-road bike climbing as it is the start point for not only the incomparable Col du Tourmalet, but also Luz Ardiden and Col de Tentes and is within easy riding distance to Hautacam, Aubisque, and several other magnificent cols in the area.
Spectacular scenery -- Col is top-center of photo.
Honey Badger lamb!
Tourmalet East (from Sainte Marie de Campan):
The ugly stepsister of Tourmalet West? We think not. Although admittedly less scenic and just a bit less challenging, this climb must be included, along with Tourmalet West, on any advernterous cyclist’s bucket list. This route is predominantly used by auto to reach the La Mongie ski resort. The route is predominantly used by cyclists to reach the col. There is as much cycling traffic on this col as you will see on any other, save perhaps Alpe d’Huez, Ventoux and Stelvio. Although there is slightly less distance and elevation gain to this side of the mountain, we very much enjoyed our climb and highly recommend it.
Nice cafe at the summit.
TOUR DE FRANCE HISTORY
With Alpe d’Huez, Col du Tourmalet is a tour and world legend. This is the highest pass in the Pyrenees and, as of 2018, has been included in the Tour de France a record 82 times between its first appearance in 1910 and 2018. From 1919 to 1939, Tourmalet was included in the TdF every year except 1922, and then only because the tour rerouted due to heavy snow.
2019 TdF stage 14 profile.
2019 featured comments on the official website for the Tour de France
“It’ll be the third time that a finish is set at the top of the Pyrenean mountain after 1974 (victory of Jean-Pierre Danguillaume) and 2010 (victory of Andy Schleck). The Tourmalet is also to date the mountain that has been climbed the most in the history of the Tour: 82 times.” LeTour.fr 2019
Although no other climb has appeared more times in the Tour, Tourmalet has only been the finish twice (a third time will occur July 20, 2019, stage 14).
Jean-Pierre Danguillaume won the first stage to finish on Col du Tourmalet (1974).
Tourmalet has a rich TdF history that began with its very first appearance in The Tour. The legendary TdF organizer, Henri Desgrance had decided to include Tourmalet in the 1910 tour. The first rider over Col du Tourmalet on July 21, 1910 was eventual 1910 tour winner frenchman Octave Lapize. The fact that Lapize unleashed on tour organizers as he reached the pass is not disputed -- what he said, however, is variously reported as either some or all of the following: “murderers,” “assassins,” and/or “criminals.” 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.
The tour was not held from 1940-46 due to WWII. When The Grand Tour reappeared in 1947, so to did Tourmalet. From 1947 to 1955 Tourmalet was featured in the TdF. It wasn’t until 1956 that Tourmalet was left off the Tour’s agenda without excuse; from 1919 to 1957 Tourmalet was included in the Tour every year that it occurred.
One of the most famous stories of Col du Tourmalet and the Tour de France is from 1913. Descending Tourmalet towards Campan, French cyclist Eugène Christophe crashed and broke his front fork. Showing the resilience and spirit of those times (and, lacking any support staff), Christophe walked down the east side of Tourmalet to Campan where he found a forge and amazingly repaired his bike sufficient to ride to the stage finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon. To add insult to injury, on top of already having lost three hours due to the crash, the race organizers penalized him for the “assistance” he was given by a seven year old boy who had pumped the bellows for him while he repaired his bike a blacksmith’s shop in Campan.
Eugène Christophe repairing his bike in Campan, 1913 (Image from Jean Durry).
YouTube summary of Christophe’s 1913 bad luck.
In 1919, Eugène Christophe became the first man to wear the yellow jersey.
In 2010 Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck battled up the Col du Tourmalet from Luz-Saint-Sauveur for a mountain top finish (the second straight day Tourmalet was featured in the tour and only its second mountain top finish ever). With ten kilometers to go, Schleck and Contador broke from the group and were alone on a fog shrouded ascent to the Col du Tourmalet. With two kilometers to go, the two raced up the mountain side by side in heavy fog and light rain, having tried to break each other multiple times over the past eight kilometers. Schleck led the entire final kilometer and there was no sprint at the finish, Contador conceding the stage to Schleck, but keeping the yellow jersey, both riders finishing with the same 5:03:29.
Andy Schleck edged Alberto Contador TdF 2010 stage 17.
Photo by filip bossuyt.
YouTube segment of Schleck and Contador on Tourmalet.
WHAT’S ON TOP?
“Géant au Col du Tourmalet” -- Paying homage to the “Giants” of the road.
Velopeloton.com writes of the Géant:
“Géant au Col du Tourmalet is an iron sculpture first erected in 2000. It was created by the artist Jean-Bernard Métais, as part of the Tour de France sculpture on the A64 autoroute between Tarbes and Pau. This sculpture features 8 cyclists, Le Géant is the 9th person of the work. Le Géant is installed at the summit on the first Saturday of June each summer. It is a great occasion known as “Montée du Géant” – “Rise of the Giant” and attracts approx 1000 cyclists, who ride up the mountain with Le Géant. Le Géant travels on the back of a truck, accompanied by a brass band. There is a celebrity cyclist each year, with Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain among those who have honoured the Giant with their effort. Le Geant is removed at the beginning of October each year for safekeeping from the harsh winter. It is mostly on display in Bagneres de Bigorre, but has spent a couple of winters in Tarbes.
Géant au Col du Tourmale
There is a misconception doing the rounds in the last few years that it is a statue to honour Octave Lapize, who was the first Tour de France rider to cross Col du Tourmalet in 1910. It’s not. This seems to have arisen after a plaque commemorating the first crossing by Le Tour and Lapize was erected on the wall under Le Géant in 2010. The real purpose is . . . “is the homage of Hautes Pyrenees to the Giants of the road”. Interpret that as you wish. The giants of the road could be the riders of Le Tour de France or it could be all the riders who cycle up Col du Tourmalet each year. I prefer the latter. An honour for every cyclist who makes it to the top.” More
One of the most famous cycling summits in the world.
Bill, Marco, and John (2013).
Restaurant du Col du Tourmalet at the summit:
Two other exceptional bicycle climbs begin near the start of Luz Ardiden.