THE MOST FAMOUS PYRENEES BIKE CLIMB
COL DU TOURMALET
FEATURED 86 TIMES IN THE TOUR DE FRANCE
Why is Tourmalet our top pick out of all the magnificent cycling climbs in France? Let us count the ways:
- Stunning scenery,
- Steeped in history: Featured 83 times in the Tour de France as of 2019,
- Challenge: This is the #6 most difficult bike climb in France (#122 world),
- Altitude: Col du Tourmalet is the highest pass in the Pyrenees,
- The neighborhood: Tourmalet is in the top World Bike Climbing Area Argeles Gazost,
- Fame: One of the four most famous bike climbs in the world (along with Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux and Stelvio),
- Popularity: Cyclists crawl up the pass likes ants up an anthill -- together with Alpe d’Huez, Ventoux and Stelvio, you will have no more company on a bike climb than on this one.
Octave Lapize -- the first rider (or should we say hiker?) over Tourmalet, 1910.
Photo: Cycling Passion, Octave Lapize walks over the Col du Tourmalet.
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.
THE HARDEST PYRENEES BIKE CLIMB
COL DE PORTET
FEATURED ONCE IN THE TOUR DE FRANCE
This climb is located in the Pyrenees Mountain Range which divides France from Spain. This bike climb is a World 100 (#78) and rightly so. We ride 16.4 km gaining 1,599 meters, to an elevation of 2,209m 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 those of us who don’t love heights . . . 😟).
Climb begins in Vignec, France -- population 189 (1999), elevation 821 m.
The first 7.5 km of Col de Portet overlap with the more well known Pla d’Adet (included in 10 Tours de France as of 2019).
First 7.5 km of Pla d’Adet overlap Col de Portet.
OUR FAVORITE PYRENEES CYCLING SEGMENT
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 has been included 92 times in all (as of 2019) and 48 times between 1947 and 2012 (it has been ignored for the past seven years as the publication of this page February 2019). 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 1947-1970, 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, 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 -- 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. While van Est was an accomplished pursuit racer, he 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, won the stage and found 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: 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.
BEST CYCLING HUB IN THE FRENCH PYRENEES
ARGELES-GAZOST / LUZ SAINT-SAUVEUR
The Col de Tentes bike climb is at the crossroads of greatness -- the starting point
for this magnificent ride can also be used to climb Tourmalet and/or Luz Ardiden.
We have climbed by bike out of this area twice, and it is a world class cycling area -- no doubt about it! Tourmalet, Aubisque, Col de Portet, Hautacam, Ardiden, Tentes, Soulor, Peyresourde, Spandalles, Marie Blanque, Aspin -- you CANNOT GO WRONG! And, double that list because each (other than Hautacam and Aspin which end at ski resorts) has two routes to the top, with Aubisque actually having three.
Col du Tourmalet