Cycling the Col du Tourmalet

Barèges
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On the occasion of the 9th stage of the Tour de France 2020 this Sunday, September 6 between Pau and Laruns, we get on our bike to climb the Col du Tourmalet , one of the most famous passes in the Pyrenees. Nature lovers and two-wheelers, seasoned sportsmen, the objective of this challenge for us is to live a unique experience, usually reserved for professional cyclists . Far from being measured against a stopwatch, our philosophy combines above all sport, passion, discovery of the territory, conviviality and relaxation, even if it takes us the whole day! An ambitious project certainly… At 2,115 m above sea level, the Col du Tourmalet, also known as the Giant of the Pyrenees , is the second highest road pass in the Pyrenees after the Col de Portet. A look back at a breathtaking challenge!

Tourmalet

Tourmalet


The Col du Tourmalet: the holy grail of cyclists

The Col du Tourmalet thrones with a few other places (Alpe d'Huez, Mont Ventoux, Galibier…) prominently in the history and mythology of the little queen . Here fought the big names of the Tour de France , this legendary race which propelled the Tourmalet to the height of its popularity. Borrowed for the first time in the Tour in 1910 , Octave Lapize , the winner of the Tour de France that year, even told the organizers “ you are assassins! », In reference to this first major stage in the Pyrenees that he won! Since then, the Col du Tourmalet has been climbed 79 times by the Tour de France, ie the pass most often crossed, all mountain ranges combined. That's telling you… his ascent by bike remains a journey to be made, a real challenge and a challenge, regularly stormed by groups of amateur cyclists from all over France and Europe.


The Col du Tourmalet


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Physical and mental preparation

"How about climbing the Col du Tourmalet ?" suggests Fanny at the start of the summer, my sidekick from the Hautes-Alpes and a cyclist since a young age. This question will take a few months to make its way through my mind. After a sporting summer, rich in hiking, yoga, mountain biking and water sports, I am finally ready to let myself embark on this adventure . A good training is necessary to climb the Col du Tourmalet in all serenity. If we get to the top it will be a memory to remember! The day before, we prepare ourselves psychologically for this challenge around a delicious fondue at Auberge la Couquelle downstream from Barèges, before a good night's sleep.


Tourmalet

Preparation for the effort and meditation in the Pyrenees

Auberge La Couquelle Auberge la Couquelle

Auberge la Couquelle to gain strength before exercising!


Two options are possible to climb the pass: an ascent by the western slope from Luz-Saint-Sauveur , or Barèges higher up or on the other side of the pass by the eastern slope , from Campan , Bagnères or La Mongie . The two climbs are technical but have quite different characteristics. From the west side, the ascent goes 22.5km , with a drop of 1268m (starting altitude: 660m - finishing altitude: 2115m). On the eastern side, the route is 19km , or 4 km less but the difference in altitude of 1404m (starting altitude: 711m - finishing altitude: 2115m). We opt for the western slope, with an average vertical drop of 6% compared to 7.4% of the eastern slope (with passages exceeding 10.5% of slope). This detail is not negligible to spare our efforts!

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A difficult and winding ascent

D-Day ! We are lucky, the weather is good: an overcast sky, fog and a thermometer which reads a small 17 °. The climatic conditions are an essential factor to put in resonance with the intensity of the required effort. To approach the Col du Tourmalet, we decide to leave very early in the morning to avoid the heat which can be fatal to our ascent.

The Col du Tourmalet is not an easy climb. The objective is to climb the pass in a reasoned effort while taking pleasure. Our training was adapted to the objective. A good warm-up of at least 30 minutes before starting is strongly recommended.

Under our clothing, clearly unsuitable compared to all head-to-toe lycra cyclists, we opted for cycling shorts with reinforcements on the seat which favor comfort and minimize friction. We brush ourselves with sunscreen , adjust our helmets, adjust our saddle height, check the condition of the tires and our water reserves one last time… let's go! From the Barèges ski resort , the first kilometers set the tone for the challenge… The exit from Barèges is one of the most difficult sections of this ascent with a 9% slope for one kilometer , however fairly regular. It is punctuated by encounters with cows and sheep. We are indeed in a pastoral zone . A few hairpin turns sharpen the feeling of ascent and the elevation percentages decrease slightly. To motivate runners, the route is marked out with signs indicating the altitude, the average percentage of slope but above all… the distance to be covered to the summit.



Tourmalet Tourmalet
Tourmalet


There follows an accumulation of pain to the top! At a reduced pace and punctuated by several stops, this ascent is a real challenge despite the few curves that offer a little respite and recovery ... I literally feel my heart thundering in my chest. On the slopes of the Tourmalet, we are passed by many other courageous cyclists, of all ages, both men and women, many of them Belgians and Dutch. Some head more or less quickly towards the summit, others go downhill after reaching it.

Tourmalet

Tourmalet


The road winds between grandiose landscapes and sumptuous pastures for nearly 16 km. 5 km from the summit, the majestic Pic du Midi de Bigorre opens up to our view as we pass the clouds to continue under a beautiful blue sky. Ultimate suffering, the last kilometer has a slope of 10% of elevation, the last pin is scary. Several professional photographers are posted there to take our most "beautiful" portrait in the effort.


Tourmalet

The last mile before the summit

The arrival at the top transforms this real agony into immense joy . We put on dry clothes just after the effort because keeping clothes wet with sweat encourages cold snaps. Far from the search for performance, we have drawn on all our resources to surpass ourselves physically and push our limits . A well-deserved rest is in order!

Tourmalet


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The spectacular view from the top of the Col du Tourmalet: a great reward

From its 2,115 m high, the Col du Tourmalet offers an extraordinary view over the Bastan valley on the west side and the Gripp valley to the east. We take advantage of this panorama by catching our breath and hydrating. The atmosphere is warm among the cyclists, applause and accolades are waiting for you. The pride we feel is truly worth all the effort! At the top, the souvenir photo at the foot of the statue erected in homage to Octave Lapise is a must. Two inns allow cyclists and visitors to refresh and eat.

Col du Tourmalet

Tourmalet Tourmalet
Tourmalet


Whether you are with family, friends or in a club, this experience is exceptional to live if you are a cycling lover passing through the Pyrenees!


Did you like our article? Find more on the BLOG. Follow us on The Toulouse Pyrénées Guide Facebook page , but also on Instagram @guidetoulousepyrenees


Article and photos prepared by Lesley Williamson


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