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Cycling the Col du Tourmalet

5th May, 2022

If you search cycling's most epic climbs, cycling the Col du Tourmalet will feature strongly. The Souvenir Jacques Goddet is the prize award given to the quickest Tour de France rider across the Col du Tourmalet summit whenever it's ridden on the Tour, and we can see why, it is quite the achievement. The mountain, because of its Tour de France history means it holds mythical status.

Coming in at 2115m high, the Col du Tourmalet is one of the highest mountain passes in the French Pyrenees side of the mountain range, it's not your average slope. It's one of the best climbs in the world and has been made very famous by being featured 87 times in the Tour de France. It's a a tough ride up to the top, but you are rewarded with endless beautiful views when you reach it. What makes the climb is you can feel the history of all the famous riders who have battled their way to the top as you ride it yourself.

view of the iron statue on the Col du Tourmalet


The History of the Climb

It's not the height that makes the Tourmalet so famous, it's the legend that sits behind it.

Alphonse Steines, a French journalist, was the architect of the Tourmalet. When the mountain was only known to livestock herders, he had the dream of cycling over the mountain and building a road on its barren, often snow covered slopes.

On his first reconnaissance of the mountain, he uttered what are now pretty iconic words “Crossed Tourmalet. Very good road. Perfectly feasible",, and the road was built. The climb became immortalised in legend on stage 10 of the 1910 Tour de France, which featured the dreaded Tourmalet for the first time. Octave Lapize, the winner of the stage, screamed. "Vous êtes des assassins! for the severity of the what he had been forced to ride.

The Routes

Eastern Route

There are three ways to get up this legendary climb, and two are done by a road bike, and one, you will need to be on a mountain bike. Unlike many other famous climbs, the Tourmalet doesn't have many bends and coming from the eastern side especially. It is a very long straight climb with few corners. It is a challenging climb that we can't recommend highly enough if you're fond of a challenge.

From the east side if you're staying in Argelès Gazost, you take a shorter ride of about 16 miles with 1268m of climbing. The average gradient is 7.4%, and it is the shorter ascent out of the two road rides. The road only has a few corners, three or four to the top. Unlike many mountain climbs, the Tourmalet isn't full of switchbacks. The climb starts passing through many campgrounds with incredible views until you hit Gripp, where it starts to bite. Passing through Artigues, you will have to keep on digging all the way to the top of the Col du Tourmalet. You follow a valley through the top, and the road will feel smooth but not fast as it's still very steep.

GPX Route Featuring the Eastern Climb of Ventoux

Western Route

From the west side if your staying at Luz Saint Sauveur, cycling the Col du Tourmalet gives you a 19 kilometre climb with 1404m of climbing. It also does average about 7.4% average gradient. This is the longer way up the top, and it is a toughchallenge. Following the valley up from Bagnères de Bigorre the road kicks and you have a beautiful climb on a smooth narrow road alongside a small gushing river. The scenery is lush and green, and on your travels, you will be passing through La Mongie if you need food and water, but most people continue on as the climb is so close. This route has much more in the way of bends and cycling on the edges, you get amazing views.

You know you are at the top when you see the iron Col du Tourmalet statue. It isn't there in winter and is only brought up from June to October. If you go on the first Saturday of June, you will get a big surprise with the number of riders who go to see it being put up. At the top or on the way up, don't be surprised to see the odd ski station and snowy capped peaks.

GPX Route Featuring the Western Climb of Ventoux

Where to Stay?

After flying into Lourdes, Tarbes or Toulouse. Your going to want to make your way to Sainte Marie de Campan the region where you are going to want to be. Argelès Gazost or Luz St Sauveur is a great place to situate yourself for a cycling tours holiday. You will be in the centre of a few incredible mountains such as Col d'Aspin, Col d'Aubisque, and the Col du Soulor.

There are plenty of hotels and places to eat and drink when you need to replenish all those calories. The area is full of incredible hikes, water sports and even situates a casino for when you're not on the bike. You will also find cycling shops and even bike rentals in this village. Everything you need for an epic cycling holiday will be here.

When to Ride?

Typically the Tourmalet is best to go to from June to October. This is when the weather will be the best for good cycling. Although straight in the middle of this, July is the busiest time, so you will see more traffic, lots of other cyclists, and busier roads.

We highly recommend taking a windproof jacket for the descents and even a pair of gloves in case it does get a little cold in the early mornings or late in the afternoon. The weather in the mountains can turn quite quickly, so always keep an eye on the forecast.

Tips for Climbing the Tourmalet

If you plan to go to the Col du Tourmalet, don't go unprepared. Here are our top tips when it comes to taking on this beast of a climb.

Go prepared

Doing some training on your local hills prior will go a very long way for you. Although you can drop the intensity and go up slower, being fitter and a bit more conditioned to a nasty climb will help make the experience so much easier and better.

Food and Water

Always be prepared and take all the food and water you will need. You don't always find places to stop and resupply in the mountains, so it's always a good idea to have more than enough. You're also going to want to make sure you are taking on food and water regularly into your body, as while taking a climb like this, it is easy to forget and end up burning out.

Set a Pace

It's vital to set a good pace where you can ride for a couple of hours without going too deep into your body. Learn to set a pace either working to power, heart rate or feeling and apricate that the altitude will make it harder nearer the top.