7 days| 12 cols | 570km | + 12,600m
If your dream is to climb the biggest iconic cols of the Pyrenees which have been such a vital part of the Tour de France, then this week in the mountains is for you!
Our programme is simple: to give you a chance to add your name to the legend of the Tourmalet, the Aubisque, the col d’Aspin, Peyresourde, Hautacam, Pierre Saint Martin. Every day our advice, support and logistics will be your assets in your quest to climb the summits!
You’ll be climbing these cols day after day, living the legend! Give your passion for climbing a chance to flourish and let your legs carry you to new heights. You’ll be able to enjoy the spectacular beauty of the Pyrenean high mountains, experience the intense joy of reaching the summit of one of these giants over 2,000 metres above sea level and marvel at some of the lesser-known gems of which there are so many in the Pyrenees, and all this without having to worry about the practical details.
This week is designed for cyclists who are already experienced in the high mountains. You’ll be in the saddle up to five hours a day, for stages from 100 to 120-130 km with height gains of 2,000 to 3,000 metres, but we’ve tailored our stages so you get a chance to recover after the big days. Two less demanding stages will give you time to rest so that you can make the most of your stay and enjoy the Pyrenees to the full!
Our upcoming dates
For transfers from Biarritz and Toulouse airports, please contact us (for these airports, transfers take place between 11:00 and 15:00). Installation at the gite for the stay. Preparation of bicycles and a short trip to the Ossau valley to rustle your leg.
We have chosen to climb the Soulor by its little-known Northern side, by the wild unspoilt valley of Ferrières. A short transfer takes us to our start point, the little town of Nay at 280 m above sea level. The ride starts with a gentle uphill section of about twenty kilometres for a good warmup before the climb starts for real at the little village of Ferrières at 575 m. The road is narrow and the atmosphere is already impressive. A short steep section as you leave Ferrières sets the tone—9%—and then a second ramp is waiting for you just after Arbéost, and the road climbs steadily through a superb beech forest. As you emerge from the woods, at about 950 m, the gradient remains steep but the view over the spectacular cirque du Litor is ample reward for the effort. Arriving at the summit of the Soulor you can take a moment to get your breath back and admire the characteristic pyramid of the summit that looks down on the pass, the Gabizos. The road that crosses the Litor towards the Aubisque is unique, overlooking a breathtaking drop down to the valley.
During the 1951 Tour, the Dutch rider Wim van Est, wearing the yellow jersey, had a spectacular fall into the precipice. His fall was stopped miraculously 70 meters down by some small trees which saved his life. Nobody had a rope long enough to reach him, so his rescuers knotted together 40 inner tubes and they were able to haul him back up to safety … Incredibly, van Est then wanted to resume the race so he wouldn’t lose his yellow jersey! One of the Tour’s craziest legends!
One last effort will see you finally reaching the summit of the Aubisque at 1710 m. This legendary “Hors Catégorie“ col has been climbed 73 times by the Tour peloton, the first time in 1910, in a mind-boggling ride from Luchon to Bayonne! Octave Lapize, the first victor of the Tourmalet, shouted to the organizers of this epic ride, “you’re murderers!”
A photo in front of the statues of three giant bikes outlined against the Pic du Ger is a must before you set off on the first long descent of the week, down to Laruns and then back to our base through the foothills. Can anyone imagine a more grandiose start to the week?
After the classic Soulor-Aubisque ride, today’s trip is one of the lesser-known gems of the Pyrenees. Although it’s less famous than the mythical Tourmalet and Aubisque, no doubt because the Tour has graced it much less often (only 2 stages have gone over the pass, in 2007 and 2015), the col de la Pierre Saint Martin is considered by many to be the hardest col in the Pyrenees! Climbing the col, which is perched between France and Spain at 1765 m above sea level, is difficult from either side and can match the greatest cols in the Alps. Distance (25.8 kilometres from Arette), height gain +1440 m, a 15% wall, a long and sustained middle section with regular two-figure gradients, an irregular slope and exposure to wind from the South, all these ingredients are brought together to make it an “HC” col and to make the climb a real challenge!
A gentle ride up from Aramits means you can warm up your legs before you have to face the “beast”.
At the village of Arette, we’ll ride past our partner bike shop, “Les Cycles Tillous”, a specialist bike shop with a reputation which goes well beyond the South-West of France!
Shortly after a sign indicating “La Mouline” at 17.5 kilometres from the summit, the 15% wall marks the real start of the climb. Then there’s a long mid-section through the magnificent beech-forest with gradients varying between 9 and 11%. This is where Froome left all his rivals standing in an awe-inspiring attack and won his second Tour de France in 2015. A short downhill section as you reach the crossroads leading from the col de Labays provides a welcome respite. The ride then moves into the karstic (limestone) landscape of the Arres d’Anie, dominated by the elegant silhouette of the Pic d’Anie at 2504 m. The last 3 kilometres after the ski resort (including one with an average 8.5%) are tough going, especially if the wind is blowing from the south! At the col, the spectacular view opens up as far as the Atlantic. The karstic landscape, one of the finest in Europe, is the site of one of the deepest caves in the world. You look down across the mountains of the Basque country and towards the Port de Larrau through which our itinerary takes us on our way back home.
A long easy descent takes us into Spain, into the valley of Roncal and down to Isaba at 810 m. Here they speak Basque! The climb back up to the Port de Larrau, cat. 3, should not be under-estimated. First you have to ride the twelve kilometres up to the Port de Lazar at 1129 m, with an 8% climb at the end, before you can relax your legs in a short run down to the stream in the ravin de l’Enfer (the ravine of Hell—sounds ominous !) If your legs are already weary, then the last climb up to the Port de Larrau , 1573 m could well be hell. There are another 670 metres of height gain to ride over almost 11 kilometres, two of which are around 8%, before you can admire the Pic d’Orhy and the Pic d’Anie, the two emblematic summits of the Basque country, an absolute treasure for lovers of cols and wild itineraries, far from the madding crowd. Then 23 kilometres fast downhill via Larrau and on to Licq-Athérey where another climb up to the Pierre St Martin through St Engrâce begins, yet another gem to enjoy … if your legs are still up to it! But the 17 kilometres of flat or slightly uphill road to Aramits will probably be enough to finish off this exceptional loop between France and Spain, without doubt one of the high points of the week.
The big day yesterday has probably left its mark. It’s time after this pretty hefty start to the week to have a bit of a rest. You’re going to need to keep up your strength for the rest of the programme!
Today we’re heading for the col de Marie Blanque, a magnificent point from which to survey the vallée d’Ossau and a good goal for an active recovery day.
But if you prefer you can take a bit of a rest at the gîte. The afternoon will be given over to a well-being session at the spa in Eaux Bonnes.
Since it was first introduced in 1978, the Marie-Blanque has featured 13 times in the Tour de France. At 1035 m above sea level, it is often a waypoint before the peloton climbs the col d’Aubisque or even, as was the case in 2010, the Tourmalet.
Depending on what you feel like, and what your legs feel like, we can climb the col from the vallée d’Ossau side or from the vallée d’Aspe side …
From Bielle, 440 m, it’s a relatively easy two-stage climb, 2nd category, average 5.1%. The first stage of the climb, 5.5 kms up to the col du Porteigt with a steep 9/9.5% start, takes us up to the Benou plateau, 900 m above sea level. It’s an extraordinary plateau shaped by the Ossau glaciers in the quaternary era. The opportunity it gives to recover will be a welcome respite before the second stage of the climb, another 6 kms, with a short “two-figure” passage providing a good test to see how your legs are getting on. The return trip down through the Baget forest is a ride through rolling hills which is just right to get easily back to our base before going to relax at the spa in Eaux Bonnes.
The same circuit in the other direction is an entirely different matter! The route via Escot is a daunting 1st category col, only 9.7 kms and an average 7.7% for a total height gain of 715 m, but the final 4 kilometres before the col are a killer: an average 11% with sections over 15, and even 18%, without a moment’s respite before the run down to Bielle! It’s not surprising, given percentages like that, that Bernard Thévenet, twice winner of the Tour de France in 1975 and 1977, got off his bike and walked this wall during the 1978 stage of the Tour from Biarritz to Pau! Before the “Giant” which we are going to tackle tomorrow, it’s probably more sensible to keep this side of the col for some other time and enjoy the spa!
Tourmalet! Is there a more iconic col for cyclists all over the world?
Without a shadow of a doubt it ranks at the top of the list of “giants”; the Tourmalet is a powerful myth in the history of cycling, well beyond the simple fact that it is classified as Hors Catégorie! It featured in the Tour for the first time in 1910, and it’s by far the col most often-climbed by the Tour de France, no less than 86 times so far. In 2019 the Tourmalet will be the finishing point for a stage which will take the riders from Tarbes up to the summit at 2115 m, passing the col du Soulor on the way. It’s the highest road pass in the French Pyrenees, and climbing it is a high altitude pilgrimage, with its cohort of legends, and it’s so symbolical!
A transfer from our base takes us to the entrance of the vallée d’Aure. We have opted to start with the col d’Aspin, cat 1, 12 kilometres, average 6,5%, as the first step in a long ride across the Pyrenees. Starting at Arreau at 700 m, the road rises gently for the first five kilometres and then gets steeper (one kilometre at 9%) as you get closer to the col. We’re now 1490 m above sea level and the view stretches out over the high peaks with the Pic du Midi de Bigorre towering above everything else, flanked by the characteristic saddle that we going to ride over: the Tourmalet!
The ride down the western side of the col d’Aspin takes us to Sainte Marie de Campan, a little village at the crossroads between the two cols. This is where Eugène Christophe, during the 1913 Tour de France, repaired his broken fork at the village forge. He not only lost any hope of winning the stage but was also given a three-minute penalty for having been helped to do the repair, which at that time was forbidden by the rules!
17 kilometres, an average percentage of 7.4, up to the col at 2115 with a total height gain of 1270 m, this is the moment of truth! The first 4 kilometres are a fairly easy ride, until you get to Grip. This is where the serious stuff starts: ahead of us lies the most sustained climb over such a distance in France. It never goes below 8% and some sections are as steep as 13%. The key to the climb is finding the right pace, and then a slightly hidden bend to the left and the summit appears as if by magic, a door open to the valley of Luz and Gavarnie, the “Toy” country. The giant statue of the Tourmalet towers over the steep slopes, the Hautes Pyrénées paying tribute to all the cyclists who have conquered the col since 1910. The magnificent view of the Pic d'Ardiden and the high summits of the western Pyrenees invites us to rest a while, before plunging down towards Luz, the starting point of another of the Tour de France’s iconic climbs, the formidable ride up to the ski resort of Luz Ardiden, which bears comparison with the Alpe d’Huez! The road then winds along the Luz ravine which made it impossible to get up to the Toy country from the plains before the first road was opened in 1746. The ride back then follows a gentle route along the Gave de Pau down to Lourdes.
Our conquest of the legendary cols of the Pyrenees continues with another splendid ride, no less than three cols on the menu! We start out from La Barthe de Neste, a town standing at the entrance to the vallée d’Aure through which we will return later in the day. Some twenty kilometres warmup take us to Saint Bertrand de Comminges, a famous ancient and medieval city, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The imposing cathedral reflects the wealth of an exceptional archeological and architectural heritage stretching over 2,000 years of history! At Mauléon Barousse the first difficulty of the day begins with the Port de Balès. At a height of 1755 m, this Hors Catégorie col links the vallée de la Barousse and the vallée d’Oueil above Bagnères de Luchon, the boundary between the Hautes Pyrénées and the Haute Garonne.
The Port de Balès has featured 5 times in the Tour de France. Its 19 kilometres at an average of 6.2% over 1180 m of height gain are characterized by an almost easy-going first section up to the Granges de Crouhens (869 m). But the rest is tough, and the final 12 kms are often in double figures with a maximum 13.5% 3 kms from the summit. That’s where during the 2010 Tour Andy Schleck dropped his chain and no doubt lost any chance of ending the race with the yellow jersey in Paris. He finished second just a few seconds behind Contador, but he was later declared the winner after Contador was stripped of his title for doping.
The ride down with the 3,000 m high peaks of the Luchon massif ahead of you is fast, on an excellent road surface down to 829 m where at St Aventin you pick up the D 618 road from Bagnères de Luchon. This is where the last of our climbs in the Pyrenean Trilogy begins: after the Aubisque and the Tourmalet, we now have to tackle the Peyresourde.
The Peyresourde is a giant that needs no introduction. It entered into the history of the Tour in 1910, as part of the incredible “murderous” stage from Luchon to Bayonne. With 67 climbs, it is one of the most often climbed cols of the Tour de France after the Tourmalet and the Aubisque. It has all the features of an HC col, but the organizers of the Tour for some reason leave it as a category 1. But make no mistake, the constant gradient between 8 and 9% and a few sections with more than 10 make it a difficult climb where stamina is the key to success. At the col summit, at 1569 m, towards the West, you can see the tight hairpins which battle their way up a new crest line which has to be climbed before you get back down to the vallée d’Aure. That’s the col d’Azet, our last test for the day.
The great Marco Pantani was to be the first Tour de France cyclist to conquer the col in 1997 and now the col has featured in the Tour eight times in all. The descent down the vallée du Louron gives us a chance to recover until we reach Genos where we start the 7.4 kms steep climb up to the col d’Azet. With an average 8.3% and a section at 12%, you need to have some strength in reserve if you’re not going to suffer too much during the 650 metres of this final climb of the day. Before you swoop down into a technical descent to Azet, St Lary and the vallée d’Aure, the wide open view gives you a chance to see how much ground you’ve covered, and how much would remain to be covered if you wanted to continue and finish at the col de Portet, like the 17th stage of the 2018 Tour.
And with a smile on your face you can enjoy a spirited ride back to our start point, having conquered all the great cols!
The week is not yet over … Our harvest of iconic cols would not be complete without taking on the challenge of the Hautacam. We’ve kept the best until the end, with a short ride for the last day, but what a climax! Selected five times for the Tour de France since 1994, the stage finish at the top of the Hautacam has made the climb—which until then was only a favourite with the locals, who trained on it to prepare for the “giants”— a real star.
The Hautacam is one of those climbs which takes its toll on you because of the changes in pace which make it difficult to find the right cadence. Its most characteristic feature is the irregularity of its gradients. There are even a few downhill stretches but they’re not there to let you get your breath back, but only to cruelly underline that the rest will be even tougher; 100 downhill at 8% followed immediately by a section at 15%, isn’t that a ruse, lulling you into a false sense of security, rather than a chance for recovery?
From Lourdes to Argelès Gazost the road gives you a perfect opportunity to warm up before the bridge over the Gave de Pau which marks the beginning of the climb. We’re now at 420 m and we’re going to have to climb a little over 1100 m over the 16 kilometres of the ride to reach the col de Tramassel à 1620 m, where the road ends. The fun starts as soon as you’re over the bridge.
Between Arbouix and Artalens, the road offers not a moment’s respite, with the gradient constantly hovering above double figures, with some sections at 13%. The toughest bit is 3 kilometres from the arrival at the ski resort, a long 12% ramp with walls of up to 16%, unprotected, exposed to the elements. Heat, cold or wind can make this passage a gruelling moment which will mark your career as a climber. After the esplanade of the Hautacam ski resort car park which is used for the Tour finish, there is another 1.3 km and 100 m of height gain to finish the climb. The 360° view over the Pyrenean high mountains and the foothills below is splendid, the final reward for all the effort that has gone into your exceptional week of high altitude cycling which will remain engraved in your memory!
After a huge breakfast, the time has come, with a twinge of regret, to prepare for the journey home. Your luggage is heavier, weighed down by your collection of unforgettable climbs!
Transfer to Pau – Lourdes/Tarbes – Biarritz or Toulouse airport.