The col du tourmalet is one of the most iconic climbs in cycling. It is one of the highest paved mountain passes in Europe and is a must for every self-respecting cyclist to conquer once in their lifetime. Whether you are just looking to take in the majestic scenery or want to achieve a hit of speed and race up this road, it will be a trip that you will remember.
This famous mountain pass in the Pyrenees is not only a major road in the region but also holds a very special place in the history of the Tour de France. In fact, it was on this infamous mountain that the first high-mountain stage of the Tour was held back in 1910. This was the first time that a stage of the Tour de France went over the Tourmalet and the organisers really didn’t know what to expect. The eventual stage winner Octave Lapize shouted “you are assassins” at the race officials that were waiting on the summit of the Tourmalet.
Since then the Tour de France has visited this notorious pass more times than any other mountain pass – 87 times to be precise. It has featured in the tour since it was first introduced to the mountains in 1910 and is currently ranked as a ‘hors catégorie’ pass, which means that it is an exceptionally difficult mountain to climb. It has also been used by other bicycle races, such as the Vuelta a Espana when it has made excursions into France.
If you are planning on riding this magnificent pass, the best way to do it is by taking the western approach from Luz Saint Sauveur. This route is slightly easier than the eastern one from Bagneres-de-Luchon. However, don’t be fooled by this – both routes are extremely challenging, especially the final stretch from La Mongie which averages a gruelling 8% for over 12 km.
Once you reach the summit, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and you will also find several restaurants and parking areas on the top of this mighty pass. There is even a ski lift for the winter season.
It is well worth it to ride the descent from this colossal climb, although be careful as it is very steep and you will be racing against traffic. The road is in very good condition and the sweeping bends are fantastic to enjoy, but be sure to watch out for cows and sheep as they wander across the road.
If you are unable to make it all the way to the top of the Col du tourmalet, there is a turn-off for Cauterets which is around 10km away from the base of this climb. This is another superb climb and if you can, add it on to your trip as it will give you an extra 20km to 45 km in distance and 410m to 1,400m in elevation gain.