The col du tourmalet is one of the iconic mountain passes that makes up the Pyrenees. Along with the likes of Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux and Galibier it has become inextricably linked to the Tour de France and there isn’t a fan of the sport who doesn’t know of its history and mythology.
The Tour de France first crossed the Col du Tourmalet in 1910 when it was still little more than a rough track and since then many hopes and aspirations of winning the race have been made and lost on the steep ascent. The climb is also a magnificent sight to behold, with seemingly endless green mountains looming up from the sides of the road and if you’re lucky enough to have a clear day you can be rewarded with stunning views in all directions.
This famous climb is a fantastic challenge but one that is definitely within the realms of most riders. The gradient is steady but never too steep and there are a few respites, most notably the village of Bareges which provides you with an opportunity to rest your legs and replenish your energy levels. You will also see the classic kilometre marker signs which tell you how far it is to the top and these can be helpful in keeping your motivation up when your legs start to feel the strain!
Once you reach the summit of the climb you will be rewarded with the most spectacular views you can imagine and this is what really makes the Col du Tourmalet so special. You’ll be able to look back and appreciate the hard work that got you here and also look forward to the exciting descent that lies ahead. It’s also worth taking a moment to visit the impressive iron statue known as ‘Le Geant’ which some people believe is an homage to 1910 rider Octave Lapize while others think it’s more of a tribute to all the cyclists who have cycled up this notorious mountain. The statue is installed every year at the beginning of June as part of an event called Montee du Tourmalet and is removed in early October for safe-keeping over winter.
The Tourmalet is a superbly memorable mountain pass but it is also the gateway to many other fabulous hill climbs and the village of Luz Saint Sauveur at the foot of the western approach has plenty of places where you can stop for food or a drink. It’s also very close to the ski stations of Luz Ardiden and Hautacam. There are also some lovely hotels at the bottom of the western side of the col which are worth considering as they offer a very convenient base for exploring this beautiful part of the French Pyrenees. You can also easily combine the climb with a trip up the Pic du Midi and the town of Arreau. This is a magnificent area to explore and there is something for everyone here, whether you’re a cycling enthusiast or just interested in the natural beauty that this region has to offer. col du tourmalet