July 4, 2012

Col du Tourmalet

Col du Tourmalet
The statue in my previous post is the Geant du Tourmalet, which during the summer season stands at the Col (pass) du Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees. (In the winter it is removed from the mountain to the nearby city of Tarbes.) Le Geant depicts rider Octave Lapize, who was the first cyclist over the top in the 1910 Tour de France, and who went on to win that year, though there was not yet a yellow jersey. Then the road was dirt, steep and rough; riders were not permitted any support, even required to fix their own bikes in case of accident. Bikes of course, were heavy.  That was the first year Tourmalet was included in the TDF: it had been scouted by Alphonse Steines on foot, who became lost, spending the night out of doors. When he returned to his base, search teams were out looking for him. As for Steines, he reported the route as a good road, and perfectly feasible for cyclists. As for Lapize, he famously referred to race organizers as "assassins." 

And as for me, I am hoping that Tourmalet will be the easternmost col in my September 2012 trip. At 2115 meters (6939 feet,) from the east it is about a 1400 km climb, over 18.2 km, with a 13% final ramp.  I didn't try it last September. Though I was nearby my goal was to reach the Mediterranean, sampling some of the famous climbs along the way, before turning eastward into the Corbieres. That left me wanting more time in the Pyrenees.

Ocatave Lapize
There are at least 20 cols, many included in the challenging Raid Pyrenees, (a classic cycling route from the Atlantic to Mediterranean) between my planned start in St. Jean de Luz, on the Mediterranean, and Tourmalet. Col de St. Ignace (169m) near the Atlantic is one of the first. Many are near or on the Spanish border including Col d'Arnosteguy and Col d' Orgambide. Michelin maps show the roads to those cols as tiny, winding and steep.  Some are, for my English-speaking tongue, a mouthful:  Col de Burdincurutcheta at 1135m promises grades of 10, 12, 10, 11 and finally 7 percent. Nearby Col de Bagargui is higher at 1327m. Skipping along, there is Col de la Pierre St. Martin at 1760m, Col de Marie-Blanque (which I rode last year, from the western, easier side) Col d'Aubisque and Col du Soulor (last year I rode it from the north.)

The climb up to Tourmalet.
All of this extraordinary cycling is some of the most beautiful, mountainous countryside in France. The Pyrenees run roughly east to west from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, with the border to Spain along or near the ridgelines. Perhaps I'll venture some into Spain. Certainly I'll have time to explore back roads, riding side trips unloaded, without panniers, since my plan is to spend two, three or perhaps four nights in towns and villages along the way. It will be a different kind of a trip, this year spending more time exploring places, towns, mountains and valleys along the way. It promises to be a leisurely and challenging tour, with plenty of time to explore.

Fast, ambitious, strong amateur racers will cover some of the same territory in one day during the second Etape de Tour. These two etapes are one day races that follow the exact course of a stage of the TDF. This year they will use the route for Stage 11 in the Alps and Stage 16 in the Pyrenees. The second of these Etapes will ride Col d'Aubisque, du Soulor, du Tourmalet and more. In one day.

And as far as my training goes, I don't remember my legs being this sore for at least …. Well, I won't tell you how long, let's leave it at the now-classic descriptor "more than 20 years" since my backpacking days in the Rockies and Sierra. Sore is a good thing, it leads to stronger. And stronger should lead to more effective climbing. It also means that I am actually riding less than previously, fewer miles and fewer days, following advice to pay more attention to recovery days. Soon I'll reintroduce long rides.

Following are some resources to find more on Tourmalet, which has appeared in the TDF 75 times, itself:

There are two official sites for the Etapes. Etape du Tour 2 (Pyrenees)  and Etape du Tour 1 (Alps.)

Gerry Patterson is riding both Etapes this year. Visit his blog, Mr. Patterson Goes to Languedoc for stories and info. 

Le Geant du Tourmalet: Paddy Sweeney's blog for fun photos of moving the statue off Tourmalet to Tarbes.

PyrActif has practical, hands on, useful info. Go here for the cols listing

For Tourmalet, TDF, Pyrenees cycling: Pedal Dancer. Karen will be back in France for this year'sTDF.

And a final note on KM vs Miles, and Meters vs Feet. One km = .62 miles. One meter = 39.37 inches. You can do the arithmetic  as well as I can, so I leave the info in the metric system.


  1. Excellent and informative post, Suze. I like your plan more and more, even though I've never been able to plan and execute a trip like that yet (one that doesn't furiously go from A to B). Happy training and don't forget to rest!

    1. Hey Gerry,
      Thanks! I don't go anywhere fast and furious, but it will be different not having a distance goal and timetable. The little roads are so beautiful and such good cycling I think it will be fun. And there's more than enough climbing available to keep me very challenged!

      As for resting, my legs are so sore after some of these rides, the only option feels like resting..

      Have a fabulous race ... will be rooting for you!

  2. Ditto to the first comment and WOW! to the pictures. Now that is a goal worthy of training. What a grand adventure awaits.

    1. Thanks! The pictures are picked up from the web, I hope that's the word, not stolen. They seemed to be in public domain.

      By the way, I'm keeping my eye out for the guy in the seersucker suit whizzing by me!

  3. Seersucker suits I have not. Can't be there. Just wish you good courage.

    1. Merci, Mon. Gcharnamit.

      You don't need seersucker suits, and you know I wish you could be there ... hmm, maybe not on this particular climb. Also, thank you for adding your voice and presence to my little blog ... and sending me bon courage!

  4. Hi Suze great post and good to see a nice write up on the Tourmalet. We have just opened a bike rental store in Luz st Sauveur on the slopes of the Tourmalet. Ardiden Velos opposite the tourist office do call in and see us when you are over for the Tour.
    Niki Collins

    1. Hi Niki,

      I'm travelling with my bike, so won't need a rental, but will stop by and say hello. Enjoy the summer in your so-incredibly-beautiful part of the world. You'll have the TDF there before too long, wish I could be there twice this year!



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