The Tourmalet is one of the most famous mountain routes in cycling – and not just because it’s regularly included in the Tour de France. When it first featured in the Tour in 1910 the organisers weren’t sure if it would work out, predicting bandits, accidents and even bear attacks – but it did! Octave Lapize won that first high-mountain stage and famously shouted “you are assassins” at Tour officials at the top, encapsulating the spirit of the Tourmalet.
The pass can be climbed from either the east from Campan/Sante-Marie de Campan or the west from Luz Saint-Sauveaur and is the highest paved road in the Pyrenees, rising to 2260m on both sides. The eastern route is slightly shorter but more difficult with a steeper gradient of 7.4 per cent. The western side is easier but more exposed.
Either way the climb is an awe-inspiring experience and it’s definitely worth making time for. You’ll get fantastic views of the mountains around you as well as some beautiful little villages on your way to the top. The climb can be busy as it’s a popular road with cyclists and motorists, but with some planning it shouldn’t be too bad. The first part of the climb is a wide, tree-lined track which makes for pleasant climbing in the shade. Once the trees disappear you’ll find yourself on a more narrow, gravel path that’s often very winding.
You’ll also need to watch out for cattle and livestock on this section of the route. They tend to wander out onto the road and can be a bit unpredictable. It’s best to leave plenty of space between you and them. If you do encounter them, don’t try to provoke them; cows have big horns and have been known to attack cyclists.
Once you reach the col itself the road is fairly steep, but there are some lovely descents on the other side. The col is a pretty impressive sight, with huge rock faces and some steep gradients. It’s definitely an epic way to finish a great day of cycling.
There are some basic cafes on both the Col d’Aspin and the Col de La Mongie side of the climb, as well as at the summit in Luz Saint-Sauveur. The summit of the Tourmalet is crowned by an enormous statue called Le Geant, or The Giant. It’s thought to be a tribute to the 1910 Tour winner Octave Lapize although some believe it’s more of a general homage to the great riders who have tackled the mountain.
The Tourmalet is a classic climb that’s perfect for those who are looking to get a taste of the big mountains in Europe. It’s an awe-inspiring, challenging and rewarding climb that should be on every cyclist’s bucket list. col du tourmalet