Col du Tourmalet

The Col du Tourmalet – 2,115 m – is maybe the most famous col of the (men’s) Tour de France, but it has definitely been climbed most often.

No less than 90 times it was included in a stage in the Tour de France (incl. Femmes) and also a number of times in a Vuelta a España stage.

Lastly in 2023 both the Tour (men and women) and the Vuelta included the Tourmalet, the Vuelta and Tour de France Femmes stage finishing on its summit.

With that, five times a stage finished on its summit and three more times the (Tour stage) finish was at la Mongie.

The history of the Col du Tourmalet and the Tour de France goes back to 1910, the first time the Pyrenees where visited.

The first rider to pass the summit was Octave Lapize, who went on to win the general classification in Paris.

The statue at the summit is in his honor – after being absent for three years, it was placed back in June 2023, but it moved from its previous location on the wall towards the edge on the Luz side, which gives your photos/selfies one hell of a backdrop.

If it’s not cloudy or foggy 😎

In 1913, Eugène Christophe broke his fork close to the summit of the Tourmalet, walked down to and and repaired it himself at a forge in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, but he lost the Tour.

To commemorate this event, there’s a square in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan that’s named after Christophe and since 2014, there’s a statue of him holding a fork in the air in that square too.

In the 2010 edition of the Tour, the Col du Tourmalet was included in two consecutive stages, crossing westward on the 16th stage to Pau and eastward on the 17th stage with a finish at the summit.

Also both a men’s and a women’s Tour stage included the Tourmalet in the year of my Tour de France 2023: the men going from west to east, over the Tourmalet with a Cauterets-Cambasque finish and the women going from east to west, over the Aspin with a Tourmalet finish.

The list of “first to pass the summit” is too long, but the summit stage winners where Jean-Pierre Danguillaume (1974), Andy Schleck (2010 when Contador had his GC win stripped over the infamous “veal tenderloin” incident), Thibaut Pinot in 2015 and Vingegaard in the Vuelta of 2023, with Jumbo-Visma finishing 1-2-3.

Demi Vollering claimed the stage win in 2023, securing her Tour de France Femmes GC win.

Contrary to popular believe, the Col du Tourmalet is not the highest paved mountain road in the French Pyrenees, but it is the highest pass.

To put that into perspective: on my “Been There, Done That” list, the Tourmalet is in 45th spot taking the 4 of the 5 dead ends below that I travelled into account…

The highest paved road is the dead end Col de Portet, which is 100 m higher than the Col du Tourmalet 1 and one of the hardest climbs in all of France – only the Col de la Loze (stage 5 in the report) is considered tougher.

However, having done both myself, I admit the Portet is one hell of a climb, but the Loze is really a lot tougher.

And the paved dead end Col de Tentes is higher too, the small wooden sign at the summit reading 2,207 m.

There is also a higher paved dead end road leading to the lake Lac d’Aumar / Lac d’Aubert with an altitude listed at 2,162 m.

But that’s at the end of the descend between the lakes – the highest point at the first lake is just over 2,200 meters as well.

The nearby Lac de Cap-de-Long has its summit at 2,174 m.

On a mountain / gravel bike, you can get even higher: a fork off the summit of the Col du Tourmalet, is another dead end to the Col de Laquets with an altitude no less than 2,637 m.

However, it is not paved and for large paths it is not much more than a goat trail – I doubt you will bring that to a good end on a normal road bike.

At an average grade of over 10%, this gravel “road” seems similar to the unpaved section of the Colle delle Finestre in Italy – I did not even try it…

But – obviously – the Tourmalet itself was on the menu of my Tour de France 2023.

Luz Saint-Sauveur

From Luz Saint Sauveur, the Col du Tourmalet has two – almost identical – alternatives to get to the summit.

I climbed this end during my Tour de France 2023 and to be honest, I have no idea where I should have taken a turn to cycle the first alternative…

The climb is 18.3 kms long, at an average of 7.7% which for me is (almost) more than I can take, certainly on or at the end of a bad day…

The only advantage of this end is that it is a more even climb than the other end.

Obviously, the averages in the profile card lack the kind of detail to see the harder bits.

But it beats a card showing an irregular profile, which I like even less, let alone if there are (short) descents to be taken into account.

This is the road most traveled and the one I took as well.

As it turned out, I had a good day when I climbed it 😊

As you can see, it is eerily similar to the above climb.

It does add 600 meters to the distance, but only 2 meters to the total elevation.

The steepest 100 meter section(s) do differ: 14.1% against 11.7% but that shouldn’t wear you out more, given the overall toughness of the climb…

Sainte-Marie de Campan

Deemed slightly “easier”, this ascend of the Col du Tourmalet is 16.9 kms long at an average of 7.5%, with 12% for the steepest 100 meter section(s).

Don’t be fooled – or tricked into pushing harder – during the first irregular “easy” kilometers, as even those have 10% stretches and you’ll regret not having heeded that warning later…

I rode this end, which was close to our base camp, during my Tour de France 2023 too.

As stated above, the Luz Saint-Sauver end was “easier” for me, but that was mostly the effect of an increased drug – pain killers – intake 🤪

As I didn’t go for the Marmotte Pyrenees, I didn’t do both ends in one stage during my Tour de France 2023, but I did combine the Luz Saint-Sauveur end with Luz Ardiden.

1  The highest (paved) pass in the whole Pyrenees range, is Port d’Envalira in Andorra with an altitude of 2,407 m.

The Giant of the Tourmalet at its old spot on the summit
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