The Col du Tourmalet – 2,115 m – is maybe the most famous col of the Tour de France, but it has definitely been climbed most often.
No less than 88 times – lastly in 2021 – it was included in a stage; three times the stage finished on its summit and three more times the finsih was at la Mongie.
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.
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.
The Portet is less famous than it’s twin/fork to Pla d’Adet, which has been the finish of a Tour stage more often.
There are also higher paved roads leading to the lakes Lac de Cap-de-Long and Lac d’Aumar at altitudes of 2,161 m and 2,192 m respectively.
On a bike, you can get even higher: a fork off the Col du Tourmalet, is another dead end road to the Col de Laquets with an altitude of 2,637 m.
However, this road is not paved; at an average grade of over 10%, this gravel road is similar to the unpaved section of the Colle delle Finestre in Italy.
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. In 1913, Eugène Christophe broke his fork on the Tourmalet and repaired it himself at a forge in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan.
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.
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) and Thibaut Pinot in 2015.
From Luz Saint Sauveur, the Col du Tourmalet has two – almost identical – alternatives to get to the summit.
This is the road most travelled.
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 is that it is an even climb. Obviously, the averages in the profile card lack the kind of detail to access 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.
As you can see, the alternative via Super Barèges is eerily similar to the “standard” 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 ascent 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).
I don’t think I will do both ends in one stage, but rather do this end from our apartment and the other end in a stage from Argelès-Gazost.
1 The highest (paved) pass in the whole Pyrenees range, is Port d’Envalira in Andorra with an altitude of 2,407 m.