[ blog » 2023 » 09_South-West ]d07: Col du Tourmalet (by Philipp Gesang, location: A campsite in Cheze)

Un triptyque Pyreneen

First surprising discovery of this trip: it actually is possible for a mere human to do the Col de Peyresourde, the Col d’Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet in one day. It just takes a while.

On day seven of this bike tour I seem to have overcome the usual first week form issues so when I rolled out of Bagnères-de-Luchon to take on the Peyrsourde I felt great all the way to the pass. It’s a bit of an underwhelming experience however scenery wise. I guess after the Aigoual I’m just spoiled by hours of amazing canyon views and the wonders of alpine tundra vegetation. Of which the Peyresourde has neither; just some grass covered mountain peaks and a long, tapered valley. Even the view from the highest point sucks as it’s obstructed from north and south so all one gets after an hour and a half of grinding uphill is a very narrow valley view. At least for the last two kilometers I had the company of two tourers from the Basque country who caught up to me.

The Aspin again is the complete opposite of the Peyresourde: winding switchbacks, tree cover providing shade from the sun, stunning views over valleys branching in all directions, and a rather easy gradient. In short, an absolute marvel of a pass road. Motorcyclists seem to prefer it as well, there must have been hundreds of them. Just before the pass I once more got caught by the two Basque guys. Them and a couple French cyclists I had a chat with at the summit sign were asking if I’d do the Tourmalet as well today and, going with my original plan, I kept responding that I wasn’t crazy.

During the downhill to Sainte-Marie de Campan it dawned on me that maybe it wasn’t that crazy as suggestion after all ...


It was only 3:30 p. m. when I arrived at the bottom of the descent so I just went for it.

The ascent from the east qualifies as hard. Actually with a nine percent average gradient for a whopping twelve kilometers it was the second hardest climb I did so far on this trip; only the Finestre compares.

The afternoon sun had mostly retreated behind the Pic du Midi de Bigorre and the lower slopes of the mountain are covered in a thick forest so I wasn’t as exposed to the sun as on the two previous climbs. No annyoing outside influences, it was purely man versus mountain. And that mountain was relentless. At 1700 m a Carrefour supermarket – I kid you not! – at Mongie brightened my mood with chilled Orangina. I must have drunk at least a liter of the stuff over the course of the whole day; but it works and the 10 percent of sugar a as much a boon to cyclists as they are a poison for kids.

At the top a few cyclists were already hanging out. No surprise, the view is fantastic from up there, an adequate reward for two and a half tough hours on two wheels. The descent was rather interesting due to dozens of campervans that are already parked there in expectation of the Vuelta a España stage that will finish up there the day after tomorrow. Imagine camping out two days above 1500 m altitude to watch a bike race!

Since the Barèges ascent is the "easy" side with far less steep gradients so I could enjoy the downhill for a while, but luckily I still arrived in Luz before the supermarket and campsites shut down. The timing was absolutely on point today.

155 km distance with 3340 m of altitude gain – a new personal record beating the Trollstigen-Dalsnibba ride from last year; and that ride was only five kilometers longer.

gps tracks

[view GPS data in mapbox]


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