The Col du tourmalet is an iconic climb for road cycling in the French Pyrenees. First featured in the 1910 Tour de France race it has been a regular feature of the race over the years, and is one of the most famous mountain passes in the whole of the Pyrenees. Whether you approach the col from Sainte Marie de Campan on the east or from Luz Saint Sauveur on the west it is a tough but rewarding climb.
There is a vast ski station car park at the foot of the climb which makes it tempting to skip straight to the second half of the climb. This is a mistake, however, as the first section of the climb is more dull and less aesthetically pleasing but it is also a lot harder than you may think. The steepness of the gradient is disguised by the wide, smooth road which makes for easy riding, but if you look at your bike computer you will know that it is still a steady climb of around 4%.
This is a tough but rewarding climb and you are rewarded by a magnificent view once you reach the top. The summit is often a hub of activity with cyclists, motorcyclists and day-trippers taking in the views. There is a cafe, toilets and a shop at the top where you can purchase all manner of col du tourmalet souvenirs.
The Tour de France has been over the Col du Tourmalet a total of 87 times, which is more than any other mountain pass in the race. This makes it one of the most famous and oldest climbs in the history of the Tour, which began life as a simple race for horse riders back in 1909.
When the organisers decided to take the race over high mountain passes they were afraid of accidents and bandits but when Octave Lapize gasped for breath at the top of the Tourmalet in 1910 the race entered an entirely new era.
The Col du Tourmalet is a special place and is almost sacred to cyclists the world over. It is surrounded by ghosts of the past with a memorial to the late Jacques Goddet, who organised the race between 1936 and 1987, and a statue of Lapize gasping for air that stands proudly on the slopes.
It is a very popular climb for amateur cyclists who flock to the summit in their thousands to get their photos taken and show that they have done the climb. There is a large and well-stocked shop at the top selling all sorts of cycling memorabilia.
This is a fantastic climb and you can combine it with our great Aubisque ride to make a full tour of the Tourmalet and the stunning surroundings that surround it. This loop starts off with an easy 11km warm up along the greenway towards Lourdes before hitting the Col d’Aspin and then heading on to the Tourmalet via Sainte Marie de Campan and La Mongie.