4 Amazing Cycling Climbs in the Ariege-Pyrénées, France - and 4 for the Future!

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Wednesday 11 February 2015

4 Amazing Cycling Climbs in the Ariege-Pyrénées, France - and 4 for the Future!

Although we expected the Hautes-Pyrénées lying to the west of the Ariege to be a spectacular and historic place to cycle, we were surprised to find that we enjoyed the Ariege Pyrénées just as much, discovering a wealth of challenging rides and Tour de France cols in the area. As the mountains in this part of France get higher and higher the closer you get to the border with Spain, the road cols also rise up higher and steeper too. Beneath clear blue skies and surrounded by rocky mountain peaks, cycling in the Ariege is a breathtaking and memorable experience.

1. Plateau de Beille (1790m) from Les Cabannes
Starting at just 535m and rising over 1255m to the end of the road at 1790m, this 15.8km ascent averages a lung busting 7.9%, with some sections at 11%. This hors categorie climb has been used as a Tour de France summit finish 5 times since 1998 and will feature again in the 2015 edition. We tackled this hard ascent late on a November afternoon, with the sun shining and some snow on the road near the top. The descent was freezing, but view over the high Pyrenees was well worth it.

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2. Col de Pailheres (2001m) from Ax-les-Thermes
From Ax-les-Thermes this is a 18.9km ascent with an average gradient of 6.9%, rising from 720m to 2001m at the top (from the other side it is even harder, with an average gradient of 8.1% over 14.9km). From Ax-les-Thermes the gradient is fairly continuous, apart from a few flatter sections in the middle and several sections of 10% plus near the summit. It was first used in the Tour de France in 2003 and has since featured a total of 5 times. Although the lower slopes wind up the valley, the top sections are a series of steep switchbacks that open up awesome views into the heart of the surrounding mountains.

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3. Port de Lers (1517m) from Tarascon-sur-Ariege
Starting from Vicdessos this climb is 11.5 km long, rising 807 m at an average of 7%. The steepest section is 10.9%. Since first appearing in 1995 this col has featured 4 times in the Tour de France. Although much easier than the two climbs above, it is possible to extend this ride to take in the higher, steeper Col d'Agnes. We chose to turn back at the Port de Lers, having taken a longish ride on  a very chilly day using our hybrids from Tarascon-sur-Ariege.

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4. Col de Port (1249m) from Tarascon-sur-Ariege
The Col de Port is a relatively small and straightforward mountain pass in comparison to some of the surrounding hills. However, as part of a longer ride or warm up it is ideal with an average gradient of 4.6% over the 17km ascent. The steepest section is 9.8%. The Tour de France first crossed the Col de Port in 1910 and since 1947 has crossed it a further 10 times.

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4 Other Climbs in the Ariege-Pyrenees
There were many other cycling climbs - cols and ski station finishes - to tackle in this area and we will definitely be returning (hopefully this time with our road bikes). We felt lucky to have been able to tackle the four listed above in late November thanks to the unseasonably warm weather (although on some descents we felt we were pushing it a bit too far!).  Below are just a few of the climbs we saw marked out during our visit to the Ariege-Pyrenees and that we have marked on our map for future visits.

Col du Chioula 1450m from Ax-les-Thermes
We originally set out to ride up this climb on the day we rode up the Col de Pailheres. Both climbs start on the same stretch uphill road (D613) out of Ax-les-Thermes but after about 3km the road splits and we set off towards Col de Pailheres on the D25.  The Col du Chioula continues on the D613 and is a shorter climb ascending 720m over 10km. The start board indicated 6.1% average gradient with the maximum gradient being 8.5%.

Ax 3 Domaines (1375m) from Ax-les-Thermes
Another climb starting from Ax-les-Thermes to ski station Ax 3 Domaines, this time ascending the western side of the valley.  A relatively short climb of only 7.8km we could see from across the valley as we were on our way to Col de Pailheres that this climbed steeply out the town with many switchbacks.  The boards indicated a 8.6% average gradient.  It has been used as a Tour de France finish 5 times since 2001, the last being in 2013 when Chris Froome won the stage, taking the yellow jersey.

Col du Pradel (1673m) from Ax-les-Thermes
Once again this climb was signed from Ax-les-Thermes and started along the D613 and also turned off on the D25 as we made our way to Col de Pailheres.  Approximately 7km after leaving the town the road split once again just after passing the reservoir at La Forge.  The D25B continues climbing to Col du Pradel.  This climb is 14.4km from Ax-les-Thermes with an average gradient of 6.6% but with the maximum gradient being 11.3%.

Col d'Agnes (1570m) from Tarascon-sur-Ariege
As we passed through Vicdessos on our way to Port de Lers from Tarascon-sur-Ariege we were considering continuing to Col d'Agnes.  After a descending from the Port de Lers at 1517m on the D18, the road splits after 4km and the D8F starts to climb up once again towards the Col d'Agnes.  On this occasion it was a little to cold for us continue further than the Port de Lers. More frequently though this climb is started in Massat or Aulus-les-Bains. Since 1988 it has made 5 Tour de France appearances.

Other Related Posts:

7 Activities To Do Whilst Staying in Tarascon-sur-Ariege - Visiting the Ariege-Pyrénées

Road Cycling in the Hautes-Pyrénées - The Most Famous & Difficult Climbs of the Tour de France

7 Spectacular Cycling Climbs From Vallée d'Aure, Hautes-Pyrénées - Arreau & Saint-Lary-Soulan

See All Our Cycling Climbs in the Pyrenees

3 Big Hikes in the High Mountains of the Ariege-Pyrénées, France

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