The Col du Tourmalet, featuring 77 times in le Tour so far (more than any other climb), is the highest mountain pass in the central Pyrénées. For anybody cycling in high mountains for the first time it can be hard to believe a climb can go on for so long at such a gradient, but the Col du Tourmalet is far from alone. Some of the most famous cols and summit finishes in Tour de France history and located in the Hautes-Pyrénées are:
Port de Bales (1755m)
Luz Ardiden (1715m)
Col d'Aubisque (1709m)
Pla d'Adet (1700m)
Col de Val Louron Azet (1580m)
Col de Peyresourde (1569m)
Horquette d'Ancizan (1564m)
Col d'Aspin (1469m)
Col du Soulor (1474m)
Col de Spandelles (1378m)
Col du Couraduque (1367m)
Col du Portillon (1293m)
Col de la Croix Blanche (830m)
Other Big Climbs
Col de Tentes (2207m)
Lac de Cap de Long (2175m)
Cirque du Troumouse (2100m)
Pont d'Espagne (1485m)
Col de Beyrede (1417m)
When to go
Where to find info / routes / itineraries
Details of the climbs that we tackled, where we started and some recommended books are given in the rest of this post.
Hautes-Pyrénées Climbs we tackled in 2014
1. Col du Tourmalet (2115m) from Luz St. Saveur
The most popular climb in the Tour de France is tough from either side. We approached from Luz St Saveur, a 19km climb rising more than 1400m at an average of 7.4% with some sections exceeding 10%. Riding over the painted names of some of the world most talented and famous riders is motivating enough, but the scenery is stunning as well.
The ascent from the north from Mauleon-Barousse is the steeper of the 2 sides, climbing 1185m over 19km averaging 6.3% but with some sections at more than 11% it's easy to see why this is a hors categorie climb. With most of the route winding through trees it doesn't have the sweeping views of some of the other climbs in the region, but the flattened col at the top provides a great view over the high mountains.
3. Station Luz Ardiden (1715m) from Luz St Saveur
The summit finish at Luz Ardiden has seen some of the biggest showdowns in recent Tour de France history, featuring 8 times since 1985. We started a little a couple of kilometres in from our camping in Sazos, but the complete climb from Luz St Saveur is 14.7 km long, ascending 1010 m at an average of 6.9%. The maximum gradient is 10%
4. Col d'Aspin (1469m) from Arreau
Arguably the most famous name in the region, the ascent from Arreau in Vallée d'Aure is the more difficult side at 12km and rising 779m at 6.5% average. However, the first 2km are almost flat meaning the final 10km are closer to 8%. It has been used in the Tour de France 71 times since first appearing in 1910, where it features as a Category 1 climb often linking the Col de Peyresourde and the Col du Tourmalet. We tackled this one from Arreau in the late afternoon sunshine, sweating against magical hazy views of the distant mountains.
5. Col de Peyresourde from Arreau (1569m)
Featuring 47 times in the Tour de France since 1910, this category 1 climb is longest when tackled from Bagneres de Luchon to the east. However, from Armenteule in the Vallée de Louron which extends off from Vallée d'Aure, the 8.3km at 7.6% average gradient are still challenging with several sharp switchbacks combined with a dragging 2km at the top. The view from the col, looking both east and west is fantastic. We tackled this climb as part of a loop from Arreau that also included the Col de Val Louron-Azet.
6. Col de Val Louron-Azet from Arreau (1580m)
Short and steep are 2 words that describe this climb. Starting at Genos, just outside of Loudenville, from the Vallée de Louron side the climb is just 7.4km long, but with an average of 8.3%. The steepest sections exceed 13%! Not used in the Tour de France until 1997, it has since featured 6 times including in 2013 and 2014. We tackled this climb straight after the Col de Peyresourde as part of a loop from Arreau and the views from the col was, in our opinion, the best in the area with 2 dramatic valleys and countless peaks on the horizon.
7. Pla d'Adet (1700m) from Saint-Lary-Soulan
Starting in Vignec just outside of St Lary Soulan the climb to Pla d'Adet is a popular summit finish for the Tour de France featuring 10 times since it appeared in 1974, most recently in 2014. The road rises 861m over 10.7km at an average of 8%. But the average hides the fact that it is the opening 5km that really punish riders with many sections of 12%. We did this climb from Saint-Lary-Soulan on a baking afternoon and found it punishing, although the views over the valley below are postcard beautiful.
8. Horquette d'Ancizan (1564m) from Arreau
Featured twice in the Tour de France, in 2011 and 2013 the Horquette d'Ancizan lies a little to the south of the Col d'Aspin. The climb from Ancizan in the Val d'Aure is tough, with a rise of 803m over 10.3km at 7.8% average, although some sections exceed 12%. We actually reached this col from the other side, having crossed the Col de Beyrede, as part of a loop from Arreau, and descending to Espiadet (1080m) before passing Lac de Payolle and approaching the col from the west. This made it a shorter climb, at just 8.6km and 2.6% average, although that hides the fact tht 4km front the top you descend almost 100m and have to reclimb it over a final, harder 3km approach.
9. Col du Portillon (1293m) from Bagneres-de-LuchonClimbing out of the town of Bagneres-de-Luchon, this climb is just outside of the Hautes-Pyrenees, but worth a mention as it's short but steep ascent takes you right to the border with Spain. At just 10.2km with at an average gradient of 6.5% it is one of the easier climbs in the area.
10. Col de Tentes (2207m) from Gavarnie (or Luz St Saveur)
Taking on the ascent to Col de Tentes from Luz St Saveur is a 30km ascent at an average of 5%, climbing 1497m making it one of the biggest ascents in the area. However, we tackled this climb from Gavarnie (1375m) which, although still very tough, makes it a more manageable 800m ascent over around 9-10km (there are no waymarkers to provide a more accurate measure on the road). If you're really keen you can take a stroll from the col to Pic de Tentes (2322m) to get an amazing view over some of the Pyrenees highest peaks nearby.
11. Col de Beyrede (1417m) from Arreau
Just north of the Arreau, this tough climb begins from Sarrancolin with a shockingly steep opening kilometre. This settles down quickly and the first half of the climb is relatively gentle allowing a good pedaling rhythm, when suddenly the road kicks up with several back to back sections well over 10%. The roads are narrow, with several farms and plenty of cow evidence, making this feel like a much less sanitised road than some of the more well known climbs. The gradient flattens again near the top to a gentle col, although the descent to the main road is poorly surfaced in places. The road you join leads back up to Col d'Aspin from the west, but we continued on to Horquette d'Ancizan instead.
12. Lac Cap de Long (2175m) from Aragnouet-Fabien
Despite not being used in the Tour de France, the climb to Lac Cap De Long, a mountain reservoir ringed by rocky summits of the Parc National des Pyrénées, is definitely the hardest climb in this list. At almost 24km long the climb begins gently for several kilometres but starts ramping up with most sections near the top in between 7-11%. Fortunately much of the climb is kept cooler by trees in the valley, although descending over 1300m continuously on a chilly evening was tough. We parked our motorhome in the car park at Le Pont du Moudang, near Argnouet-Fabian, to begin this climb, although it would be possible to start the ride from Saint-Lary-Soulan as well.
Other Related Posts:
7 Spectacular Cycling Climbs From Vallée d'Aure, Hautes-Pyrénées - Arreau & Saint-Lary-Soulan
Tackling 4 Amazing Cycling Climbs in the Ariege-Pyrénées, France - and 4 for the Future!
See All Our Cycling Climbs in the Pyrenees
Hiking in the Hautes-Pyrénées & the Pyrénées National Park - Gavarnie & Cauterets