Col du Tourmalet is a Cat HC climb in Hautes Pyrenees. The summit is 2115 meters altitude. The road D918 connects the VallÃ©es des Gaves to the west with VallÃ©e de Campan to the east. ItÂ is the most used climb in the Tour de France. 2018 will be the 86th time it has been used, including 2 stage finishes at the summit in 1974 and 2010 and 3 at La Mongie.
Meaning of the name
The name “Col du Tourmalet” is often wrongly translated into English as “Bad Detour”. From French, it would kinda mean that, but it is from the Gascon language and not French. French only became the dominant language in the PyrenÃ©es in the first half of the 20th century. Tur (pronounced Tour) is the Gascon word for “Distance” and mal is the Gascon word for “Mountain”. Its literal translation would be “Distance Mountain” which sounds very awkward in English. I would translate it as Long Mountain. There is also the fact that it was not a detour but rather the main road into the Pays Toy (valley of Luz Saint Saveur). Before the road D921 was built through the Gorge de Luz in the mid-nineteenth century, the road across the Tourmalet such as it was, was the only one. The Gorge de Luz was an impassable wilderness and only a high altitude track from Soulom or Cauterets or across the Spanish border would take you into the valley. The name “Pays Toy” comes from French “Pays” meaning country and Gascon “Toi” meaning small. “Toi” was a nickname given to the mountain people by the inhabitants of the plains to the north, i.e. country of the small people.
Col du Tourmalet - West
From Soulom on the western side, you have 12km through Gorge de Luz on D921, at an average of 3% to Luz Saint Sauveur, from where the climb officially starts. The road through the gorge can be very busy at times. If riding in a group, single-file is advised.
From Luz, it is 19 km to the summit at 7.5%, to an altitude of 2115m on road D918. As you leave the town you will see the 18km board as the road ramps up to 8%+. The climb to Col du Tourmalet is characterised by long straight stretches of road climbing at 8%. There are a few steeper sections and also less steep sections down to 5%. Overall the gradient does not change very much and the difficulty of the climb is its length and altitude. As with all high altitude areas, the weather can be unpredictable and extreme. There are a couple of hairpins before the village of BarÃ©ges, these afford you a spectacular view back down the valley to Luz and across to the Ardiden Massif, the location of another Tour de France classic, Luz Ardiden.
BarÃ©ges is a small tourist town hemmed in between two mountains. It is popular with hikers in summer and skiers in winter, it is rather uneventful and easily forgotten. There is a water pump on the left-hand side as you start up the main street and a fountain and tap towards the top opposite the thermal spa. BarÃ©ges also has a small grocery store and several cafes. With 12km to the summit, you won’t want to stop here. Caution: If descending through Bareges there is a one-way system, you need to turn right at the spa just past the army barracks.
Out of Bareges the road ramps up to 13% and remains steep for 1.5km before the easiest section of the climb leading to the large car park at Tournaboup ski station. Grand Tourmalet is the largest ski resort in the Pyrenees and Tournaboup is where the lifts start on the western side.
After TournaboupÂ the gradient rises again and remains steep for the whole 8km to the summit. The summit will be visible for the remainder of the climb. The site of the road cut through the enormous cliff face is truly daunting for the first time climber. In the afternoon sun in July and August, it is hellish. It’s not unusual to see people doing the walk of shame, head down pushing their bike. At 1750m altitude with 4km to go, you will pass the Super-BarÃ©ges ski station. There follows the most challenging part of the climb with a large drop in oxygen at 1800m the climb takes on a life of its own, a torturous existence where even the fittest of cyclists struggle with the every rising gradient.
As you pass the 1km to go sign the cafe at the summit can be seen to your left if you can raise your head to the impossible angle required to look up. How can it be so high up? There is only 1km to go and it seems like 7% or 8%. Finally, with 300m to go, you will round the last hairpin bend and all is revealed. The remainder is 13% to the summit. The view back down the valley you have ridden up is awesome!
Col du Tourmalet - East
From Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, the climb isÂ 16.5 km at 7.5% on road D918. The first 4.5kmsÂ are nothing before it kicks up to over 8% for the remaining 12kms. How true it is I don’t know, but it is said that this 12km is unmatched by any other climb in France for consistent steepness over that distance. There are a few hairpins but mostly it is long straight sections of road. The road is well shaded until 7 km to go when it opens up to the high mountain pasture land. At 7km from the summit, there is a memorial to Eugene Christophe at the spot where his forks broke in 1913. 6km to go, riding through the avalanche shelters is the most difficult bit.
At 5km to go the ski town of La Mongie, unfortunately, looms into view. A collect of soviet style apartment blocks murders the landscape of what would be a green and pleasant valley. Nobody wishes for bad weather and low cloud or fog. In La Mongie it would be a blessing toÂ shroud the ghastly monstrosities. Sheep, cattle, horses, donkeys and lama are usually to be seen wandering the streets, which give the whole place an air of preposterousness, a cross between 1984 and Alice in Wonderland. The name La Mongie is a reference to the early Christian monks who used the valley as a hermitage. There is no solus to be had now. On a positive note, it has several cafes.
After La Mongie the gradient eases but remains challenging all the way to the summit. It is not as psychologically gruelling as the other side, rather than the sheer rock face there are green pastures. The last kilometre is long and straight before an almost hidden turn to the left and the summit magically appears.
Col du Tourmalet - Summit
At the summit, there is a cafÃ© and souvenir shop. The cafe is well worth a visit to see the bikes hanging on the wall and some old photos of the col and Tour de France in days gone by. Apart from that, avoid the cafe, very expensive and not very good. From the summit there is a further 5.5km at 9.4% to Col du Laquettes at an altitude of 2636m, most of the time this is suitable for mountain bike only, but some years it is repaired and can be ridden on a road bike. From here you can climb by foot to the observatory on the summit of the Pic de Midi, it is just over 2800m. The view is breathtaking, on a clear day you can see 20% of France. If you’re lazy or at least not crazy, you could take your bike up in the cable car from La Mongie and ride down, mountain bike advised. It was from Pic du Midi that the surface of the moon was first mapped in the 1960’s.
There are 2 memorials and a sculpture at the summit. One is a plaque toÂ Jean-Paul Raoul, who is credited as the creator of the road to Pic du Midi.Â One is a bust of Tour de France director Jacques Goddet. The sculpture is called “GÃ©ant au Col du Tourmalet”.
GÃ©ant au Col du Tourmalet
GÃ©ant au Col du TourmaletÂ is an iron sculpture first erected in 2000. It was created by the artistÂ Jean-Bernard MÃ©tais, as part ofÂ the Tour de France sculpture on the A64 autoroute between Tarbes and Pau. This sculpture features 8 cyclists, Le GÃ©ant is the 9th person of the work. Le GÃ©antÂ is installed at the summit on the first Saturday of June each summer. It is a great occasion known as “MontÃ©e du GÃ©ant” – “Rise of the Giant” and attracts approx 1000 cyclists, who ride up the mountain with Le GÃ©ant. Le GÃ©ant travels on the back of a truck, accompanied by a brass band. There is a celebrity cyclist each year, with Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain among those who have honoured the Giant with their effort. Le Geant is removed at the beginning of October each year for safekeeping from the harsh winter. It is mostly on display in Bagneres de Bigorre, but has spent a couple of winters in Tarbes.
There is a misconception doing the rounds in the last few years that it is a statue to honour Octave Lapize, who was the first Tour de France rider to cross Col du Tourmalet in 1910. It’s not. This seems to have arisen after a plaque commemorating the first crossing by Le Tour and Lapize was erected on the wall under Le GÃ©ant in 2010. The real purpose is “Le GÃ©ant du Tourmalet est l’hommage des Hautes PyrÃ©nÃ©es aux GÃ©ants de la route”, ” The Giant of the Tourmalet is the homage of Hautes Pyrenees to the Giants of the road”. Interpret that as you wish. The giants of the road could be the riders of Le Tour de France or it could be all the riders who cycle up Col du Tourmalet each year. I prefer the latter. An honour for every cyclist who makes it to the top.
Tour de France
The Tour de France first entered the high mountains in 1910 with Col du Tourmalet as the first HC climb on an epic 326km stage from Luchon to Bayonne, The Circle of Death. The many stories and legends that have emerged since are too many to relate here, I will return to them in other posts. 2018 will be the 86th time the Tourmalet has been used by Le Tour.
This list is of the first rider over the summit on each stage.
|2021 – Pierre Latour
2018 – Julian Alaphilippe – France
2016 – Thibaut Pinot – France
2015Â – Rafal Makja – Poland
2014 – Blel Kadri – France
2012 – Thomas Voeckler – France
2011 JÃ©rÃ©my Roy France
2010 Andy Schleck LuxembourgÂ (Stage Finish)
2010 Christophe Moreau France
2009 Franco Pelizzotti Italy
2008 RÃ©my Di Gregorio France
2006 David de la Fuente Spain
2003 Sylvain Chavanel France
2002 Lance Armstrong U.S.A. (La Mongie)
2001 Sven Montgomery Switzerland
1999 Alberto Elli Italy
1998 Alberto Elli Italy
1997 Javier Pascual-Rodriguez Spain
1995 Richard Virenque France
1994 Richard Virenque France
1993 Tony Rominger Switzerland
1991 Claudio Chiappucci Italy
|1990 Miguel Martinez-Torres Spain
1989 Robert Millar Scotland
1988 Laudelino Cubino Spain
1986 Dominique Arnaud France
1985 Pello Ruiz-Cabestany Spain
1983 Patrocinio Jimenez Columbia
1980 Raymond Martin France
1978 Michel Pollentier Belgium
1977 Lucien Van Impe Belgium
1976 Francisco Galdos Spain
1975 Lucien Van Impe Belgium
1974-2 Gonzalo Aja Spain
1974-1 Jean-Pierre Danguillaume (Stage Finish)
1973 Bernard ThÃ©vÃ©net France
1972 Roger Swerts Belgium
1971 Lucien Van Impe Belgium
1970-2 Andres Gandarias Spain
1970-1 Bernard ThÃ©venet France (La Mongie)
1969 Eddy Merckx Belgium
1968 Jean-Pierre Ducasse France
1967 Julio Jimenez Spain
1965 Julio Jimenez Spain
|1964 Julio Jimenez Spain
1964 F Bahamontes Spain
1963 F Bahamontes Spain
1963 Raymond Poulidor France
1962 Federico Bahamontes Spain
1961 Marcel Queheille France
1960 Kurt Gimmi Switzerland
1959 Armand Desmet Belgium
1957 JosÃ© Da Silva Portugal
1955 Miguel Poblet Spain
1954 Federico Bahamontes Spain
1953 Jean Robic France
1952 Fausto Coppi Italy
1951 Bim Diederich Luxembourg
1950 KlÃ©ber Piot France
1949 Fausto Coppi Italy
1948 Jean Robic France
1947 Jean Robic France
1939 Edward Vissers Belgium
1938 Gino Bartali Italy
1937 Julian Berrendero Spain
1936 SylvÃ¨re Maes Belgium
|1935 SylvÃ¨re Maes Belgium
1934 RenÃ© Vietto France
1933 Vicente Trueba Spain
1932 Benoit Faure Belgium
1931 Joseph Demuysere Belgium
1930 Benoit Faure France
1929 Victor Fontan France
1928 Camille Van de Casteele Belgium
1927 Nicolas Frantz Luxembourg
1926 Odiel Taillieu Belgium
1925 Omer Huyse Belgium
1924 Ottavio Bottecchia Italy
1923 Robert Jacquinot France
1921 Hector Heusghem Belgium
1920 Firmin Lambot Belgium
1919 HonorÃ© BarthÃ©lÃ©my France
1914 Firmin Lambot Belgium
1913 Philippe Thys Belgium
1912 Odiel Defraye Belgium
1911 Paul Duboc France
1910 Octave Lapize France
Brilliant page and fantastic photos. I’m doing Tourmalet and Hautacam in August.
Hallo, im Juni zum dritten mal Ã¼ber den Tourmalet auf meinem Pilgerweg nach
Santiago. Traumhaftes Wetter und angenehme Temperaturen. Auf dem Tourmalet
hatte ich mir im dortigen Souvenir-Shop ein Finisher-Trikot gekauft. Leider
ist das auf dem Postversendeweg aus Spanien nicht mehr bei mir angekommen.
Kennt jemand die Internetadresse des Souvenir-Shops? Vielleicht kann ich dann
dort ein neues bestellen.
Ansonsten schÃ¶ne Radtouren, wo auch immer,
Thanks for a great website, it has helped a lot with our planning for a cycling trip in 2015. Love the photos and can’t wait to see the real thing next summer.
For you, a picture of Col du Tourmalet today from the west side (the most beautiful one IMO):
Just returned from The Pyrenees with ‘Peaky Climbers’ charity riders and were the first cyclists to reach the top with Snow this year – truly amazing
Chapeau Simon. Love the photo.
I first rode the Tourmalet in 2016 to see the Tour de France, it was a dream come true ! The Pyrenees , What a magical place . I fell in love !
In 2019 I am going back for one month to ride . Ride everything , including the Tourmalet from both sides . I just get so inspired by all those that have gone before me . The Tourmalet , a truly magnificent place .
” I just get so inspired by all those that have gone before me”, I must agree.
Rode the â€œ Tourmalet â€œ yesterday for the MontÃ©e du GÃ©ant celebrations , had a wonderful day .
Fulfilled a goal of mine that being , to ride the Tourmalet in the big chain ring .
GOAL FULFILLED .
Only one week into what will be a one month stay in the region, I have already ridden most of whatâ€™s on offer here in the Pyrenees . Itâ€™s a cycling wonderland .
For anyone considering the thought of coming, stop thinking and start doing . You will love it .