The myth of the Tourmalet

Cycling is, almost for the one who is writing, one of the most fascinating sports. Over the years, cycling has created sanctuaries all over Europe, places where the suffering of the riders has created myths of overcoming and sporting duels. Climbs like Tourmalet, with uncountable races passing on it is, without doubt, almost a mystical site fore cycling lovers.

Since it was discovered, something made this climb special. Octave Lapize, first rider in history to pinnacle the Tourmalet, labelled as “murderers” the organizers of that edition 1910 of the Grande Boucle. Being concerned of the strength that you need to climb such a monster mountain, better not to imagine what could be to do it riding a hunder years-old bike.

The Tourmalet is the most passed “Col”  in the history of the Tour, it’s summit has seen riders passing through 73 times and it has become the greatest symbol of the French race.

I would like to analyze the Tourmalet itself, the meaning of climbing that hell mountain, that makes cycling fans all over the world to climb it imitating their idols

As many say, the Tourmalet is not the hardest, the longest, neither the highest mountain. But in their slopes its written the story of the Tour de France, the best cycling race of the world and, why not to say, one of the greatest sport event.

The last great memory that Tourmalet has give as, was the impressive battle between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck in 2010, with the Luxembourger attacking with more than10 kilometres to go and the Spaniard trying not to loose his rhythm until the top. One of the most remembered face-to-face battle, into the foggy landscape of the Pyrenees, in the last years.

Tourmalet has two sides, quite different one from the other:

The Tourmalet by Saint Marie de Campan

Is the most known slope, because you pass the ski resort of La Mongie, the place where  Lance Armstrong won a stage in 2002. Although it is the most famous side, personally I think it is not the prettiest, nor the hardest. The climb begins with a flats between the towns of Saint Marie de Campan and Campan (where really starts the climb). The first five kilometers are quite affordable, with around 4% average slopes, into the CampanValley, a good warm-up before the hardest part of the climb starts. With 12 kilometers to go, the slopes became more and more steep. You cross some typical Pyrenean tunnels and a wooded area that protects you from the heat sun. 8% average and until the end there is not even a break.

Approaching at the Le Mongie, vegetation disappears and the background you begin  to glimpse a core of buildings surrounded by spectacular meadows with creeks. It seems that this area should be the top, but there are 4 kilometers more of ascent. An interminable climb. Arriving to Le Mongie, the road takes you inside the tunnels and you must to go over ramps of up to 12%, when you probably have been climbing for more than an hour. A torture. Although, you can get more encouraged reading the names of the cyclists, written on the walls of the tunnels, which for years have made history in the Tour. Names of those riders that may pass a lot of years ago.

Once at the ski station, crossing Le Mongie, its seems impossible to climb more, you cant imagine there is a road to rise even higher. But when you have passed the ski station, above a rock wall you see signs of civilization and a tiny parking. Yes, that’s the top of the Tourmalet. Still four wild kilometres to the top, restless and with no slope below 8%. In the final kilometers, there is no large meadows of grass and but rocks on both sides of the road, a path surrounded by mountains that create an atmosphere of epic. With one kilometre to go, the top still seems too high to reach it in only 1.000 metres. You see the answer in a poster on the right of the road: one kilometre to go, 10% average. Finally, you reach to the summit, after sprinting, if you have enough power, on the final curve to the left. And there it is, with the statue of Jacques Goddet that welcomes to the heaven of the cycling lovers.

The Tourmalet by Luz Saint Sauveur

Climbing the Tourmalet by this slope is spectacular from the start to the finish. There may not be so many “distractions” as in the other side, but the views are more spectacular if its possible.

The ascent starts in the village of Luz Saint Sauveur, in the heart of the Pyrenees, a fairly large city, with more than a thousand inhabitants. In the town itself, where you take the road to the Col du Tourmalet, you will face a 200 meters-long and 10% first ramp. A little joke to remind you what is going to come next.

After coming out of the town, the Tourmalet begins soft but harder than the Campan’s slope. The average of the ramps always  around 6-7% in the first 3 kilometers. After these, the ascent becomes more tough. To Bareges town, the road moves into an endless valley ascent to Superbareges ski station. On leaving this village we found a ramp of 13%, which really hurts in your legs and, after a full kilometre up to 9%, we move through a wooded area.

Arriving to the Superbareges station, you are awarded with a 300 metres long flat, to breath and rest before starting the “real” climb up to Tourmalet. From there until the top, there is no slope below 8%. The vegetation disappears altogether and you see a gray line, the road, going up throw a huge green wall. You will be riding at this  scenario until the meadows disappear and you go into a grey landscape, full of rocks and without vegetation.

That point is about 2 kilometres to go, where only rocks and stones will go with you forward to the top. When you reach the last kilometre poster and you see where is the end of the ascent you realize that the hardest is to come. You see the summit and it seems impossible to climb up as high in only 1000 metres. The entire kilometre is up to 10%. Suddenly, you run into a 180 degrees curve that will be really wild, inhuman, almost vertical due to your lack of power. The last 100 meters you close your eyes, keep pedalling and yousuffer for a few seconds more. After the home stretch,  you open your eyes and you are in front of the poster: Col du Tourmalet, altitude 2115 m. Objective accomplished, you have reached the top of the Tourmalet. Once there, you can take the pleasure to take a look below and see the road you have been climbing, the same road where the best cyclist wrote with golden letters some of the more important stories of cycling.

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