THE GREAT MOUNTAIN PASSES OF THE PYRENEES
Speaking about the big Pyrenees mountain passes, includes speaking about cycling, the France Tour, up hills, wins, sports history… it includes speaking about the wonderful Pyrenean landscapes where you want to get lost and pedal calmly, with that calm that allows you to enjoy them and absorb all their greatness and glory
The objective of this post is to know a little more about some of these legendary mountain passes and serve as a guide to those cyclists who venture to explore them, and as a boost to those who dream of climbing these mountains.
Tourmalet – 2.115m
The Col du Tourmalet is the most emblematic and representative mountain pass from the Tour, a mountain pass that means a lot in the history of cycling. If we translate this mountain pass name to Spanish, we can find the name “the path of the evil return” only by the name we can see the mystic and special aura in this mountain pass.
Each meter you ascend is full of history, legends, of glory and agony. It was the first ascension on such a scale, not only the tour, but in the whole history of the cycling. It was the reporter Alphonse Steins – by the hand of the Le Tour founder, Henri Desgrange – who proposed the idea about this big race going through the mountains. The Steines himself in January 1910 would be in charge of recognizing the terrain, almost unexplored by man, and whose adventure almost costed him his life. Due to that, he would confirm that this mountains are perfectly transitable for cyclists in July.
This is how the adventure started… at that time the paths where stony and broken, none of the racers where ready for a race like this and if they weren’t ready their bikes neither. They didn’t have enough technology progress to be able to go up a hill cycling with those dimensions. That day Octave Lapice made history he was the first cyclist to conquer the peak of the Tourmalet and this began the idyllic romance between cycling and the high mountains.
This historic mountain pass can be started from two different points, from its western slope, it start in a beautiful village named Luz-Saint-Sauveur, on the bridge that crosses the Gave de Le Bastan. The other access point starts on the Valley of Argelès-Gazost, were you need to add 10km of gentle ascent until you get to the starting point of the mountain pass.
Don’t go to this mountain if you are looking for an extreme up and down experience, the road don this mountain is flat, in only three places there are sections of double horseshoe curve that will allow you to gain height. Once finished, you will be able to take a look at monument of Octave Lapice from 1910 and feel how the legend of this magical place goes into your body.
Port de Balès – 1.775m
This mountain pass was plunged into anonymity for a long time, it was only known by some locals until its final paving. Thing that didn’t escape the sight of the France Tour and in 2007 they decided to add it to the route of the gala round.
The first time that the Port Balès was the protagonist in a competition during a huge race, was the 15º stage of the Tour that took place in 2007, a small group of cyclists would arrive. Among them Kim Kirchenm, the cyclist who finished first and that he would have the honor of writing his name for the first time in the books of history of this hill.
Since the day this Pyrenean mountain pass was taken into account in the world of cycling, it has been desired by professionals and amateurs. It helps that is the most western mountain pass of the High Pyrenees and one of the few Hors Category that combine so much beauty, demand and tranquility. Which allows a perfect connection between making an effort and admiring the beauty that surrounds them. You don’t need to make an effort to hear the water running near you or appreciate its almost virgin, wild and pristine environment.
The mountain pass starts in the beautiful and small town of Mauléon-Barousse, and concludes 19.5 km later on the border with the Alto Garona, at 1,775 m altitude. When we finish this adventure as a reward you will get some amazing views to Mont Né, the highest peak on the hillside.
Portillón – 1.292m
On horse between France and Spain – through the Valley of Lunchon at the west and through the Val d’Aran at the east, the Col de Portillon is the Pyrenean mountain pass that has been promoted the most times by the Tour de France. It was also used in one of the Lap around Spain in two occasions, it probably is mountain pass that has the most physical and sentimental relationship with our cycling.
In the decades of the seventies and sixties where years were many Spanish cyclists ( Bahamontes, Manzaneque, Fuente, Ocaña, Perurena or Torres ) found in the Pyrenean mountain range, their natural habitat that adapted more to their type of exhibitions and the style of cycling that existed at that cycling era that they had to live.
There are two posible options to ascend this hill, one of them going through Bagnères-de-Luchon or you can go by the sandy slope through Bossost.
Luz-Ardiden – 1.725m
The distinctive name of this port has its origin in the confluence of the denominations of the Valley of Light (in which the ascent begins) with one of the highest mountainous coasts of the Vignemale massif, the Ardiden peak, with 2,988 meters of height.
A beautiful and unique ascension, it’s exceptional because it has a road full of horseshoe curves, joined one to the other in a constant way for the cyclist to enjoy. 1.725m of height 14 beautiful kilometers that develop through a meandering line of asphalt over the rugged landscape of this Pyrenean hillside.
Luz-Ardiden will be an increasingly unforgettable stage, the best reward will be getting to the top and being delighted by its beauty, a curvy and twisted beauty, participant in thousands of stories and sporting feats.
Superbagnères – 1.800m
A huge mountain pass located in the heart of the mountain range, next to a village with a deep-rooted cycling tradition, Bagnères-de-Luchon. Peak where some of the greatest climbers have inscribed his name: Massignan Empire, Jaques Anquetil, Bahamontes, Eddy Merckx, among others.
Probably in the eyes of a cyclist, Superbagnères is one of the most precious gems of the Pyrenees. This hill, a side from all the purely sporting aspects, it has big charms for the amateur cyclist. A majestic natural setting that runs through the beautiful valley of Lys and whose peak offers sublime 360º views of the different peaks around it, with the Aneto-Posets as protagonists. A huge achievement as a cyclist, a long-suffering challenge of 17.1 km and 1,800m that you will remember for the rest of your life.
Bibliography: The Big Mountain Passes from the Pyrenees, legendary gestures and guide for cyclists. Antonio Toral. Sus Edizioak.
Book that we highly recommend if you want to know more about the great ports that hide the Pyrenees.
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