Hautacam


The zigzagging road of the Hautacam, one of the main Pyrenean cycling climbs, slashes its way up the mountainside, initially rising steeply and narrowly from Argelès-Gazost, then emerging in open, verdant Pyrenean meadowlands, before eventually, after 13 kilometres and at 1,653 metres, reaching the resort that gives the climb its name: Hautacam ski station.

It has been the scene of some of the biggest battles in the Tour de France and has also gained notoriety due to its combination of steep sections and the fact the climb increases in difficulty all the way to the summit.

The reward, being arguably one of the best views in the Pyrenees.

The Climb in Detail



“It is tempting, in fact, to call Hautacam 'the cursed climb'......first there is the erratic nature of the gradient - schizophrenic is one description" - Mountian High

The Ascents

From Argeles-Gazost, the Hautacam poses no real difficulty for the first 1.5km. It is after you pass the 13km to go board in the village of Ayros that you feel the first steep pitch which will characterise the rest of the climb. A mixture of percentages in gradient then follows as you undulate from 5% to over 16%. The climb is noticeably harder as you reach the middle section and also before the summit. At the finish all is forgiven as on a clear day you will be treated to a panoramic view of Vallée du Lavedan and can see Luz Ardiden, Col du Soulor and the cafe on Col d’Aubisque, a spec on the horizon to the west.  

 

The hero of the Hautacam

The famous stage 10 of the 2000 Tour de France saw the Basque rider Javier Otxoa brake away with Nico Mattan with 155 km remaining in terrible wet and cold conditions. As Otxoa crested the Col d’Aubisque he dropped Mattan and found himself and the foot of the climb with a lead of 10 minutes and 35 seconds. With a determined Lance Armstrong in chase Otxoa hung on to victory by only 42 seconds.

It’s place at the Tour de France

The Hautacam is almost certainly most famous for the second of its appearances in the world’s biggest race, in 1996. After its Tour debut, in 1994, passed off fairly routinely as the mist and fog-enshrouded the summit Luc Leblanc won and, behind him, Miguel Indurain calmly defended yellow, en route to the fourth of his five consecutive victories. Two years later though it was Bjarne Riis, the Dane, that stamped his authority on the Tour, but it was his performance on the climb to the Hautacam that became the most vivid illustration of the transformative powers of EPO, the drug that defined an era as he romped away from competitors in an ease not before seen. The Hautacam has since then seen the Tour occasionally on its slopes but may never escape the scandal of 1996.


"‘I wanted to see how they looked, in their faces, and most of them didn’t look so well, so…" Riis when asked why he dropped back before attacking and winning* on the Hautacam in the 2007 TDF. (*Later Riis was found to have won the race on a cocktail of PED's) 

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