Col du Tourmalet

There is no higher main road pass in the Pyrenees and none with quite such an aura or heritage.

The Tourmalet is a glowering, grey hulk of a hill straddling the Ardour and Campan valleys and has been visited the most out of any climb in the Tour de France.

For any mountain-loving cyclist, a pilgrimage to the Pyrenees is essential, and should include the fearsome ascent of the Tourmalet.

The Climb in Detail

It may not be the steepest, longest or highest Tour climb but, as one of the oldest, it has served as a battleground over the years for so many head-to-head confrontations between the greats. 


The Ascents

The Col du Tourmalet is a mountain pass that can be ridden from the east and the town of Luz Saint-Sauveaur and to the west from Campan/Sante-Marie de Campan. Identical in gradient, at 7.4 per cent, the two climbs are different in character and challenge, with the route from Luz longer by just under two kilometres and gaining 137 metres more in altitude. The western side is also considerably more picturesque, free from the breeze block eyesores that rise out of La Mongie on the eastern slopes, and more exposed. 


Eugène Christophe

Eugène Christophe seemed bound for Tour glory as he followed the Belgian Philippe Thys over the summit of the Tourmalet, only to snap his front forks on the descent. Having walked ten kilometres down the mountain to Sainte Marie de Campan seeking out the local forge to fix his bike, the Tour was still his. Unfortunately, a place in history would be the only consolation: a ten-minute penalty for asking a boy to work the bellows added to the three-and-a-half hours he had lost to Thys by the time he crossed the finish line in Luchon. 

Its place at the Tour de France

The most visited and most hallowed mountain in the world’s most famous bike race. The Col du Tourmalet has had an affinity with the Tour de France since its introduction on July 29th, 1910. Cycling mythology records that the riders were terrorized by the experience; the reality, perhaps disappointingly, is rather different. Octave Lapize did label the organisers ‘criminals’ and ‘murderers’ but for the most part the riders, journalists and spectators thought it a success and so the Col du Tourmalet is now the Tour de France’ most climbed mountain in its history.

"Going up the Tourmalet, I heard the team manager telling Kim Kirchen, "Only 500m to the top, Kim," but I had seven kilometres to go and I just thought, "Oh God, that's going to take me about 20 minutes."" - Mark Cavendish 

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