*Links to routes throughout
So far this Summer I’ve been cycling every Sunday with Helen in Hertfordshire. Max elevation is 900m and our max distance this year has been 100km. I’ll do “chat laps” around Regents Park every so often, and jump on Zwift once a week(ish) for something high intensity. Nothing compared to what was ahead of me…
Nonetheless, the mountains were calling and I couldn’t wait to get out of the city. We packed light, grabbed our bikes and cycled down to the car rental place. The car was smaller than we anticipated but we made it work. We got the bikes in and that was it, we were off. We drove to Dover and took the ferry over to Calais, France. From London to the Pyrenees it’s about 14hrs of driving in total. We split it up and stopped in Tours for a night – had a nice meal and went for a run the next morning to explore the city before continuing South.
A couple of fender benders later… we got to Bagnères de Bigorre. It’s a perfectly situated town for cycling in the Pyrenees. We stayed at a B&B called Allez Pyrenees. Our hosts Andy & Caroline were incredible. Every morning we’d come down for breakfast and pick their brains on what route to take. There’s a secure workshop onsite where we could leave our bikes and it held shared tools and pumps etc that you don’t want to necessarily travel with. Bagnères de Bigorre itself was a lovely town; lots of good restaurants and bars and like I mentioned, PERFECTLY situated for most of the Pyrenees bucket list rides.
Day 1 – Tourmalet (East side) & Luz Ardiden
AKA “It’ll make your wife cry” on Dan’s Strava
We had a whopping 130km route planned with 3,182m of elevation. YIKES! … Slow and steady is the name of the game. Our first day started with a few hitches… my back wheel felt lumpy and the route didn’t load properly on my Wahoo. Tensions were high to say the least. I was already nervous about getting through the day without making Dan regret cycling with me… within the first 15 minutes of our ride there were tears lol I didn’t know where to go – I was the only one with the route – and I needed to fix my back tyre but we didn’t have the right tools with us and we had already left the B&B. Luckily, I had the route downloaded on my phone in the Ride with GPS app so I used it for navigation and we found a bike shop not too far away that could sort my back tyre. Wipe away the tears – get over it – and FINALLY, we were off (45mins later and still 130km to go).
From Bagnères de Bigorre, the base of Tourmalet is only 15-20km’s away. So you have a nice warm up and some time to get into a groove before you start the 18.5 km climb to the top of Col du Tourmalet: the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees. We approached it from the eastern side which sort of gradually eases you into it before a relentless 12k’s of 8% + gradients. It took me 1hr and 35 minutes from top to bottom and it felt like forever!! It was also extremely humid and as you get to the final km’s you start to notice the air getting thin from the elevation. Sensory overload. Except we didn’t have much visibility so we didn’t exactly ride up with a view… until we passed over the clouds that is!
We got to the top, put our jackets on and began the descent pretty quickly thereafter – the descent was FUN. This is more like it! You essentially descend all the way down to Luz-Saint-Sauveur which is the beginning of the Luz Ardiden climb. So a 30 minute decent and you’re back to another 1.5hr climb… We stopped in Luz-Saint-Sauveur for a snack and an espresso before heading up.
Luz Ardiden was the opposite in comparison to Tourmalet. The first 8k’s are 8-9% gradients – super tough – and then the last 6k ease out to 7% gradients mostly. I was pretty quiet on this climb. I wasn’t really sure whether I’d even make it up and then in the back of my head I’m thinking “how is she going to get home after this… we’re not even halfway through the ride. There’s still 70k left”.
Visibility got increasingly worse as we climbed Luz Ardiden. Below you can see what it should look like vs what we actually saw. So anticlimactic!! Dan went up again on our last day and grabbed the second picture on a clear day. The decent wasn’t as fun because you couldn’t see much ahead of you so we just took it easy.
Got to the bottom and we had the last half of the ride left. I was gassed. We grabbed a Coke and a piece of pizza before carrying on. Luckily the last bit was through the foothills so there weren’t any major climbs. We were out for a total of 8hrs (8:45 if you include the first 45min drama!). Riding time of 7:08.
Day 2 – Rained out! Didn’t make it past the foothills
We planned to ride to Hautacam and back today. Unfortunately the weather was crap – it was spitting when we left and as we got further out it started properly raining. We cut our losses after 45mins and turned around. Best decision. We got back and decided to drive to Lourdes to check out the city Madonna is obsessed with. We had a relaxed afternoon wandering around Lourdes and when we got back to the B&B Caroline organised for us to get massages ahead of our next big day of riding. A dud of a day turned out to be pretty great.
Day 3 – Aspin, Peyresourde, Hourquette
And a chance to see the pros in action
Beauty weather and clear skies! Our planned route was 119km, 3 Col’s and 3,038m of elevation. I was very mindful to pace myself today; I did not want to feel like I did at the base of Luz Ardiden ever again.
The ride up Col d’Aspin was stunning. Great views and easy gradients made it really enjoyable. The ascent still took an hour haha This was the first Col we got to the top of and had a proper view. That’s more like it. Although – seeing the steep windy roads so clearly from the top got to my nervs – descending was pretty slow and steady for me.
We planned this route so we could see the Pro’s race in the Queen stage of the La Route d’Occitanie: a 4-day race in the Pyrenees. So our next stop was to ride to and up Peyresourde where the Pro’s will be next. We got to the top with a little time to kill so we hit up the crepery and took a break.
We decided to stay away from the crowds on the ascent and instead watch the pros descend. We went half way down before stopping off at a switch back. We saw Team INEOS boss it down Peyresourde which was pretty amazing. They FLY. Egan later won this stage.
On the way back we planned to tackle Hourquette. Which is a climb on the other side of Col d’Aspin. I was pretty slow moving on this last climb. It was a DAY. But the views were worth it and the decent was FAST. My max speed was 65km/h. G-Unit (this is what I call my bike) did great. Proud of her.
Day 4 – Bergerés, Soulor and Aubisque
Dan really wanted to get to Col d’Aubisque – which was the only climb that wasn’t close to where we were staying. It would be 180k if we tackled it from Bagnères de Bigorre. No thank-you! So we knew we had to drive somewhere with the bikes and find a route to and from wherever we park.
Not feeling like another 8hrs on the bike, I planned a 66km route with 1,883m of elevation from Argelès-Gazost. To be honest, I don’t know what’s worse. I thought a shorter ride would be more enjoyable but I’m not convinced… There were NO flats so it was more or less 3.5hrs of climbing straight, and then you descend back.
The valley between Col du Soulor and Col d’Aubisque though – it’s a MUST DO.
Day 5 – Hautacam & Tourmalet (west side)
The ones that got away… We were planning to do Hautacam earlier in the week but got rained out. And we knew we wanted to do Tourmalet again but from the otherside (where the Pro’s usually ride up). And Dan was pretty hell bent on going back up Luz Ardiden to see the view (I had no desire to go back up there). So our last day in the Pyrenees turned into a pretty big day.
My route was 118km with 3,195m of elevation. It was weird how normal these numbers started to seem. I wasn’t even nervous for this ride. Even with tired legs. But Dan’s numbers scared me… 135km and around 4,000m of elevation. No thanks! Here’s the link to his strava.
Hautacam was pretty punchy in areas but I kind of like how it broke up the grind. The climb itself seemed busier than most – lots of cars going to the top. But loads of great views on the way up. The ride from Hautacam to Luz-Saint-Sauveur was longer than I anticipated… I didn’t eat enough by this stage and I bonked just in time for Dan to ride Luz Ardiden and for me to grab lunch at a nearby patio lol
I enjoyed an hour break: I ate, had a Coke and chilled out while Dan went up and down Luz Ardiden again. Then we tackled Col du Tourmalet in the heat of the day. It’s an 18.5km ascent and there is no escaping the sun. It was a hot 2hr climb to the top. Very little banter… I think we were both feeling it.
Thankfully Caroline and Andy let us check out late so we could get back and shower before hitting the road. The rest of the trip – our bikes stayed stored away while we ate cheese, drank wine and slowly made our way back to Calais. Separate post to follow with our adventures in Bordeaux // Saint Emilion // Mont Saint Michel with Phoenix and Andy.
Making sense of it all – here’s our rankings:
- Valley between Col du Soulor and Col d’Aubisque
- West side of Tourmalet
- Col d’Aspin
- Luz Ardiden
- Col d’Aspin
- Col de Peyresourde
- Day 1: Tourmalet // Luz Ardiden
- Day 3: Col d’Aspin // Col de Peyresourde // Hourquette
- Day 4: Col de Bergerés // Col du Soulor // Col d’Aubisque
- Day 5: Hautacam // Tourmalet
And a final shout out to Allez Pyrenees for being incredible hosts! We highly recommend staying here if you’re looking to do a trip to the Pyrenees.