Thursday, 18 August 2016

High Point

Although there are higher passes in Spain, the Col du Tourmalet is the highest road in the Pyrenees in France. It's also the highest point on this year's trip. The Tourmalet has been used in more editions of the Tour de France than any other climb. It's not difficult to see why. The main climb up from Luz-Saint-Sauver is some 19 kilometers in length and rises over 1400 metres.

To reach the Tourmalet from Saint-Savin involves descending to the valley in Pierrefitte-Nestalas, and then riding up the gorge to Luz-Siant-Sauveur to start the climb proper. The road follows the river, climbing gently, with the occasional steeper section. It was on this section that I finally managed to pass another cyclist. Actually it was two, but they were on a fully laden tandem, and looked even older than I am. I saw them later near the top of the Tourmalet, as I was coming down.

From Luz-Saint-Sauver, the route simply follows the D918, which is also known as the Route du Tourmalet. Although much longer than the Hautacam, it seemed a lot less demanding. There are sections that reach 8 and 9% for significant distances, but double digit gradients are rare, and never seem to last for too long.

The route passes through a number of villages, the biggest being Bareges. The road is sufficiently narrow there that there is a small, one way system. On the descent, it seems to do its best to route you into a car park, rather than through the village! The narrow road on the ascent, together with parked cars and vans, and the tendency of the local population to step out without looking, demand extra care. It's not as bad as Valloire, but vigilance is advised!

Above Bareges, the road continues with straighter sections interspersed with switchbacks. It's often possible to see the route some considerable distance ahead. Further up, there are ski lifts, looking a little forlorn, and waiting until its their time again, when winter arrives. A couple of these have large car parks around which the route curves, before heading up once more as the scenery becomes more barren.
Approaching the lower of the ski lift car parks, still with nearly an hour of climbing to go.

The road up from the upper ski lift car park, taken from a little way below the summit.

The last couple of kilometers start to resemble climbs in the Alps with the road cutting through bare rock as it zig-zags to the top. Only the final couple of ramps hit 10% and above, but by then the top is in site.

Arriving at the top, in cloud, and passing the wall of the cafe, where a vital hot chocolate will be consumed shortly.

There is a cafe, and a souvenir shop. Unlike the Hautacam, they actually had a suitable tee shirt, which has duly been added to my collection, as has a rather fine black and silver mug.

The route up the Tourmalet is available on Garmin Connect.

 Bike and rider ready for the descent, under the sign at the summit.

Needless to say, despite the occasional cloud, the descent from the Tourmalet was considerably faster than the climb. As with the Hautacam, visibility on a lot of the route is excellent. I was fortunate to descend with very little traffic. I was even able to use the entire road width on occasion. That didn't prevent me missing several apexes, and in one case by several metres!

The descent from the Tourmalet is available on Garmin Connect.

In some ways  this ride reminded me of the Col du Lauteret, in the Alps. It starts in a gorge, and works its way ever higher with some straighter sections, and some switchbacks, and a lot of it runs across Alpine meadows. It differs only at the top where it becomes more like higher Alpine passes.

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