Words by Jesper Grundahl
Pictures by Kristof Ramon
Heading into the mountains in Tour de France is when you finally wake-up on the couch, and sit up and pay attention. I’m not knocking the sprinters for not providing fireworks, most noticeably Mark Cavendish who seems to be on fire, but overlong transport stages at 33km/h is perhaps not the most thrilling television to watch.
While the sprinters take a back-seat we head into THE PYRENEES for a taste of what the G.C contenders and climbers have to offer before the Alps appear later in front of the “Le Tour” peloton.
The Pyrenees have always been considered the “smaller” cousin to the Alps, which is by far the most preferred area cyclists venture to when they want to get a taste of real climbing and Tour de France flavor. This is perhaps not always fair because The Pyrenees is a special place of its own.
The Pyrenees is a formidable mountain range nestled between the border of Spain and France. With 491km of mountainous terrain it separates the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe, and placed in the center of it all you have the micro state Andorra.
The Alps may have all the major climbs you know by heart, Croix de la Fer, Col du Glandon, Alpe D’Huez, but you will be surprised how many of the climbs in the Pyrenees you already know: Col du Tourmalet, Col d’Aubisque, Col d’Aspin, Col de Peyresourde, Co de Mare Blanc and Col de Portet d’Asper and yet, the Pyrenees still remain a mystery to many.
If you are considering a cycling holiday this year, or perhaps next year, you can easily spend your entire holiday in the Pyrenees and steer relatively clear of the rush-hour of cyclists trying to tackle the more famous climbs in the Alps.
The small towns in the Pyrenees are often running along rivers, and tied together like pearls on a string. East of Andorra you’ll find St. Gioron, Foix and Ax-les-Thermes while west of Andorra you’ll find Loudres, Bagnères-de-Bigorre and Pau.
The most famous climbs in the Pyrenees is undoubtedly Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aspin, which the peloton of Tour de France will climb on stage 7 and 8 this coming weekend starting Friday. At 12km at 6,5% Col D’Aspin is one of the more accessible climbs in the Pyrenees while Stage 8 on Saturday is a virtual Pyrenees mountain feast including both Col du Tourmalet (2.115 meters) and Col de Peyresourde (1.569 meters).
Finally, on Sunday the peloton heads to the micro state of Andorra, and finishes on the top of Arcalis. A 10km climb at 7% gradient, it will for sure give you a good glimpse of the beautiful area around Andorra.
The Pyrenees offers truly challenging climbs, high speed descents and beautiful rolling routes via a network of virtually traffic free roads, so there is ample reason to consider The Pyrenees for your next cycling destination.
The roads this coming weekend may have a little more traffic than usual, and a few more spectators alongside them but for good reason. When the Climbers move into action Tour de France starts proper.
Now, put the kettle on!