June 25th 2017 – La Pierre Saint Martin – Shock and awe on a wonderwall of a climb

La Pierre Saint Martin is where Chris Froome produced shock and awe to decimate his rivals in the first mountain stage of the 2015 Tour de France. Shock and awe too when I climbed the same mountain from Arette on a mild Sunday afternoon in June 2017.  Shock at getting to the top within my target time of 2 hours and awe at some of the views from the summit. There was spots of rain at the start of the climb but bright sunshine when I got to the top and it was like being in a plane and looking down on the clouds below. The climb starts off gently but then ramps up to 15% after about 8 km. The gradient then averages 10% for the next 8 km before easing off for the last 8 km to the summit. For such a great climb, I was surprised there weren’t more cyclists on the climb. At times, climbing La Pierre Saint Martin was like climbing a wall but the views from the summit made all the effort worthwhile. It truly is a wonderwall of a climb and deserves to be more popular than it seems to be.

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Profile of La Pierre Saint Martin. The middle section of the climb is incredibly steep with slopes of up to 15%.

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Start of the climb in Arette town centre.

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Local cyclist Bernard Labourdette painted on shed alongside the road to La Pierre Saint Martin. Labourdette completed the Tour de France 8 times and also won the Bastille Day stage to Gourette in the Pyrenees in 1971.

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First marker for the climb at a small rest area with 19 km to go to the summit. The marker altitude is 430m, the summit is at 1,765m but the next km is only 3%.

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The climb ramps up about 17 km from the summit.

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16 km to go to the summit and the average gradient is 10% for the next km.

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Lots of hairpins in the middle of the climb.

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The cloud was getting thinner the higher I climbed.

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Graffiti from the 2015 Tour de France with the names of the top French riders.

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Plaque showing the location of Chris Froome’s attack. This is something I have never seen on any climb. The likes of Alpe d’Huez has the names of previous winners on it’s hairpins but nowhere that I know off has a plaque like this to signify a piece of Tour de France history. I had a rough idea of where he had launched his attack but to see the exact location marked by a plaque was incredible.

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The back of the plaque shows Chris Froome crossing the finish line at La Pierre Saint Martin. This photo gives you an idea why I think Froome decided to attack here. You can see that the gradient eases slightly from around 12% down to 6% for about 300m. Froome is a high cadence cyclist and by accelerating on this flatter section he was able to maintain momentum when the climb ramped up to 15% again at the next bend. He did the same in 2013 on Mont Ventoux accelerating furiously on a flatter section near Chalet Reynard to drop Alberto Contador before the climb ramped up again with 6 km to go. Team Sky would have recced La Pierre Saint Martin and I believe Froome would have identified this section as a good place to attack. It certainly paid off and as the plaque says, this was the location where Froome effectively won the 2015 Tour de France.

 

Close-ups of the photos on the front and back of the plaque. With this attack, Froome was able to drop the only cyclist who had stayed with him up to that point on the climb, Nairo Quintana.. By the time he got to the top, Froome had gained over a minute on Quintana which was more or less the same margin that he beat the Columbian in that Tour overall.

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Above the cloudline about 8 km from the summit.

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Ski resort of La Pierre Saint Martin. I may be wrong but I think the 2015 Tour de France stage finished here but the climb continues for another 2 km up the border between France and Spain.

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Looking down at the clouds from near the summit.

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Herd of cows outside small farm-shop near the summit.

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Views from near the summit on the French side were incredible.

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Summit of the climb at 1760m.

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No clouds on the Spanish side of the border.

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Sign marking the Spanish province of Navarra about 1 km from the summit. I wasn’t sure if the summit marked the border between France and Spain so I kept going until I got to this sign for Navarra.

 

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My climb of La Pierre Saint Martin on Strava. I was delighted to make it to the top within my target time of 2 hours but slightly mystified at how low Strava’s estimate of my power was. Strava estimated my average power of 155W on the climb but on the trainer, I regularly do 250W for an hour so would expect to achieve around 240W for 2 hours. The Tacx Vortex trainer is only accurate to 10% but there is still a huge discrepancy between what the trainer is measuring and what Strava is estimating.

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