June 29th 2017 – Col du Tourmalet – Mountain high, revving deep on the number 1 climb on my bucket list

This week’s photo shows me at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet. At 2,115m, the Col du Tourmalet is the highest pass in the Pyrenees and one of the highest in France. It really is an epic climb which gets steeper and steeper the higher you climb. It was the number 1 climb on my bucket list and the climb I was looking forward to doing the most during this Tour. The statue at the summit is of Octave Lapize, a French rider, who won the Tour de France in 1910 the year the Tourmalet was first climbed in the Tour. After climbing the Tourmalet and then the Aubisque during an epic 326 km stage between Luchon and Bayonne, he shouted at the Tour de France organizers “Vous etes des assassins. Oui, des assassins” or “You are all murderers. Yes  murderers”. He said those famous words on the Aubisque but I am sure had the organizers been waiting on the Tourmalet he would have said the exact same thing. The Tourmalet is a tough climb on tarmac but in Lapize’s time, the road up to the Tourmalet was only a gravel track and he had a bike with only 2 gears. Now having climbed the Tourmalet, I can understand why Lapize was so enraged. But his rage only added to the Tourmalet’s appeal and it has appeared in the Tour de France 75 times since, more times than any other mountain. To celebrate his achievement of being the first cyclist to climb the Tourmalet in the Tour de France, every year for the last 20 years or so, a statue of Octave Lapize is transported up to the summit in June and it remains there for the summer. With all the history associated with the Tourmalet,  I was determined to do it in a good time. After completing the climb in 88 minutes, 12 minutes faster than my target time of 1 hour 40 minutes and less time than it takes to watch a football match, I feel like I did the climb justice.

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The sun rising over the Pyrenees. The forecast was for showers but fortunately, the worst of the rain held off until after I had completed the climb and descended back down.

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Profile of the Tourmalet climb from Sainte Marie de Campan. The climb is roughly 17 km long, averages 7.6% and gains 1265m in altitude. I have completed the exact same climb about 20 times on the Tacx trainer so I knew all the twists and turns but the increase in gradient halfway up the climb really hurt. At the back of my mind, I also knew that the climb was only going to get steeper the higher I climbed

 

The start of the climb beside the Eugene Christophe statue in Sainte Marie de Campan.

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16 km to go. The yellow sign says that the Toumalet road will be closed to traffic for 3 hours between 9 and 12 on Wednesday July the 19th to allow cyclists to cycle up the climb traffic free. A lot of mountains,especially in the Alps, are closed to traffic for one day for the benefit of cyclotourists and it is an initiative that is to be welcomed.

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12 km to go. The gradient on the Tourmalet only averages 3% for the first 5 km but then ramps up to over 9% with 12 km to go.

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Poster marking the spot where Eugene Christophe broke his forks in 1913.

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The ski resort of La Mongie about 4.5 km from the summit. Normally, when a climb passes through a village, the gradient eases slightly but in La Mongie, it actually increased. I had to ease off as I felt my heart was about to burst but at least my legs felt fine.

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La Mongie is where you get the cable car up to the Pic du Midi.

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Cable car on it’s way up to the Pic du Midi. A ticket up to the Pic du Midi is not cheap and a return ticket for 1 adult in 2017 costs €38 for a trip that takes less than 10 minutes each way.

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With 3 km to go, the gradient eases slightly to 8%.. As the gradient eased, I felt better and started to up the pace.

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Graffiti on the road probably from the 2015 Tour de France.

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Only 1 km to go. You can see the summit from the 1 km sign but the last kilometer averages over 10% and is the toughest km in the climb.

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View as you round the last corner.

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Sign for Col du Tourmalet covered in stickers. I will have to order some Tour de Travoy stickers and maybe one day add it to the sign.

Time for some photos beneath the Octave Lapize statue. A Frenchman with a young child kindly agreed to take some photos of me at the summit. I had watched a stage of the Tour of the Basque Country a few years ago, which was won by Italian cyclist Diego Rosa. Rosa, who is now in Team Sky, crossed the finishing line by carrying his bike aloft. Of course, Phillipe Gilbert did the same thing famously when he won the Tour of Flanders this year. So when I made it to the top of the Tourmalet, I thought I would do the same thing. But I will have to work on my bike lifting technique as the front wheel spun around and nearly hit me on the head.

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View from the Tourmalet looking towards Luz Saint Sauveur. The climb of the Tourmalet from Luz Saint Sauveur is even longer than the climb from Sainte Marie de Campan. The climb looks really brutal from the summit but maybe one day, I will get the chance to tackle it.

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Descending back down the mountain. After about half an hour at the summit, it was time to head back down. On the way, I passed numerous cyclists making their way the climb.

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2 women cyclists about 300 m from the summit. Nearly all the cyclists on the Tourmalet were men but there were a few women. These 2 were going at an incredible pace and looked pretty fresh whereas at the same stage, I was ready to collapse.

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View about halfway down the mountain. It was absolutely freezing during the descent and my  jaw started to lock up my teeth were chattering so much. I had noticed some cyclists at the summit putting on balaclavas but it was only during the descent that I understood why they needed them. I had to keep stopping just to warm up and it was only when I was halfway down the climb that the air got a bit warmer and I could start to enjoy the descent.

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88 minutes to climb the Tourmalet. When I checked my climb on Strava, I couldn’t believe that I had climbed the Tourmalet in less time than it takes to watch a game of football. It was the number 1 climb on my bucket list, so I went flat out from the start as I was determined to do a good time. Having only cycled 35 km the previous 2 days, my legs were fresh. I had to ease off going through La Mongie but near the top found a second wind and completed the last km in 5 and half minutes, which is in the top 20% of all the times on Strava for that segment. For the climb overall, I was in the top 27% of times so scored 73%. I probably was in the top 10% of times for my 45-50 age group but I don’t have Strava Premium so cannot check. But no matter the time, I feel incredibly proud to have made it to the top and eventhough I am only 4,106th on the list of times for the Tourmalet, my name is now on one of the most privileged lists in cycling.

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