Col du tourmalet is one of the most famous climbs in road cycling. It has been used on many Tour de France stages and is a key part of the route between the towns of Pau and Luz Saint Sauveur. It first appeared in the race in 1910 and Octave Lapize was the first person to win King of the Mountains for crossing the summit. It was also climbed in the 1952 Tour de France by Fausto Coppi and again in 2021 when Tadej Pogacar won the polka-dot jersey for reaching the top on stage 18.
The climb is split into two parts with the western approach being the more interesting and more challenging. The start is at a large ski station and it takes you past some impressive mountain lakes to the base of the climb. The first section is relatively easy but the difficulty starts to ramp up around five kilometres from the summit. The final kilometres average 8% and are brutal. The views of the surrounding Pyrenean giants from the summit are fantastic and well worth the effort.
It is often very windy on the summit and this can make the climb even more difficult. It is best to aim for the summit before midday if possible to avoid the worst of the winds. The summit is marked with a memorial to the man who organised the Tour de France between 1936 and 1987, Jacques Goddet, and a statue of Octave Lapize gasping for breath. There is a small cafe at the summit that provides hot food, drinks and snacks but it can be busy so arrive early to ensure you have a seat.
On the eastern side of the pass is a smaller village called Sainte Marie de Campan that has a couple of restaurants that are open in the summer. The village forge is a reminder of the 1913 saga of Eugene Christophe’s broken fork which forced him to walk 14km back to Sainte Marie de Campan and craft himself a new fork from a local blacksmith.
There are some great hotels near the col du tourmalet. We recommend the Hotel Les Ecrins in Sainte Marie de Campan or the Residence les Alpilles at Bagneres-de-Bigorre, both of which are excellent value for money and very close to the climb.
The Col du tourmalet is an iconic climb that should be on every road cyclist’s bucket list. It is a truly spectacular mountain pass that is a must-visit on any cycling holiday in the French Pyrenees.
2023 is set to be a busy year for the col with the Tour de France, Tour de France Femmes and Vuelta a Espana all climbing it. I will be heading to watch at least one of the races and can’t wait to see some epic battles on this legendary climb.