Although the most direct climb to Port de Balès (Climb 18) is from the south side, I prefer the tougher, more beautiful north climb that begins after crossing the picturesque Barousse valley. Instead of climbing Balès on the south side, you'll descend it on your way back.
The fairly level road leading to the village of Mauléon-Barousse gives you plenty of time to warm up before you begin this grueling climb that was known only to local cyclists before the 2007 Tour de France passed through on its first ascent to Port de Balès. Afterward, it finally got the worldwide attention it deserves, as much for its marvelous scenery as for its world-class climbing challenge.
If you're a cheese aficionado, you'll want to make the brief round trip detour to visit Sost before leaving the Mauléon area. If you make reservations ahead of time, you can even get guided tours of the artisan process of making the cheese for which this small village is famous. You may even be better prepared for this ascent after filling up on all that naturally processed, milk-based energy!
You'll leave Mauléon on D925, climbing gradually through a dense forest. Despite the absence of tight switchbacks in this lower portion of the road, the grade increases constantly. By the time you are 11 kilometers (6.8 mi) out of town, the grade will have picked up significantly, with a few sections reaching over 10%.
It is not until just before the summit that the majestic views rise above the forest: at the very top, the panoramic views over the Pyrénées are nothing short of spectacular. The very smooth pavement of Balès' southern side is custom-made for a high speed, but beware of the occasional tight switchbacks.
For more elevation and distance, you can also add Col de Peyresourde (Climb 17) before ending your ride in Luchon or, if you still feel invincible, you can always try SuperBagnères (Climb 19).
Major Climbs: Port de Bales
Distance: 68 km | 42 mi
Elevation Gain: 1826 m | 5,991 ft
Starting Location: Argeles-Gazost
Period of the Year: June to September
Riding Time: 3h28'
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