Tourmalet, the giant of the Pyrénées, is the stuff of legends in the Tour de France. Climbing it is a must-do, but it is a shame to just ride it up and down when both valleys leading up to it offer an amazing array of matchless, ever-changing landscapes. This route offers you an opportunity to sample the pleasures of both.
You'll leave Argelès on a narrow side road rather than its main avenue. A short climb up to the medieval village of St-Savin gives you a chance to visit its 11th-century World Heritage Site church. Afterward, a brief descent leads back to the main road. That road will slowly begin climbing once again, this time to the village of Luz-St-Sauveur. Luz is a lively town in the summer and a perfect place to enjoy a drink and snack on a cafe terrace.
The Tourmalet climb begins in Luz and continues through the village and ski area of Barèges—your last chance for a refueling stop before the top. Shortly after Barèges, the road opens wide, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains reaching all the way up to Col du Tourmalet. The long switchbacks of the road seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. The herds of domestic sheep that help make the Pyrénées one of the world's foremost cheese producers can often be spotted on the mountainsides and sometimes they actually come down onto the road.
After the last vertical kilometers, the gigantic statue of a cyclist that honors the heroic efforts of the Tour de France cyclists who have made this climb, welcomes you to the crest of Tourmalet. Enjoying the outstanding panoramic views over both valleys gives you a chance to catch your breath here. Then, if you still want more climb, you can push further up to the top of Pic du Midi de Bigorre (not asphalted) and visit its astronomy research center. The descent toward the ski area of La Mongie is steep and very smooth with numerous switchbacks.
There is an épicerie (grocery store) in Ste-Marie if you need something immediately, but if you can hold on, I suggest that you continue your descent to the larger town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre and take your rest stop there. Its numerous bakeries and eateries feature everything from yummy snacks to full gourmet meals. It is also famous for its natural spring water: try it at the Fontaine St-Blaise, located on the street of the same name, a few blocks north of the casino.
After leaving the culinary delights of Bagnères-de-Bigorre, you'll continue through the village of Pouzac. A short climb will take you to the village of Neuilh, where a winding forested road takes you back down to Col de Lingous. From there, a last short climb will take you through the village of Juncalas and then back to Argelès.
Major Climbs: Tourmalet
Distance: 101 km | 63 mi
Elevation Gain: 2312 m | 7,586 ft
Starting Location: Argeles-Gazost
Period of the Year: June to September
Riding Time: 5h05'
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