La Haute Route de la Pyrenees

September is here and that only means one thing; pack the car and drive off to the Alps for a week of cycling in the mountains. But this year I am doing something slightly different - La Haute Route de la Pyrenees / The Raid Pyrenean*. This is a route, entirely in the French side of the mountains** starting on the Atlantic at Hendaye and finishing on the Mediterranean at St-Cyprien Plage (Perpignon - home of the 2018 Challenge Cup winning Catalan Dragons) and riding many cols made famous by the Tour de France (and La Vuelta).

* The official Raid Pyrenean covers the course in 100 hours. I am taking a more leisurely 6 days for the 436 miles and 14,593m climbing
** There are variants of the route including one which has a brief foray into Spain after Bagneres-du-Luchon to take in the Col de Portillion

Not wanting to carry all my kit, I have joined a group holiday from Exodus, (other operators are available) specialists in adventure holidays. 10 years ago I went on an Exodus Mountain Biking holiday based near Luchon in the Pyrenees. Sadly that trip is no longer offered. It will be a great help to have a minibus to carry stuff from hotel to hotel and be there to replenish bidons and energy bars etc. Hopefully the weather will not result in having to jump in the van - the forecast is to start sunny and end sunny but for some rain in the middle.

The trip starts with an early flight to Bilbao and time Saturday afternoon to assemble the bike and have a short ride along the corniche*** to St Jean du Luz, an area I know well from family holidays when I was just a child. The proper riding starts on Sunday and we ride every day completing the route on Friday before an early start on Saturday for a flight home from Toulouse.

*** corniche is French for a coastal road, and is also used for roads alongside gorges, but is often used specifically for the coastal road along the Med between Nice and Monte Carlo sadly infamous due to the fatal crash involving Princess Grace of Monaco in 1982.

The tables below show the stages with distance, vertical gain, highest point and links to each days' report, a map and a profile. There is a further table below with a list of cols crossed and their usual category when included in the Tour de France.
The actual itinerary was slightly different to the advised trip notes; Day 1 extended to make Day 2 shorter (a good idea as Day 2 was originally a long day with the major climb late in the day; the Aubisque hasn't moved, just that it comes with 30km less in the legs) , the stop-overs changed on Days 3 and 4 slightly extending the route and Day 4 made longer but easier by replacing the more direct route over the Col de Mente with the much lower Col des Ares. Day 5 was slightly shortened as Col de Marmare is currently closed, also meant we couldn't ride the Col du Chiola.

Day 1 Report
Day 2 Report
Day 3 Report
Day 4 Report
Day 5 Report
Day 6 Report
 


Schedule
 
Day Start End Distance Height Gain Peak Report Map Profile
0 Hendaye (0m) Hendaye (0m) 17 miles 267m 83m - Corniche d'Urrugne Saturday afternoon warm up ride
1 Hendaye (0m) Montory (270m) 82 miles 1,857m 500m - Col d'Osquich Day 1 Map Profile
2 Montory (270m) Agos-Vidalos (440m) 67 miles 2,537 1,709m - Col d'Aubisque Day 2 Map Profile
3 Agos-Vidalos (440m) Saint-Lary Soulan (321m) 60 miles 2,546m 2,115m - Col du Tourmalet Day 3 Map Profile
4 Saint-Lary Soulan (321m) Lorp Sentaraille (360m) 80 miles 2,313m 1,569m - Col du Peyresourde Day 4 Map Profile
5 Lorp Sentaraille (360m) Ax-les-Thermes (720m) 65 miles 1,884m 1,227m - Col du Port Day 5 Map Profile
6 Ax-les-Thermes (720m) St-Cyprien (0m) 94 miles 1,814m 2,001m - Col de Pailleres Day 6 Map Profile
  Hendaye St-Cyprien 465 miles 12,551m 2,115m - Col du Tourmalet   Map  

 

List of Cols
Day Col Height Notes
1 Col de Saint-Ignace 169m Base of La Rhune mountain
1 Col de Pinodetia 176m one of the 'Petit Cols du Pays Basque'. Featured in the TT of the 2018 Tour
1 Col de Gamia 500m one of the 'Petit Cols du Pays Basque'.
1 Col d'Osquich 507m one of the 'Petit Cols du Pays Basque'
2 Col de Marie-Blanque 1,035m Cat 1 Climb - not used on our route variant
2 Col d'Aubisque 1,709m HC Climb
2 Col du Soulor 1,474m Part of the descent of the Col d'Aubisque, uncategorised in this direction
3 Col du Tourmalet 2,115m HC Climb, highest point of the week
3 Col d'Aspin 1,489m Cat 1 Climb
4 Col Peyresourde 1,569m Cat 1 Climb
4 Col des Ares 797m Cat 2 Climb - replaces the Col de Mente
4 Col de Bech   Part of the descent from the Ares, not really a col and not marked on the road
4 Col de Buret 599m Only a 2% average gradient
4 Col de Mente 1,349m Cat 1 / 2 Climb - not used on our route variant
4 Col de Portet d'Aspet 1,069m Cat 2 Climb - average gradient 9.7%, how is this only Cat 2
5 Col des Caougnous 947m Part of the climb of the Col de Port
5 Col de Port 1,247m Cat 2 Climb
5 Pas de Souloumbrie 911m  
5 Route de Corniche 1,045m  
5 Col de D20 / D44 ~ 900m Part way up the Col de Marmare, closed road preventing further climbing
5 Col de Marmare 1,361m Part of the climb of the Col du Chioula Road closed near the top of the Col
5 Col du Chioula 1,431m Could not be reached via the Col de Marmare
6 Col de Pailheres 2,001 HC Climb
6 Col de Camperier 514m Small lump on the descent from Axat
6 Col de la Bataille 265m A small rise on today's long descent
6 Coll de Rossa ~130m Not sure this really exists, but it is marked on the map Not on our route

Pyrenees v The Alps

Regular readers of this web-site know that I have done a decent amount of riding in The Alps but very little in the Pyrenees. Why is this? Two main reasons. Firstly The Alps are easily reachable in one day in the car. Breakfast on the 7:30 ferry, a long motorway drive and you are enjoying your first Pastis by 18:30. The Pyrenees are that little bit further and not really viable to get there in a day. It is possible to get home, indeed I have driven back from St Jean du Luz in one day, but on the homebound journey you gain an hour crossing the channel and arriving home at midnight is not a problem. That is not a good time to be arriving at your holiday hotel on the outbound. Secondly The Alps, due to height and more consistent snow, are more developed so it is possible to base yourself in one place and have quality rides every day from your doorstep. This is a little trickier in the Pyrenees. The mountain range runs NW-SE and most of the roads run NE-SW. There are only a few roads running along the mountains (one reason why the Col du Tourmalet is used so often) and fewer ski resorts so less loops and more out-and-backs.

But the Pyrenees has some hidden gems - beyond even the small ski resorts that light up Le Tour are some beautiful spots that Le Tour can't visit due to strict enforcement of National Park rules. Sadly none of the following are on the route followed but if your are in the area you simply have to visit Le Pont d'Espagne, Gavarnie, Cirque de Troumouse and the Route des Lacs (Lac d'Oredon, Lac d'Aubert & Lac d'Aumar).

Perhaps next year will be the Route des Grandes Alpes from Thonon-les-Bains on Lake Geneva to Menton on the Mediteranean.
 

 


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