It is an understatement to say that biking the Pyrenees is a cyclist’s dream. These mountains, which traverse the 400 k distance between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean in the south of France and north of Spain, demand exploration by bike The Pyrenees present a diversity of landscape unequaled in Europe – lush meadows, peaks crowned with permanent ice or draped in velvety green, thick forests, and hidden valleys at the foot of sheer cliffs.
The history of human habitation in the Pyrenees goes back thousands of years before it was ever recorded, and in our travels we will encounter prehistoric caves with their well-preserved cave drawings, not to mention many castles with their rich history of warfare.
We will interact with a fascinating variety of cultures, dialects and traditions, and of course FOOD. Our routes will be for the most part on the smallest and least traveled roads, taking us to incredible sight and heights.
These mountains, generally rounded and crumbling, are more of a seductive challenge than an intimidating one, and their peaks and passes are attainable to cyclists of decent experience and fitness. However, in keeping with our tradition of spirited cycle tours, and the maximize our coverage of this spectacular region, we promise the option of just about every climb and awesome descent ever challenged by the peloton of the Tour de France.
This tour is not just about riding; when you climb off your bike, the adventure continues. The abundance of boulangeries and patisseries will quickly help you forget the need for power bars and energy drinks. The small restaurants serving typical French lunches are a gastronomic delight. From rustic hotels in alpine villages to country inns, our choice of lodging will greatly enhance the French experience.
July 1 - arrive at Pau airport. Transportation provided to our start hotel.
July 2 - St. Jean Pied-de-Port 64 miles, 3000 feet elevation gain
Leaving our hotel, we head west over the rolling green hills, towards the looming peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains in the distance. Today is only a warm up for the hard climbing yet to come. Low hills, green pastures and small villages give way to bigger hills and longer valleys. On the short route the Col d’Osquich offers the only true pass at 1150 feet of climbing, while the long route climbs the Col Burdin Olatze with 2300 feet climbing. Both routes bring us, to the historic town of St Jean Pied de Port. St Jean is on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, and was heavily visited until the 16th century. Many of the old sandstone buildings and pastel painted homes still exist. The sport of Jai Alai, or Pelota, as the Basque folks call it, is still played here with professional tournaments being played often. Enjoy exploring the old castle, the little shops along the pedestrian walkways, as well as the many nooks and crannies, alleyways and fortifications of this interesting village.
July 3 - Oloron 70 miles, 6500 feet or 44 miles, 3400 feet
Spending two days exploring the Basque region is certainly not enough but we have plenty of cycling ahead of us. Right out of town we start climbing; soon the small twisting valley pushes the road higher and higher and eventually emerges in the meadows. The views are tremendous with the route playing tag as the road darts, climbs, and dives from col to col, finally heading down from the Col Bagargui, followed shortly after by the equally beautiful Col de Sucousse, Col de Souder, and Col de Labays. This is certainly one of the best and most dramatic routes of our tour.
July 4 - Argelès Gazost 60 miles, 8300 feet
As a warm-up, we will ramble through the foothills of the Pyrenees before challenging the big climbs soon to arrive. Leaving Oloron we head south, towards the rolling green hills looming ahead as we glimpse the bigger peaks in the distance. Our first challenge, is to climb the little-known Col de Marie-Blanque followed by the well-known pair, Col d’Aubisque / Col du Soulor double. The Col d’Aubisque is one of the most beautiful of all ‘Tour’ climbs, and the traverse from the Aubisque to the Soulor is one of the most spectacular stretches of road in the Pyrenees. The descent of the Soulor to our hotel is pure gravy. The other great, easier option is to follow a series of valleys and hills through farmland and forests all the way to Lourdes. Lourdes is the world’s most popular Christian pilgrimage destination and is always crowded and somewhat commercially overdone. But it is still beautiful and well worth a short visit before we head for the hotel in the cute town of Argelès Gazost.
July 5 - Gavarnie 58 miles, 7000 feet
Today will start with a relaxed leg stretcher as we ride the gradual, lower stretches of the Gorge de Lutz. Our final destination today is one of the most amazing locations in all the Pyrenees, but we have to earn it. Even though the climb to Gavarnie averages only 3.5%, tired legs will still be begging for it to end. At 4500 ft elevation, Gavarnie is a true alpine village, the highest in the Pyrenees, having a most stunning setting beneath the famous Cirque de Gavarnie and the highest waterfall in Europe. A great add-on is to ride up an additional 13km to the border with Spain, adding another 2900ft. Along today’s route there are a number side trips including the Hautacam, Luz Ardiden and the beautiful climb through Cauterets to the Pont d’Espagne.
July 6 - St. Lary 58 miles, 7000 feet
Today we will climb two passes that the Tour de France climbs almost every year. We begin with the climb over the 6800ft Col du Tourmalet. This is the single biggest climbing gain of our tour, nearly 5000 ft, and also one of the biggest climbs most years in the Tour de France. After a long descent, we begin the gradual climb over the Col d’Aspin, or we can turn off on to a small, lightly traveled road up the Hourquette d’Ancizan (165 ft higher than the Aspin). We still have another opportunity to climb the Aspin later in our tour. After arriving in St Lary, there are more options for climbing, but the pool will have stronger pull for those tired legs. We are on our own for dinner tonight.
July 7 - St-Girons 80 miles, 8000 feet
No rest for weary legs; we start the day climbing immediately out of the hotel, 1500 feet. But once we reach the high point at the Col d’Azet, we have an amazing ride chasing the switchbacks down along the ridge, to the valley below. Next comes the 1700 foot climb of the Col de Peyresourde, followed by 9 miles of incredible descending to Luchon. The afternoon is a series of small cols taking us down a long gradual descent to St Girons.
July 8 and 9 - St-Girons Rest day or loop ride
Sleep in this morning and take the whole day off, explore town and have a nice lunch or even create an easy loop with lunch as the sole destination. The centerpiece for today’s riding is the Col d’Agnes. This is a small road over a beautiful pass, used by the Tour de France for the first time ten years ago and then again three year ago. This is followed by the Col de Latrape and a 37km downhill to St Girons. If you rode the long route yesterday then today would be a good time to ride the Col de Port with its wonderful descent. Today is designed as an easy day to appease our tired legs, and whatever ride you choose, there is still plenty of time to sit by the pool and enjoy some well-earned relaxation.
Mas d’Azil loop 37mi, 1500ft (out and back 30mi)
Col d’Agnes big loop, 67mi, 8000ft (without Col de Latrape, 60mi, 6850ft)
Col d’Agnes only 48mi, 3800ft
Foix Col de Port loop, 80mi, 7100ft
July 10 - Bagnères de Luchon 68 miles, 8600 feet, via Col de la Core
We start the day spinning our tired legs along the river, but soon we turn off on a small shaded lane that climbs through the forest to a small village. Here it opens up to farm land and high meadows with larger peaks visible in the distance. The Tour de France never ventures onto roads this small, but it is perfect for us. After descending from the Col de la Core, we climb the Col de Portet d’Aspet, then after three small cols, Col de Buret, Col de Ares, and Col Bouchet, we cruise to our pleasant, and very elegant hotel in Luchon.
July 11 - Bagnères de Luchon Port de Balès loop ride, 40 miles, 4300 feet
One of our favorite climbs in the Pyrenees has been the Port de Balès, the only problem being that it ended at the summit, with only a rudimentary rocky road descending to the next small village below. Recently the road was finished and the Tour de France organizers were quick to take advantage of this beautiful climb. It is easy to understand why this has become a ‘Tour’ regular since then. After a wonderful descent brings us to Luchon, we will have time for a typical French lunch at one of the many small restaurants in town. Another option is to tackle the day’s ride clockwise and include the climb the Col de Portillon from the east. There are a number of other options for today so feel free to mix and match. Below are some suggested routes.
Col de Portillon and Port de Balès 70mi, 7300ft, Port de Balès only, 54mi, 4500ft
July 12 - Sainte-Marie-de-Campan 40 miles, 6150 feet
There are plenty of ways to cut a cake, and today is no exception. In fact, we have four Tour de France Cols that are all commonly used and there a variety of combinations for us to use. There is not much time to warm up since the first climb, the Col de Peyresourde, starts its beautiful climb right out the front door. Be sure to stop at the little restaurant at the top and try the wonderful crepes. The record for our tours is 12 crepes consumed by one cyclist. The descent from here is more beautiful than the climb. Now you have three famous ‘Tour de France’ climbs to choose from, the Col d’Azet, the Hourquette d’Ancizan, and the Col d’Aspin
July 13 - Argelès Gazost 38 miles, 5000 feet, via Col du Tourmalet
For those of you who can never get enough climbing, we have our second climb of the leg breaking, Col du Tourmalet. The gradual climb starts right out the front door. There are no descents, no flat spots, no relenting, just constant climbing. All climbs must eventually descend as does our 5000 feet of screaming, nonstop coasting, 37 km down to our hotel in Argelès Gazost. For those who would like a very scenic, but easier ride, we have a great ride through the foothills with the option of touring through Lourdes and even continuing up and over the Col du Soulor. then descending all the way to Argelès Gazost
July 14 - Pau 46 miles, 4000 feet via Col de Soulor or 60 miles, 5000 feet via Col d'Aubisque
We have perhaps saved the best for the last. These last two cols that we climbed from the west early in the tour, is now being approached from the east. First, we climb the Col du Soulor, but our route explores a series of small roads deep in the mountain valleys that eventually merge below the summit of the col. From here our choice is either the spectacular col d’Aubisque, with its famous traverse, or an equally beautiful direct descent to the Pau river valley. Soon all that is left is to pack the bikes and find a large beer. Let the stories begin.
July 15 - Departure
Van transportation is provided to the Pau Airport for your flight home.