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View from the saddle: the Haute Route Pyrenees 2015

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Change in configuration for this new edition, the Atlantic Ocean will no longer be the goal to reach, but the starting point for the Haute Route Pyrenees in 2015. The previous format has been shelved; very different from the east to west crossing, this year the course is in the heart of the Pyrenees, right where the most prestigious cols are concentrated. The stages link well together, and the time trial is well positioned between the two biggest stages.

The finish in Toulouse is a welcome innovation and should be quite a party. Let’s hope the race will finish in the centre of the “Ville Rose”. That would really be an unforgettable event!

 

Stage 1 Anglet – La Pierre Saint-Martin
137km | 4050M+ | 2400M-

We will be straight in at the deep end from the start…, no time to warm up for the 2015 race. True to its reputation, the Basque country will display its magnificent scenery, but the road leading to the first identified col will be no picnic. No let ups, flat roads are rare in this part of the world. It will be a succession of climbs of varying length: a real sufferfest. Fortunately the distance remains reasonable.

Col de Bagargui

Very well known to the locals, this climb has a tough reputation. The steeper parts are over 12% for several hundred metres at a time. There are several possible routes to get to the col. One of these goes over the col de Burdincurutcheta, but since the organisers don’t mention it they probably mean to go via the village of Esterençuby. In this case there will be 6km to climb at 10%, a real ordeal on the narrow Basque roads, in order to get up and over the formidable col d’Arthaburu. If it is a hot day it will be really tough. We will still not be at the summit though: there is still a long way to ride through the magnificent Iraty forest, one of the biggest deciduous forests in Europe. The winding road is a never-ending series of climbs and descents, finishing at last with a relatively easy 6 km climb up the western side of the col de Bagargui.

Col de la Pierre Saint Martin

Here again, there are two possible routes, and I don’t know this climb… I’ll check it out as soon as I get the chance!

The transfer to Pau is likely to be painful. Expect to spend 1h30 in a bus after what will have been a very tough first day.

 

Stage 2 Pau – Pau
160km | 2800M+ | 2800M-

Second stage, long distance, we’ll have to get out of Pau to go find the mountains and then get back at the end of the day. This will have the effect of concentrating the day’s climbing in the middle of the stage. The first few kilometres out of Pau are of little interest apart from a few good views on the distant peaks. Things will look up when we (apparently) start up the D918, a narrow and windy road. It is always a great moment to go through the Bois de Bager, which will bring us to the foot of the first climb of the day.

Col de Marie Blanque

From here on until the col du Soulor, the route is exactly the same as last year but in reverse. Turn to the left in the village of Escout, and there we are launched on an attractive little road that meanders along the banks of a river. The tranquil scene is a bit like the calm before the storm, with an initial ramp at 10% to bring us back to reality. We then enter the forest, which will stay with us all the way to the summit. The road winds back and forth easily enough before rearing up in definitive fashion. With an average grade of 11%, the final 4km of this climb will make an unforgettable impression.

After the descent, 11km of false flat climbing brings us to Laruns and the Ossau valley, one of the most beautiful in the region, famous for the cheese Ossau Iraty (made from sheep’s milk and not to be missed!)

Col d’Aubisque/Col du Soulor

This is one of the monuments of the Tour de France, and it means the most when climbed from this side. Everything is there to make this climb one of cycling’s greatest spots. Starting in the forest, we easily reach the peaceful hot springs at Eaux Bonnes. The second act then begins as the high mountains approach and the road gets steeper before a short respite in the ski station of Gourette. From there on, we change sides and can look back and across to admire our progress. In the final kilometres the magnificent views over the Ossau valley will satisfy anyone that enjoys panoramic scenery.

The descent towards the Soulor is impressive, especially when reaching the Cirque du Litor. Here the road is literally carved into the side of the steep slopes. Better not to miss a corner. The last few kilometres to reach the Soulor are insignificant in terms of challenge but absolutely magic for their natural beauty.

There are two ways to get back to Pau from there, but whichever one is chosen by the organisers, make sure you are not alone because there is a long way to go before the end of the stage (at least 55 km…)

This is a tough stage to manage, especially because the Marie-Blanque will blow the groups apart. With the effects of the previous day’s stage in the legs, this will be morale-sapping for anyone that finds him/herself alone at the end!

 

Stage 3 Pau – Hautacam
104km | 3150M+ | 1850M-

Beware of this stage: it may be short, but there are two serious climbs on the menu du jour. We will begin by making our way along the banks of the Ouzom in one of the wildest valleys in the Haute Pyrenees. You can’t help being impressed by the huge wall which rears up at the end of the valley. The valley narrows more and more and brings us after a long false flat to the village of Ferrière where the real work begins: 12 km of tough climbing up to the summer pastures, where you can often be surprised by sheep and cattle on the road.

The descent to Argelès-Gazost is fast, but you still have to keep pedalling to keep your speed up. There’s no transition before the climb to Hautacam, which is a difficult, irregular climb where it is hard to keep any sort of rhythm.

To summarise, it will be important to start slowly and ride the first 40 km easily in order to tackle these two giants of the Pyrenees.

 

Stage 4 Vallée du Lavedan – Saint-Lary Soulan
123km | 3700M+ | 3300M-

A Pyrenean classic, legendary scenery, a prestigious stage. The start will apparently be from Argelès-Gazost. The first part of the stage is exactly the same as last year’s time trial to the Tourmalet.

You may want to make the most of the few flat kilometres at the start of this stage, because they will be the only ones…

Col du Tourmalet

It hardly seems worth describing the Tourmalet, used almost every year in the Tour de France. The challenge here is that it is placed right at the start of the stage. It would be smart to take it easy in order not to have serious regrets later in the stage.

The descent to Sainte Marie de Campan is very fast and dangerous. This is the famous village where Eugène Christophe stopped at the blacksmith’s to repair his forks in 1913.

Col d’Aspin

From Sainte Marie de Campan the road that brings us to the foot of the col d’Aspin is a real leg-breaker. We’ll have to get up several short steep sections to reach Payolle, a small ski station. We’ll be leaving the Hourquette d’Ancizan (climbed last year) to the right, and then starting a straightforward 5 km climb. Once at the summit, and if the visibility is good, the view over the Aure valley is stupendous. You can hit very high speeds in the descent. Be careful not to miss a corner…

Col d’Azet

No sooner do we enter the Aure valley than we leave it again, in the direction of the Louron valley. There are 10km of false flat to climb, with several steeper sections leading up to Loudenvielle. On the left is the col de Peyresourde, on the programme in two days’ time, but for now, we are going to play with the slopes on the right. The first 5km are very hard, with sections at more than 13%. The end is relatively easy, and there again the view from the summit is worth the trip: a 360° panorama from where one can see Saint Lary, the stage finish way down below.

The total climbing is close to 4000m so the pseudo- rest day to come will be very welcome.

 

Stage 5 Saint-Lary Soulan – Pla d’Adet
12km | 953M+ | 74M

A quiet day, the town of St Lary offers plenty of opportunities for rest and recuperation, ranging from easy walks to a thalassotherapy centre.

The cycling programme is short. It is a straight hill climb that begins immediately at the exit of the town. You can see a deep cut into the mountain: from the first ramp to the first bend, the road has literally been carved out of the rock face. The grade is consequential, ranging from 9 to 10%. After 5 km the slope becomes a bit less steep and enters a forest for the remaining stretch up to the ski station on the summit. Considering what is to come tomorrow, you might want to take it easy!

 

Stage 6 Saint-Lary Soulan – Superbagnères
122km | 4100M+ | 3100M-

The route over the four cols on the programme today is a grand classic of the Pyrenees. They are all close together, and the rapid succession of climbs will make this stage the hardest of the week. Between the first three there is no valley and no transition, it goes up, goes down and goes up again. The transition from the Peyresourde to the Port de Bales is particularly brutal. There is not a single metre of flat road, we pass directly from one to the other.

At the summit of the Port de Bales we will already be severely tested, yet the stage is far from finished. We will have to concentrate hard in the vertiginous descent to Mauléon Barousse and make sure to keep something in reserve during the false flat to Bagnères de Luchon and the foot of the climb to Superbagnères.

Anyone that has dug too deep over the early climbs is going to find the 18km up to Superbagnères a terrible ordeal, perhaps even a challenge too far.

The key to this stage is without any doubt in managing your effort.

 

Etape 7 Bagnères-de-Luchon – Toulouse
154km | 1300M+ | 1750M-

Innovative, this final stage could be a real trap for the unwary. Looking at the profile one might think that it is enough to climb the col de Menté (a minor matter of 10km at 9%), and then freewheel all the way to Toulouse.

The reality is completely different. The game is far from over on the summit of the col du Menté: the foothills of the Pyrenees are far from easy and numerous climbs are hidden in the plain leading to Toulouse. The river Garonne has certainly created plenty of wide open space, but over thousands of years has also carved out numerous alternative river beds and valleys that will have to be crossed. After a week in the high mountains, these need to be taken seriously.

Also, you will need to be ready for the change in pedalling style, which is quite different between the mountains and the plain. Legs that have trained exclusively for climbing could be very surprised here by the effort needed to get to the finish line in Toulouse.

Make sure you form a group of at least ten persons of the same level, and ride to the finish together.

 

A final thought…

The unique character of the Pyrenees is the rapid succession of tough climbs, which can follow on so closely you completely lose it. Anybody that lines up at the start in Anglet on August 15, 2015 should be seriously prepared for this!

 

Training for the Haute Route

Alpine Cols provides coaching and training camps to help you prepare for the Haute Route. Contact us for more information.

 

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Chris Hope
Chris Hope
7 years ago

Hi Alpine Cols, great descriptive Yannick, sounds amazing and what a challenge, cant wait. Will see you hopefully next year for a training weekend. Chris

Marvin Faure
Marvin Faure
7 years ago
Reply to  Chris Hope

Thanks Chris – we look forward to seeing you again! Train hard in the meantime 😉