When planning our first cycling trip to France we drew up a bucket list of famous mountain climbs to try. Being keen cycling fans, naturally the famous climbs from the Tour de France featured heavily on this list. For sure there is something amazing about riding up the famous mountain passes like the Col du Tourmalet and Alpe d’Huez, but by far the biggest takeaway from our trips has been riding the spectacular relatively unknown climbs of the Pyrenees.
These climbs have never featured in the Tour de France. Certainly the mountain roads are steep enough and would make for quite a showdown amongst the worlds top cyclists. But due to their locations within National Parks, the race is unable to secure the necessary permits to bring the riders and subsequent Tour entourage to these summits.
Below is our list of three lesser known climbs in the Pyrenees which we definitely recommend you add to your list. The roads are a bit more rugged and there are no kilometre markers telling you the average gradient and distance to the top. But what these climbs may lack in fame ,they more than make up with in breathtaking landscapes, dreamy hairpin roads and rugged beauty.
The climb to Lac de Cap-de-Long really does have everything. Located in the Réserve Naturelle du Néouvielle, the ride to the summit sees you make your way past waterfalls and tight switchbacks, with rugged mountain peaks all around. At a height of 2160m the summit is higher than the Col du Tourmalet and gives you a rewarding view of one of the largest lakes in the Pyrenees. If you are lucky you might even spot a marmotte or two on your way up!
If you weren’t breathless from the steep climb to the top, you will be once you take in those magic views. The ride to Lac de Cap de Long can be taken in as part of the longer Route des Lacs which will see you take in no less than 4 lakes all up. To ride this route we recommend basing yourself in the ski resort town of Saint Lary-Soulan.
At just over 23km / 14mi in length, the climb has an average gradient of 6%. This is a bit misleading however, as the first section of the climb is rather gentle. Quite often you will be turning the pedals over gradients well over 10%. For sure it is a tough climb, but we think the surrounding beauty more than makes up for it. Check out our detailed write-up of the climb and download the route here.
There is no doubt about it, this ride to the summit of Cirque de Troumouse is unrelenting and steep. The climb officially starts from the small village of Gedre and right from the get go, you know you’re in for a tough workout to get to the top. The beauty of this climb is the feeling that you are way off the beaten track. Even in summer the road to to the top is extremely quiet. You will no doubt see more sheep and cows grazing freely by the roadside than you will cars.
Closer to the top of the climb the real fun begins with two sections of steep switchbacks to negotiate. The road turns sharply on itself over and over, and over again. All this with a gradient in double digits. A compact crankset and generous climbing cassette will definitely serve you well here. Progress may be slow but the huge mountains rise up all around you. As you make your way up the switchbacks and look back down on the road below you can feel proud of the progress you’ve made to get here.
At the top you can appreciate the natural amphitheatre which the rocky Cirque creates and you really do get a sense of being surrounded by pristine nature all around. Check out our detailed write-up of the climb and download the route here.
Personally I’ve found this one of the most challenging climbs in the Pyrenees. With a summit at 2208m/6730ft the Col de Tentes is also one of the highest paved roads in the Pyrenees as well. Located a further 10km / 6mi from the UNESCO heritage site of Gavarnie, it is a real gem.
If like us you are riding from Argeles Gazost you will already have a lot of climbing in the legs before getting to the ‘start’ of the climb. We definitely recommend a pitt stop in Gavarnie itself, a refuel of water and food before tackling the road ahead. With an average gradient of 8% you’ll be thankful you did.
The road to the summit is narrow, very cut up and steep. Metal guardrails at the roadside give you an indication of the steep gradients still to come. I remember the first time we rode this climb. I could see the ribbon of road snaking forever upwards and I kept doubting whether I’d make it to the top. A typical strong headwind often making progress feel painfully slower.
Two thirds of the way up the climb you pass the ski resort buildings and carpark. Grazing cows and sheep help to take your mind off the steep gradients although they won’t pay you any attention at all.
Much like Cirque de Troumouse, the summit of Col de Tentes is surrounded by huge rocky peaks. If you fancy a ride along the rocky gravel path at the top you can even make your way to the Spanish Border which is just a few hundred metres further on. One thing is for sure, you will have definitely earned the long descent back to Gavarnie. To read more about the climb click here to read our write-up.
So there you have it, three lesser known climbs of the Pyrenees which deserves to be on every cyclist’s bucket list.
What these climbs may lack in fame, they more than make up with in breathtaking landscapes, dreamy hairpin roads and rugged beauty.
Summiting Lac de Cap-de-Long.
The lower slopes of the climb to Lac de Cap-de-Long.
These final switchbacks to the summit of Lac de Cap-de-Long are a real leg buster!
Rugged Pyrenees, sharing the roads with sheep and cows
Switchback after switchback as you pedal your way up the the Cirque de Troumouse climb.
What goes up must go down – enjoy the descent!
Sheep on the roadside won’t pay you much attention in these parts of the Pyrenees.
Hiking trails await you at the top of the Cirque de Troumouse
Grazing cows and sheep help to take your mind off the steep gradients, although they won’t pay you any attention at all.
The UNESCO world heritage site of Gavarnie is at the base of the climb to Col de Tentes.
You will feel very tiny, surrounded by the giant rock walls of the Col de Tentes.
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