Cycling Col de Tentes
The climb to Col de Tentes has never been ridden in the Tour de France and due to its location within the Pyrenees National Park probably never will be. Don’t let this stop you though as the climb deserves to be on every cyclist’s bucket list – it is truly spectacular.
Suggested cycling route
From Argeles Gazost you head along the flat valley floor until you hit the Gorge de Luz after the village of Pierefitte Nestalas. From here you climb slowly upwards for the next 30km until you reach the village of Gavarnie. Behind the village, you can view the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cirque de Gavarnie and view France’s highest waterfall at 422m ( 1385ft) or refuel before the climb which starts just out of the village. We certainly recommend spending some time taking in the sights of Gavarnie, which is a fitting destination in its own right.
Distance: 95.7km / 59.5mi
Start elevation: 460m / 1,509ft
Max elevation: 2,206m / 7,238ft
Metres climbed: 2,313m / 7,589ft
Metres descended: 2,308m / 7,571ft
Categorised climbs: 1
Col de Tentes
With 40kms of uphill in the legs, you could be forgiven for thinking you had already completed most of the climbing. But the road ahead tells otherwise and the official start of the Col de Tentes begins now. The climb itself is 10.8km (6.7mi) long and over that distance, you will gain another 800m of elevation. From the start, the road kicks up sharply and both times we have completed it, a headwind has made progress all that little bit harder.
From the bottom, you can see a statue towering overhead and after just a few kilometers of climbing you are looking down on that very statue as you gain elevation quickly. You can see the road zig-zag ahead of you, often seemingly perched on the side of a cliff. You will marvel at just how a road was carved into the mountain at all. A few kilometers from the top you will pass a ski station which in and of itself is quite unremarkable. As you keep making your way up the steep climb you really appreciate the beauty of this part of the national park.
Final push to the summit
In the last two kilometers to the top be aware of herds of sheep who will not move off the road. Seemingly stuck perched into little nooks in the cliff, these sheep are not at all bothered by the labored breathing of an amateur cyclist. The views all around are spectacular especially once you reach the 2,208m summit which is higher than the Col du Tourmalet. The Spanish border is not far from the top and there is a path leading to it should you wish to walk the extra 3.2km there and back. You may also see the climb called Port de Boucharo, which is the name given to the border crossing. From here the hard work is done and it is an awesome downhill descent all the way home.
Herds of sheep often line the road as you near the summit. They are used to cyclists and won’t pay you any attention at all!
Food and water
There are plenty of options for food and water on this route. Luz Saint Sauveur is the first option on the way up with cafés and supermarkets. Further up you pass the small village of Gèdre where you will find a small general store and a few café options. The next stop is Gavernie where there are a number of cafés and small stores for resupply. All three villages have public toilets.
- Gavarnie is a world UNESCO heritage site and home to France’s highest waterfall.
- Wonder at the spectacular road which climbs sharply to the top of the Col de Tentes.
- Reaching the highest paved road in the Pyrenees at 2208m (7,244ft)- higher than the Tourmalet!
There are many switchbacks to navigate on the climb to the summit.
Climb statistics and gradient profile
Col de Tentes
Length: 10.8km / 6.72mi
Average gradient: 7.71%
Start point: Gavarnie
Elevation at top: 2,208m / 7,244ft
You will feel very small as you pedal to the summit, with huge mountains looming all around you.
Savor the descent with the big mountains all around you.