A Guide to Cycling Col du Tourmalet

The Col du Tourmalet is one of the most iconic climbs in the French Pyrenees. It was first included in the Tour de France in 1910 and has been featured 87 times since. The summit sits at 2,115m and is reached from Saint Marie Campan on the eastern side and Luz Saint Sauveur from the west. On the eastern side the climb is 17km in length at an average gradient of 7.4%. The western approach is slightly longer at 19km in length with the same average gradient. It is a “must-ride” climb if you are planning a visit to the Pyrenees. Cycling Col du Tourmalet is a must for any cycling trip to the Pyrenees.

Col du Tourmalet Climb Statistics

The Tour de France has climbed Col du Tourmalet a total of 87 times since it was first used in 1910. The 1910 stage was the first time the Tour de France visited the Pyrenees. It was last used in 2019 when the stage finished at the summit with French cyclist Thibaut Pinot taking stage honours. It will once again be used for the 2021 Tour de France where it features in Stage 18.

The climb is also used in the Vuelta a Espagna, although not nearly as often.

From Luz Saint Sauveur

Length: 19km / 11.8mi

Average gradient: 7.4%

Start point: 711m / 2,333ft

Elevation at top: 2,115m / 6,940ft

Category: Hors Category (HC)

Gradient profile of Col du Tourmalet from Luz Sainte Sauveur

Nearest town: Luz Saint Sauveur

Facilities at top: Cafe, toilets, shop

When to ride: May to October

Road condition: Good

Nearest climb: Luz Ardiden

Number of approaches: 2

Through road at top: Yes

Closest bike hire: Luz Saint Sauveur

From Saint Marie de Campan

Length: 17km / 10.6mi

Average gradient: 7.4%

Start point: 851m / 2,792ft

Elevation at top: 2,115m / 6,940ft

Category: Hors Category (HC)

Gradient profile of Col du Tourmalet from Saint Marie de Campan

Nearest town: Bagneres de Bigorre

Facilities at top: Cafe, toilets, shop

When to ride: May to October

Road condition: Good

Nearest climb: Col d’Aspin

Number of approaches: 2

Through road at top: Yes

Closest bike hire: Bagneres de Bigorre

Looking down a layer of cloud in the valley from the summit of Col du Tourmalet

Cycling Col du Tourmalet

Col du Tourmalet is an iconic climb of the French Pyrenees and the Tour de France and has seen many epic battles play out on its two approaches over the years. Cycling Col du Tourmalet and taking your photo at the top with the famous statue of Le GĂ©ant will definitely be a highlight of a visit to the Pyrenees.

Where to stay to cycle Col du Tourmalet

We recommend staying in Luz Saint Sauveur, Argeles Gazost, Lourdes or Bagneres de Bigorre if you are planning to cycle Col du Tourmalet. These are larger towns with all the facilities you need for a great cycling holiday. You could also consider some of the smaller villages located in the valleys for some self-contained options and great cycling lodges. You can view our Lourdes region guide for lots of information.

If you are not familiar with the Pyrenees, our comprehensive guide will help you plan everything you need for your cycling holiday. The guide includes information such as:

  • a map of the Pyrenees with climbs and towns marked
  • where to base yourself depending on which mountains you would like to ride
  • cycling hotels and lodges
  • bike hire outlets
  • getting to and from the Pyrenees
  • non-cycling attractions and activities in the region

Our cycling route is a loop that can be started in any of the major towns along the way including Argeles Gazost, Lourdes and Bagneres de Bigorre. The loop can be ridden in any direction depending on which side of the Col du Tourmalet you plan to ride and there is plenty of time to warm the legs up before you hit the base of the climb. The route could also be ridden as an out and back from either side.

Cycling Col du Tourmalet – route suggestion

Ride distance: 99km / 61.5mi

Elevation gain: 2,186m / 7,170ft

Click here to view the route in full or download a GPX file to your device.

Col du Tourmalet cycling route
Male cyclist at the summit of the Col du Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees

The Western approach – gentle warm up

Starting From Argeles Gazost you ride across the valley floor which is a great warm up for what is ahead. After passing through the village of Pierrefitte Nestalas you turn right and head into the Gorge du Luz and spend the next 12km (7.5mi) winding your way up to the base of the climb at Luz Saint-Saveur. You can have a quick break here if you need to before starting the 18.9km (11.8mi) to the top.

The climb proper

As you leave the village of Luz Saint-Saveur you will start to see the kilometre marker signs indicating the distance to the summit. You are now on the climb proper. Some people like these signs, others loathe them as they tell you not only the distance remaining to the top, but also the average gradient for the next kilometre. The average gradient hovers around the 8% mark for the majority of the climb but you do get little respites here and there. At the village of Bareges you will also have an opportunity to top up water bottles and replenish food.

The summit push

Something you will begin to realise as you climb in the Pyrenees is that often the final sections of the climb are the steepest. This is very true for the Tourmalet as the last kilometre averages just over 10%. With nearly 18km/11mi of climbing in the legs you definitely feel it. That final hairpin bend is the steepest but so close to the summit you just need to keep pushing. Once at the top and having taken the obligatory photos you can either descend the way you climbed or complete the loop through Bagneres de Bigorre. Either way will see lots of downhill and smiles all round.

Voie Laurent Fignon

The voie Laurent Fignon is a bike only path that runs for 4km and is an alternative to the main road for a section of the climb. The path starts 2km after you pass through the village of Bareges and will join you back onto the main road 4km from the summit. The path is part of the original road to the top and as such the surface will not be in as good condition as the main road. It is recommended that you climb up this route and descend on the main road.

Eastern approach

Much like the climb from the west, the approach from the East includes a gentle warm-up. Your legs will appreciate the relatively flatter kilometres which come with this as you make your way through Bagnerre de Bigorre to the official start of the climb at Marie St Campan. From here it is all up and we would recommend you make sure you have enough food and water to get you to the top. It may only be 17km/10mi to the summit but as you will find out there is a reason the Tourmalet is a giant of the Pyrenees!

The real climbing begins

The first few km/mi from Marie St Campan are relatively gentle with the gradients between 3 and 5%. As you work your way out of the village there are small holdings either side of the road which bring with them a sense of calm. After these initial kilometres though, the gradients begin to get more sever and from here-on in it is unrelenting. You will pass through a wooded section on the road which will bring respite from the heat of the sun on a hot summers day. As you pass by a roadside stream some more cool air will perhaps have you tempted to stop and dip your feet in the water.

Steep the whole way up

As you pass a car park you will reach a switchback where the road bends round on itself to the right . From here there are long sections of double digit gradients. Unlike the approach from the east, there are fewer bends in the road which can sometimes make the climbing feel that little bit harder. Again, try and pace yourself as whilst you will be halfway up the climb, the gradient from here rarely drops below 9%. Avalanche tunnels on the approach to La Mongie signal the steepest straight sections of road. With the heat of the sun the tunnels provide you with some welcome shade.

The final push from La Mongie

The ski resort of La Mongie will provide you with another landmark on the climb to aim for. If you need more food or water there are places here to replenish your supplies. Unfortunately there is no easing up in the gradient as you hit the ski town and the somewhat retro sky scrapers don’t really provide you with a pretty distraction! Out of the resort itself the grand mountain vistas take over. The road climbs up and winds its way underneath the chair lifts overhead. You may wish they were running as an easier way to get to the summit! With a steep hairpin pinch of 15% in the final kilometre you are just a few hundred metres from the top. A further turn to the left as you pass a car park and there it is! Take in the sense of achievement and make sure to grab that photo of yourself at the summit.

Descent

Regardless of which approach to the summit you have taken, the descent from the Tourmalet is magic. Whilst quite steep ,the road is generally in great condition with the Tour de France regularly passing through. Be mindful of cows, sheep and donkeys on the way down and enjoy that hit of speed – you have certainly earned it!

The summit of the Col du Tourmalet is a buzz of people with cyclists, motor cyclists and day trippers taking in the views. There is a bar/cafe where you can stock up on food and use the toilets as well as marvel at the vintage bikes hanging on the wall. Across the road is a souvenir shop where you can purchase a range of Col du Tourmalet branded items including cycling jerseys.

Nearby climbs to Col du Tourmalet

If you would like to ride more than Col du Tourmalet in the one day there are plenty of options for you to choose from. We have listed the closest climbs that could easily be added onto our route. We have linked the climb name to the corresponding page on our site to provide you specific information about each of the climbs.

Options on the western side

These climbs are located on the western side of Col du Tourmalet where the base of the climb is Luz Saint Sauveur.

Luz Ardiden

The base of Luz Ardiden is a short distance from the western approach of the Col du Tourmalet in Luz Saint Sauveur. Including it on the ride will add around 30km in distance and 993m of elevation. This climb is challenging on its own and probably best tackled once you have Col du Tourmalet out of the way so you can see how the legs are feeling.

Views of the road and mountains at from the top of Luz Ardiden
Cyclist reaching summit of Hautacam in the French Pyrenees

Hautacam

Hautacam is located on the outskirts of Argeles Gazost and is another option to consider if you are after a bigger ride. It will add about 30km and 1,200m of climbing. This could be climbed before or after Col du Tourmalet depending on where you are staying and starting the ride.

Cauterets Valley

There are two climbs accessible from the village of Cauterets. These are the Cambasque and Pont d’Espagne and you can choose to take on just one or both of them. The ride to Cauterets itself is just under 10km in length and is a good option in itself if the legs are not quite up to riding up more mountains. The turn-off to Cauterets is located about 12km from the base of Col du Tourmalet. Depending on what you choose to do you could add anywhere from 20km to 45km in distance and 410m to 1,400m in elevation gain. You could add these on either before or after climbing Col du Tourmalet depending on your preference.

Two cyclists on the road into the ski town of Cauterets in the Pyrenees
Looking up towards Cirque de Gavarnie in the Pyrenees with a mountain stream in the foreground

Gavarnie

From the base of the Col du Tourmalet you can ride further up the valley to the town of Gavernie which also gives you the options of the Cirque de Troumouse (turn off at Gedre) and the Col de Tentes climbs. This will add from between 40km and 90km in distance and 720m and 2,500m in elevation depending on the route you select. The order in which you do these is up to you, there is no reason to complete any particular climb first over the others.

Options on the eastern side

The climbs listed below are located on the eastern side of Col du Tourmalet where the base of the climb is at the village of Saint Marie de Campan

Col d’Aspin

The climb to Col d’Aspin starts at Saint Marie de Campan, the same base for the Col du Tourmalet. Riding to the top of the Col d’Aspin and back will add 26km in distance and 633m in elevation. It is an easier climb than the Col du Tourmalet and could be ridden before or after. It is also possible to combine this climb with that of the Horquette d’Ancian for an even bigger ride.

Cows on the road at the top of Col d'Aspin
A road through the green slopes of Hourquette d'Ancizan in the Pyrenees

Horquette d’Ancizan

The climb to Horquette d’Ancizan starts 7km along the climb to Col d’Aspin where you turn right onto the D113. It will add 34km and 713m in elevation. From the top of Horquette d’Ancizan you can descend the other side and then tackle Col d’Aspin from the other side. This loop will add 53km in distance and 1,550m in elevation.

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Looking down a layer of cloud in the valley from the summit of Col du Tourmalet

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