Reaching the summit of the Tourmalet is good reason to celebrate, your personal achievement, your fitness and the pinnacle of a long day in the saddle. However, there is more if altitude if you are not yet tired and really feel the need to go higher! The Pic du Midi stands at 2,877 metres above sea level; a whopping 762 metres above the Tourmalet!
Starting on the western side of the summit pass; is a gravel track which services the observatory on the summit of the Pic du Midi. It is very steep and very rough in places; so, should only be attempted on a mountain or gravel bike with offroad tyres. So, if you are still feeling fit, have the right gear; then take the opportunity to escape the rest and ascend into the skies well above the Tourmalet.
Where the road ends; we begin!
Climbing up from Luz St Saveur; you will see a gravel road on the left before the new visitor centre. Coming from the east, from Saint-Marie-de-Campan and the ski resort of La Mongie; summit the pass then turn to the right. As shown in the photo above.
Alternatively, if you do not fancy cycling up the Tourmalet; there is ample parking on the eastern side of the summit.
Leaving the tarmac road and all those road cyclists with their skinny tyres; the gravel track soon takes you away from the crowds gathered by the summit pass of the Tourmalet. The surface of the track is smooth and compacted gravel, with softer, almost sandy patches so take care all the same.
Although, you will meet far fewer cyclists on this track; be aware of hikers walking up to the Pic du Midi. I noticed the French cyclists can be somewhat aloof and cold; even not even acknowledging a passing greeting of: ‘bonjour’! Civility costs nothing and is always priceless to receive. What is more, some hikers maybe elderly and slightly deaf, or deep in conversation and unaware of your approach. Be the better man or woman and give way and even be prepared to stop.
The views over the Bastan Valley seem to grow in spectacle with every turn of your crank. Paragliders soar like graceful birds, the Lac d’Oncet shimmers under the sun and views of the Bastan Valley and surrounding peaks roll forever outwards to the horizon.
The surface of the track seems to degrade, and you have to pick a line around certain sharp stones and potholes. A short tunnel breaks a long drag up the side of a rocky valley; yet the gradient is gentle here so not too strenuous. Yet pace yourself; for a surprise was lurking just around the corner!
The tougher second half of the climb
Rounding a large outcrop of rock; the summit of the Pic du Midi and its observatory, suddenly appear above you. After I took in this spectacular sight; my gaze soon dropped to the tiny zig-zag line below the summit. This line is the path ahead, which in places is well over a 10 per cent gradient. At this point, I smiled when I thought of the Tourmalet and its steepest ramps is now below me!
From the point shown in the photo above; the route climbs above the Lac d’Oncet and around a few abandoned mining huts. Many walkers leave the route here and descend to the lake and back to the Bastan valley below. I am not sure if cycling is permitted on these routes; yet I spied a few paths that would be possible to a competent downhill enduro rider.
Passing the mining huts; the serious climb and its various gradients begin in earnest. The first few ramps between each hairpin are gentle and easily rideable. However, the track becomes rougher and more hazardous the further you climb.
Look ahead and pick your line carefully between the various sizes rock that litter the path. If you are struggling with the heat and the higher altitudes or your heart is beating too fast; do not be afraid to stop and take in the changing views.
The highest cyclable point in the French Pyrenees?
Before you know it; you will soon see the building shown in the photo above. This is near the end of the rideable track; so, a good landmark to judge your pace on the final parts of the climb. You can ride for about another two hundred metres in distance; before you reach the railway shown in the photo above.
Beware of the llamas; they seem peaceful, yet do not get too close or threaten them. I saw a very expensive electric bike stashed here; with the rider presumably carrying on to the summit on foot. However, I would advise against this; for many people pass this way as you spend over an hour climbing to the summit.
I was more than happy to reach this point and take in the views. With a mountain bike I had climbed in altitude; three quarters of the height of the Tourmalet. With so few cyclists and walkers this route is much more relaxing and the reward in views greater still.
Look out for upcoming routes in this area; that are more peaceful and relaxing alternatives to the Tourmalet. Such as: Cycling the Luz Ardiden ; across the valley. So come and climb this amazingly engineered road; and enjoy it too.
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