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Hautacam: The Crown Jewel of Pyrenean Cycling

In the heart of the French Pyrenees lies a mountain pass that has achieved legendary status within the world of professional cycling. This is none other than Hautacam, a mountain resort that also serves as a challenging climb, regularly featured in the Tour de France. Hautacam, draped in the mystique of cycling history, has forged a reputation as a gruelling but immensely rewarding climb.

Located near the commune of Argelès-Gazost in the Hautes-Pyrénées department, Hautacam is primarily a winter ski resort. Yet, in the summer months, it transforms into a Mecca for cyclists, seeking to test their mettle on the steep mountain gradients.

The climb itself is about 13.6 kilometres long, with an average gradient of 7.8%. However, this average can be somewhat deceiving, as the climb is characterized by its inconsistent and irregular nature. The gradient varies dramatically along the ascent, including stretches well into the double digits, which places a high premium on rhythm and pacing. This, paired with an elevation of 1,520 meters, can make Hautacam a punishing challenge even for seasoned riders.

Bjarne Riis

Hautacam in the Tour de France

Over the years, Hautacam has been a regular feature of the Tour de France, one of the most prestigious professional cycling races in the world. Since its first appearance in 1994, it has often been used as a summit finish, providing the backdrop for many memorable moments in the race’s history. The irregularities of the climb, combined with its position late in the stages, means it often becomes a crucial battleground, where the outcome of the race can be decided.

One of the most famous episodes in Hautacam’s Tour de France history occurred in 2000 when the Spanish cyclist Javier Otxoa powered to a solo victory on the climb ahead of Lance Armstrong. At the time, that ride put Lance Armstrong into the yellow jersey for his 2nd Tour de France win before the well-known stripping of the titles. Otxoa would go on to finish 13th in GC that year, his best result. Otxoa suffered a training crash in 2001 that put him into a coma and left the rider with serious disabilities. Otxoa would go on to compete in the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games, winning gold in the Time Trial in both editions.

Jonas Vingegaard wins on Hautacam 2022 Tour de France
Jonas Vingegaard

More recently, the 2014 Tour de France also featured Hautacam, with the Italian Vincenzo Nibali claiming the stage victory on his way to his only Tour de France victory. This particular ascent was once again the theatre of high drama, with competitors pushing their limits in the final uphill battle of the race. 2022 saw the most recent ascent in the 2022 Tour de France. Jonas Vingegaard recreated the achievements of Bjarne Riis and Vincenzo Nibali by winning on the Hautcam and winning the GC.

Outside of the Tour de France

Outside of the professional peloton, Hautacam remains a popular destination for amateur cyclists, drawn by its reputation and the allure of the Tour de France. Thousands of enthusiasts every year attempt the climb, testing their endurance and grit against the steep slopes and high altitude.

Despite the punishing nature of the climb, those who conquer Hautacam are rewarded with stunning vistas of the surrounding Pyrenees mountains. Whether you are a professional athlete seeking glory, or an amateur cyclist searching for a new challenge, Hautacam delivers a unique experience that’s equal parts demanding and inspiring.

As it stands in 2023, Hautacam remains a staple of the Tour de France and a key attraction for cyclists around the world. It continues to forge stories and create memories, securing its status as one of the most iconic climbs in professional cycling. It will also be included in the 2023 CIC Tour Pyrénées as well.

In essence, Hautacam is a testament to the appeal of cycling – the blending of physical challenge, strategic depth, and natural beauty. Whether as a spectator or a participant, the climb provides a thrilling spectacle that leaves an indelible impression. Undoubtedly, the tales of Hautacam will continue to be written, adding to the rich tapestry of cycling history.