Col du Tourmalet, a true giant of the Pyrenees, is a mountain pass located in the heart of the French Pyrenees, between the departments of Hautes-Pyrénées and Midi-Pyrénées. One of the most challenging climbs in France, the Col du Tourmalet connects the towns of Luz-Saint-Sauveur in the west and Sainte-Marie de Campan in the east. It lies within the borders of the Pyrénées National Park, amidst some of France’s most stunning landscapes. It also features in the Tour de France Femmes for the first time in 2023.
Gradient/Elevation and Route Over the Col d’Aspin
With an elevation of 2,115 meters (6,939 feet), the Col du Tourmalet is one of the highest paved mountain passes in the French Pyrenees. From the western side, starting in Luz-Saint-Sauveur, the ascent is approximately 19 kilometres long, with an average gradient of 7.4%, and sections reaching up to 10.2%. From the east, the climb begins in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, with a length of 17.2 kilometres, an average gradient of 7.3% and steepest pitches of 10%.
If one is taking the route over the Col d’Aspin, they will depart from Sainte-Marie-de-Campan. After summiting the Col d’Aspin and descending into Arreau, riders then embark on the 29km climb to the top of the Tourmalet.
The 2023 Tour de France Femmes peloton will be tackling the climb from the eastern side, going through Sainte-Marie-de-Campan having gone over the Col d’Aspin.
Tour de France Legacy
The Col du Tourmalet has a storied history with the Tour de France, first featuring in the race in 1910. Notable for the story of Octave Lapize calling race organiser Henri Desgrange ‘un assassin’ after a stage featuring the Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Soulor, De Tortes and d’Abusique. It has since become one of the most iconic climbs, appearing more than 80 times, making it the most visited mountain pass in the history of the Tour de France. It’s rare to be a stage finish, however, with just 3 instances over history – Merckx winning in 1974, Andy Schleck in 2010 and Pinot in 2019.
Many great champions have won at the summit of the Tourmalet, such as legendary riders like Fausto Coppi, Federico Bahamontes, and Jean Robic. Richard Virenque crested the climb twice in the 1990s. In recent years, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot triumphed on this climb in 2016, while in the 2023 Tour rider to the summit first was a Norwegian rider, Tobias Halland Johannessen.
The 2023 Tour de France Femmes and the Col du Tourmalet
In 2023, the Col du Tourmalet will be a featured climb in the Tour de France Femmes, marking a significant moment in women’s professional cycling. This addition of a high mountain stage was a monumental development, illustrating the increasing parity in men’s and women’s professional cycling.
The challenging climb over the Col du Tourmalet undoubtedly will have a massive impact on the fight for the yellow jersey. It tests the climbers in the peloton, separating the strongest from the pack. As the ultimate battleground, the Col du Tourmalet challenges not only the physical strength of the riders but also their mental tenacity and strategic foresight.
The stage itself should be the definitive turning point in the race, with the potential to produce dramatic shifts in the general classification. Riders aiming to claim the prestigious yellow jersey had to prove their mettle on the unforgiving slopes of the Col du Tourmalet. Riders will also have to look at the next day’s time trial and not empty the tanks fully on the Tourmalet.
By integrating iconic climbs such as the Col du Tourmalet, the 2023 Tour de France Femmes helped the route be more of an upgrade on the first rebooted edition of the Tour de France Femmes in 2022. Not only will it help increase the visibility of the sport, but it also showcases the extraordinary ability of these athletes to take on the same challenging terrain as their male counterparts. Riders like Demi Vollering and Annemiek van Vleuten will look to swing the GC to them on the slopes.
In summary, the Col du Tourmalet, with its formidable gradient and high elevation, continues to hold a significant place in the history and future of professional cycling. It represents a colossal challenge for all who dare to take it on, whether in the men’s Tour de France or the Tour de France Femmes. As always, the ‘Giant of the Pyrenees’ promises to deliver drama, excitement, and cycling of the highest quality.