Starting in Pau, France on August 30th, the week-long 2020 Haute Route Pyrenees gran fondo will take lucky participants up some of the most epic and storied Tour de France climbs.
On stage one, Haute Route riders will face one of the most imposing climbs in the region, Col de Marie Blanque. It is a Tour de France “climbers” climb, having been crested first by the likes of Pedro Delgado, Luis Herrera and Richard Virenque. It will also be featured in Stage 9 of the 2020 Tour de France. The first half lulls riders into a “this is not too hard” frame of mind, but the last 4km offers some 18% ramps and averages 10.7%.
Having been climbed 40 times by Le Tour, the legendary 16.6km Col d’Aubisque is the featured climb for stage 2. Similar to Mont Ventoux, riders start out climbing through forest up to a ski station, then tackle the final treeless 4km to the summit where 100-mile stunning panoramic views abound. A photogenic giant bicycle sculpture at the summit is a picture perfect place to snap a selfie.
Stage 3 starts up Col d’Azet where superstars Joaquim Rodríguez, Marco Pantani and Laurent Jalabert all claimed Tour de France KOM points. This climb from Genos is the more challenging side, working its way up via a series of steep short ramps. Much of the climb is through forest, but where trees opens up at the top views into the valley below are gorgeous.
Last used in the 2018 Tour de France, the Col du Portet on stage 4 will test riders uphill time trial ability. It is one of the toughest climbs in the Pyrenees, where Nairo Quintana soloed over glass smooth asphalt, up steep slopes and around delightful hairpin turns to claim victory. Above the tree line riders are afforded wonderful views of the high mountains in all directions.
Stage 5 offers Haute Route riders a climbing trifecta – Col d’Azet (from different direction), Col d’Aspin and finally Col du Tourmalet. All three climbs are staples of the Tour de France. Tourmalet has been used 80 times and holds the record for “most visited Tour de France Col.” While climbing the Tourmalet, riders will be encouraged by famous names painted on the road – Wiggins, Contador, Evans, Voeckler – as the kilometers to the summit slowly tick down.
The good news is stage 6 only has one key climb, but it is the Hors Categorie Col d’Soulor. The summit has been crossed 60 times by the Tour de France since 1910, most recently in 2019 where Thibaut Pinot used it to extend his overall Tour de France lead, before abandoning the race (and dashing France’s hopes) a few days later.
The final stage will send riders up Col d’Soulor and Col d’Aubisque again, but via Argèles-Gazost. It is the final major climb of Haute Route Pyrenees and captures the true essence of cycling in the Pyrenees. Climbing on a road narrow as a shelf, perched high above a ravine, it is easy to understand why TDF stages have finished here. Climbing legends Michael Rasmussen, Stephen Roche and Bernard Labourdette all enjoyed the thrill of victory atop this magnificent col.