With a day off to explore the area around our Bagneres-de-Bigorre, I had no shortage of famous Tour climbs to choose from. I played around with putting together a longer route with Hautacam, Luz Ardiden, and/or the Col d’Aubisque. Considering how hard my ride was the day before, I decided to just do Hautacam (it was mostly a flat route to get there). This would be my third HC (Hors catégorie, beyond category) climb of the trip so far.
I was lucky to get another mostly cloudy day for riding, plus the climb was likely to going to be socked with clouds/fog. While not as long as the Col du Tourmalet, I knew Hautacam was a very hard climb with repetitive steep gradients. Although only featured 5 times in the Tour de France, it’s provided some memorable finishes. The two I remember the most from watching DVDs were both in the fog. The first was Luc Leblanc riding away from Miguel Indurain and the rest of the field in 1994. The second was Bjarne Riijs (on enough EPO to fuel a race horse) further solidified his 1996 Tour lead. I knew I would be experiencing similar weather conditions.
My ride started fairly easy with a scenic route between the D935 and D821. It was mostly wooded with plenty of rolling hills, which reminded me a lot of Wisconsin. Once I reached the Vallée d’Argelès-Gazost, the sun started to peek out. I took a quiet road that paralleled the main highway. I stopped to enjoy the view a few times, since I knew visibility would be limited at the top of the Hautacam.
The Hautacam climb from Ayros-Arbouix is 13.6 km at a 7.8% average grade…ouch! The first few kms were not bad, but after that the gradients were going to be 9%+ pretty much all of the way to the top. I did find my legs hurting from yesterday’s ride, but I still pushed it since I knew the ride back was going to be mostly flat. The 10%+ grades were challenging, but I kept remembering the footage from the Tour de France. I was happy once I hit the airport near the top, where the Tour usually finishes. This also what most consider to be the end of the official climb.
I was pleasantly surprised to see myself right after pro (and former hour record holder) Alex Dowsett on the Strava segment for the second half of the climb…
From the airport, it was a short climb up to the ski area. On the way up, I did run into a bunch of sheep lying in the middle of the road. I literally rode within inches of one of their noses, and they didn’t bother moving. The restaurant at the top was nice, and it was good to get something to eat after 35 miles of riding.
I won’t get into the return trip, since I simply followed the same route and it wasn’t very exciting. The ride ended up being 70 miles with over 9000 feet of climbing.