The Tourmalet. A legend, and the most featured climb in the Tour de France. It has featured no less than 88 times, and this year will be the biggest year in its illustrious history. In 2023 it will provide the finish for the Tour de Femmes and the Vuelta Espana, both will be their first time finishing on it. On top (forgive the pun!) the Tour de France will go up and over too. To put that into context, the Tour de France has only finished on Col du Tourmalet 3 times.
So, was I excited to be riding this climb? And at night too? Absolutely…
Being a Col (which means pass in French) there are two routes up it. Via Luz Saint-Sauveur and Saint Marie-de-Campan, both equally epic, but you could argue that the more famous side is from Luz Saint-Sauveur and that is the route I’ve chosen to take.
Luz Saint-Sauveur is a pretty town with just a few thousand people. A town littered with little shops, restaurants and typical architecture for the Pyrenees. The locals call it Luz and it is a very charming place. Perfect if you were interested in ticking off a few famous climbs as from there, not only can you summit Col du Tourmalet, but Cirque de Tromouse, Luz Ardiden, Hautacam and Col Spandelles aren’t far away.
Shot by the sign, which marks the official start point and it's time to head off. My Bright As Day 3000 on my handlebars and the Bright As Day 2000 on my helmet.
The climb ahead averages 7.4% over 18.9km. you climb 1404m vertically as is a Hors Categories climb. Did you know that they used to categorise Tour de France climbs using a Citroen 2CV? Category 2 meant it could climb it in 2nd gear, Category 1 in 1st gear and Hors Categories meant it couldn’t get up it!
The legs are turning and for the first few KM, I can hear the noise of the river alongside me. Climbing up the valley until the first set of switchbacks at 4KM right…left and continuing straight up until you get to Super Barages.
A shift. Gone are the valleys as the next set of switchbacks propel you upwards, this feels like the true start of the climb. Huge walls of granite start to surround me, and when I look backwards the lights are getting less and less. It feels like an adventure.
I’ve seen the photos and it seems to be surreal to be at what is arguably the most iconic section of the Col du Tourmalet, Super Barages. A section of road wrapping around Les Bastan Restaurant then sling-shotting you upwards. I see my first glimpse of the Col, it's high above me and the road is steepening. Over 10% and just over 6km to go.
It was at 17km where you make a sharp right-hand bend that the Tourmalet for me came alive. The road narrows, there are no railings on the right-hand side and the view is obscured. A seemingly constant reveal where you’re keen to see what’s around the next corner (great for motivation). The walls of granite tower above me as I traverse this huge face. The section of Super Barages is now far beneath me.
With 1km to go there is a noticeable change in gradient. Pushing 10% as I enter into the final switchback. A sharp left turn to slingshot me to the summit. But I wish! As the gradient grows and grows until you hit the finish line and the apex of the road. The road or Col is carved into the rock.
Unusually Le Géant du Tourmalet has been put at ground level, as they are reconstructing the Col. Its normally impossible to get a bike shot with it, so a must to get a photo of my bike with it. Super cool! And so was the view. The lights of La Mongie Ski Resort on the other side sparkling and looking back down towards Luz Saint-Sauveur I can see the lights of Luz Ardiden too.
With the temperature just 7 degrees, I didn’t spend too much time at the summit. Lights onto full brightness and an insane amount of light hits the road. Moonlight describes them as Bright as Day, and they aren’t kidding. Awesome.
My descent follows the way I rode up, and with that route knowledge in hand I let the bike run. Sweeping around the first right-hand bend with the road to myself. No-one around. When would you get to have the road to yourself during the day in the summer months on Col du Tourmalet? Never.
The speed increases, but the sense of vulnerability of riding at night doesn’t. I’m riding like I would during the day, such is the effective brightness/vision I have… I get up to 80 km/hr.
Around Super Barages (super fun section) to then my favourite kind of descent. Maintaining 320w ripping down the road with the KM to go winding down fast. I Love-powered descents.
It was over all too quickly! As before I knew it, I was cruising back into Luz. What an epic, and unique experience to climb and descend this legend. If Col du Tourmalet is on your bucket list, or maybe you’re going to the area this year, you must try it at night. You won’t regret it.
To read more about our lights:
- Moonlight Bright as Day 4000 (primary on bike lamp)
- Moonlight Bright As Day 2000 (Helmet mounted lamp)