Sunday, August 6, 2017

Revisiting the Tourmalet

At the start of the real difficulties 
The hardest climbs used in the Tour de France are classified hors categorie (or HC), meaning 'beyond categorization'. You can see a list of them here; the Tourmalet has been climbed more times in the TdF than any other HC climb. It's in the Pyrenees and, since we were staying in Pau for a couple of weeks, I decided to take my bike in order to climb it. On the only day I could really do it, the weather didn't fully co-operate; low clouds were sticking to the mountains but they were predicted to 'break up' by the middle of the afternoon.

I settled on a loop from Lourdes that let me climb the col from the east side. The first part of the day involved gradual climbing up the valley bottom to St Marie de Campan to the start of the real climbing. The climb is 17 km long, but the first 5 km or so aren't very steep but from then on it's a steady 9% or 9.5% slope to the summit. From near the start I was in the clouds; this helped by keeping me cool but hid the wonderful views on the way up. At the top I took a few pics then had a very chilly descent through the clouds - so much for the clearing forecast. The last 30 km were out of the clouds and a lot more fun, a gradual downhill back to Lourdes.

TdF memorabilia in the summit mist 
I had done the climb 23 years ago and found it hard going back then. I tried to rationalize why it would be easier this time - e.g. I've got lower gears on my bike, I'm doing it on a shorter ride - but of course I was 23 years younger back then! In any event, it didn't seem too bad this time round but it's still quite a climb.

I also took note of my climb rate - just over 700 meters per hour (more details here). This is a really simple way of measuring cycling performance and corresponds to a decent club cyclist and is less than half of the best TdF riders. It's also only a little quicker than I will climb a steep mountain path on foot (around 550 meters per hour) and way slower than I expect to thermal up on a paraglider or sailplane!

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