Cycling in the French Pyrenees

The only thing we’ve loved more on this trip than the French Alps was cycling in the French Pyrenees. We fell in love with this area of France on a train ride from Paris to Barcelona with our dear friends Vince and Kirsten in 2002. Last year we drove around exploring. Now we’ve cycled in the area, and in September, we plan to hike part of the Grande Randonnée 10 (GR10), a well-marked hiking trail that runs the length of the Pyrenees on the French side of the France/Spain border. The trail runs from just south of Biarritz on the Atlantic Ocean to just north of Barcelona on the Mediterranean Sea.

The granddaddy climb of the trip was the Col du Tourmalet. The total distance up was 35 km, but over 17 km of that, we climbed 1,268 meters (4,168 feet). The Tourmalet has been featured in the Tour de France more than any other pass – 82 times – starting in 1910, when the Pyrenees were introduced to the Tour. The first rider over was Octave Lapize, who went on to claim the yellow jersey in Paris.

From Matt and Stefano at

Tackling the Mighty Col du Tourmalet

The Pyrenees (French and Spanish) run along the border between France and Spain.
The Pyrenees (French and Spanish) run along the border between France and Spain.
The GR10 trail (or Pyrenean Way) crosses France through the French Pyrenees.
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Shauna in her “civvies” (cyclist talk for no spandex) in the historic walled city of Carcassonne.
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The L’Hôtel Abbaye Ecole de Sorèze is a former abbey of the 17th century set in the middle of a 6-hectare park and now a hotel. . The village of Sorèze, the abbey and the park are all listed as national historic monuments.
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One of the roads leading out of the Abbaye Ecole de Sorèze.
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The grounds of the Abbaye Ecole de Sorèze.
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The area around Sorèze was hilly with tree-lined roads.
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And well-manicured fields of many types of crops: corn, wheat, sunflowers, garden vegetables.
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Most beautiful to us were the magnificent fields of sunflowers.
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There were miles and miles of blooming sunflowers.
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Mark was just happy that we didn’t have to climb that hill in the background.
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We road about 100 kms that day. Unfortunately, our friend Robyn had a minor spill.
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To us, the small town of Luchon (officially ” Bagnères-de-Luchon”) is to the French Pyrenees what Chamonix is to the French Alps. We stayed in this town when we were exploring the GR10 (Grande Randonnée 10) trail last year, and we’ll be back here when we hike the GR10 in September through the French Pyrenees.
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Luchon was decked out royally for the Tour de France.
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A view of the valley on the climb to the pass at Port de Balès in the central Pyrenees .
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A happy camper, Shauna at the top of the pass at Port de Balès. The hills are alive….
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Today, we climbed up to two different cols (“col” is French for mountain pass). The small town of Arreau in between the two cols was the perfect place to refuel today.
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Shauna poses with some of our fuel for the next climb. Okay, she was a little punch happy after incurring a front tire puncture coming down Col du Peyresourde at speed. She held it without crashing… very lucky indeed.
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Hooray, the second of the two mountain passes we climbed today. All total, we climbed over 5,000 feet that day.
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A cow licks the salt from Allan Iacuone’s leg at the top of Col d’Aspin. Allan, a past Australian national champion, was one of the leaders of our Bikestyles tour. He is also a very funny, supportive and all-around nice guy.
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Our new friend, Tyler, dons a special suit for the descent from Col d’Aspin.
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Though our guides worked their tails off loading, unloading, maintaining, cleaning and fixing our bikes, it was always a good idea to top up the tires. Especially when about to climb the Col du Tourmalet… the granddaddy climb of the tour!
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Only 3 kms and 275 meters of elevation to go. At over 8% incline. Gulp.
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The view down the Tourmalet valley is stunning (and steep!!). The clouds rolled in below us just as we summited.
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Posing under the famous statue at Col du Tourmalet.
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Happiness is being on the bus after descending from Col du Tourmalet.
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It wore some of us out!!
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At the departure of our final ride. From the outskirts of Bordeaux, through Saint-Émilion to Bergerac where the TDF time trials were held. Top sprinter wears the green jersey in the TDF… Mark says “lol”.
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The 2014 Tour de France time trial starting point in Bergerac.

Tour and Tour Organizer: BEST OF THE 2014 TOUR DE FRANCE, Bikestyle Tours.


  1. What a fantastic trip. You guys are in shape ! I can’t imagine biking in that elevation What a beautiful backdrop. I can see why you love it so much. It’s so fun to see you make the trip. Love the pictures.

    1. haha, thanks Janie. It was a stretch for us, but very rewarding. Our fellow riders were very inspiring, all but a couple were older than me and they kicked our tails!

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