Act Two, Col Two: Tourmalet

The plat principal of Act Two must be the Col du Tourmalet, the 2nd mountain pass of the day and the grandaddy of them all in Pyrenees. Tourmalet, the highest road in the central Pyrenees, is 19km long with 1404 meters of climbing, with a maximum grade of 10%. Again, comparing to Ventoux, it’s slightly shorter (by 3km) with a bit less climbing (200m). Goes without saying, I guess, but this mountain is hors categorie. Following is copied directly from Wikipedia; I thought it appropriate to the unknown most of us are getting ourselves into with this Etape du Tour!

The Pyrenees were included in the Tour de France at the insistence of Alphonse Steinès, a colleague of the organiser, Henri Desgrange. He told the story in a book published soon after the event.

Steinès first agreed that the Tour would pay 2,000 francs to clear the Col d’Aubisque, then came back to investigate the Tourmalet. He started at Sainte-Marie-de-Campan with sausage, ham and cheese at the inn opposite the church and arranged to hire a driver called Dupont from Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Dupont and Steinès made it the first 16 km, after which their car came to a stop. Dupont and Steinès started to walk but Dupont turned back after 600m, shouting: “The bears come over from Spain when it snows.” Steinès set off. He mistook voices in the darkness for thieves. They were youngsters guarding sheep with their dog. Steinès called to one.

“Son, do you know the Tourmalet well? Could you guide me? I’ll give you a gold coin. When we get to the other top, I’ll give you another one.”

The boy joined him but then turned back.

Steinès rested on a rock. He considered sitting it out until dawn, then realised he’d freeze. He slipped on the icy road, then fell into a stream. He climbed back to the road and again fell in the snow. Exhausted and stumbling, he heard another voice.

“Tell me who goes there or I’ll shoot.”

“I’m a lost traveller. I’ve just come across the Tourmalet.”

“Oh, it’s you, Monsieur Steinès! We were expecting you! We got a phone call at Ste-Marie-de-Campan. Everybody’s at Barèges. It’s coming on for three o’clock. There are search teams of guides out looking for you.”

The organising newspaper, L’Auto, had a correspondent at Barèges, a man called Lanne-Camy. He took him for a bath and provided new clothes.

Steines sent a telegram to Desgrange: “Crossed Tourmalet stop. Very good road stop. Perfectly feasible.”

Tourmalet has been used in the Tour de France more than any other pass – 75! – and has seen its share of drama, including the famous self-welded-fork of Eugene Christophe in 1913. In 2010 Tourmalet was crossed two times in as many days in celebration of its centenary. Andy won on the 2nd day – the stage that ended on the col.

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11 thoughts on “Act Two, Col Two: Tourmalet

    • I should have put that ‘new bike’ in quotes, but I was on my iPhone and couldn’t be bothered! It’s not completely new, but I’m hoping it will feel that way…upgrade of wheels and transmission getting done as I type. With a little luck it’ll be finished by the time I get back home (in Istanbul for a long weekend trip). Hurrah for instant weight loss!

  1. climbing is all mental…yeah..that doesn’t help me either…keep your HR low/ your cadence high
    and don’t forget that extra dose of EPO.. I like the cherry flavor

    • I wish it was all physical. That way I’d have a good excuse if I didn’t make it over. The mental aspect will be the key for all of us, I imagine. Does EPO come in banana..?

  2. Memories of 2001 Etape du Tour – legs blew at La Mongie, snowing at the top of the Tourmalet, but the descent was amazing! One of my best ever days on a bike.

      • Almost, it was certainly an iconic event on the calendar, perhaps the beginning of the boom. I think it was the last year Brits could book independently, I rode with two Cardiff Ajax mates. It was certainly before sportives went mad in the UK, we trained by riding Audax and club riding.

        Do have prep for the cold and wet. I suffered over the Tourmalet and the wind chill on the descent was horrific. We went on to Luz Ardiden where there was no cover and people were almost hypothermic waiting for their friends or transport.

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