Friday, May 22, 2020

Cycling the Pyrenees border passes

Cycling Coll de Banyuls
Col de Banyuls, close to the mediterranean coast
The Pyrenees is the natural border between France and Spain. There are a lot of asphalted passes in the Pyrenees, some in the french side, some in the spanish side, but only some of them are exactly with the border at the top, having one side from France and one side from Spain.

Usually the french side is longer, steeper and colder, being on the north face. Worth to know this information when planning a cycling tour in the Pyrenees.

Let's have a quick list of all of them, starting from east to west, from the catalan Pyrenees to the Basque Pyrenees.
  1. Coll de Banyuls (355 M) This is the most eastern proper mountain pass in the Pyrenees linking the coastal french Banyuls sur Mer with the little known village in Girona called Espolla. Very steep french side, longer, milder and nicer the catalan side.
  2. Col de Pertus (290 mts). This is a historical pass, the lowest point to cross the Pyrenees. The main road is filled with cars and traffic, totally avoidable. Nevertheless in the Pirinexus route goes through this easy pass avoiding the road in a gravel path.
  3. Costoja (830 mts) Little unknown pass in Girona province, even if it is a wide nice road. The starting point in Spain is the village called Tapis, and on the french side there is a village close to the top called Costoja, (Coustouge in french).
  4. Coll de Manrella (637 m) Even smaller and less known pass than the previous Costoja. There is a monument dedicated to the people who exiliated to France through this tiny pass after the Civil war in Spain. Solitaire road, in fact there is about 1 km gravel path on the french side.
  5. Coll d'Ares (1513 mts). Possibly the most known border pass in Girona province. Again, the french side is much more demanding. 32 km long from Arles sur Tech, or 14 km from Prats de Molló. On the way to Coll d'Ares you can collect other cols as Col de la Seille (1185 m) and Col de la Guille (1194). Interesting for the climbs collectors, type Club des cent Cols.
  6. Monument at Portillon (spanish side)
  7. Col de Portillon (1293 mts). As usual, the french side from Bagneres de Luchon is much steeper than the spanish one from Bossost. The spanish side has some milestones remembering the spanish winners in the Tour de France, and there is a monument dedicated to them at a viewpoint half climb.
  8. Tunnel de Bielsa (1820 mts). This tunnel was opened in 1976 and is 3 km long. The tunnel connects the Lleida spanish province with St Lary Soulan and Fabian, on the french side, starting points of big climbs as Lac d'Aumar, St Lary Soulan or Pla d'Adet.
  9. Puerto de Somport (1650 mts) This pass has a couple of remarkable characteristics: 1) It is a very old historical pass and there was a train line crossing Spain-France, the Canfranc train station is huge and now with no use, just the touristic visits 2) there is a tunnel to get through the mountain which we cyclists should avoid to reach to the top. 3) There is a very known ski station on the spanish side called Candanchú.
  10. Portalet (1794 mts) Same as Somport, bot climbs are included in the "Quebrantahuesos", the most famous sportive (Granfondo) in all of Spain. The starting point of Portalet on the french side is the same as the almighty Aubisque, in a crossroad a little after Laruns.
  11. Larrau (1573 mts) This climb was included in Tour de France 1996 for the first time. Such a discovery and such a climb especially, again, from the french side. Terribly steep.
  12. Pierre St Martin (1760 mts) Pierre St Martin is the highest road in Basque Pyrenees. In fact there are 7 sides of this monster climb, just one from Nafarroa and other six in France. Included in Tour de France 2015 with big show and victory of Chris Froome. Click on link to learn more about the seven sides. 
    Cycling Izpegi
    Col d'Izpegi, beautiful
  13. Izpegi (690 mts). Simply beautiful. An amazing pass specially the side from Saint Etienne de Baigorry in France. This pass is often included in the Transpyrenees trips, and also makes part of the famous "Route des Cols" in the Pyrenees.
  14. Ibardin (316 mts) This little climb has been included in Itzulia (Vuelta al Pais Vasco) several years ago. 
  15. Lizuniaga (219 m) Little pass from Bera de Bidasoa with a Hotel on top.
 Now there is no police control on every border pass, but there was a time when it was, not so long ago...

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Luchon-Bayonne the most classic stage in the Pyrenees

Luchon Bayonne, this is a Tour de France stage, come on.
Luchon-Bayonne is one of the classical stages in Tour de France history.

326 km including Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque. Also the small Osquich closer to the end. This is real cycling, this is cycling from the old times. This stage was first included in the Tour de France in 1910. Can you imagine the bikes and the roads in 1910? They were HEROES.

The first winner was Octave Lapize in 1910. When he arrived to the finish he said the famous sentence to organizers “Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!", “You are murderers!”.

These are the Tours in which this stage was included (either Luchon-Bayonne, either Bayonne Luchon). Opposite direction (west to east) is even a more demanding stage, as the climbs are closer to the end of the stage. Here is the list of the Tours and the stage winners:

1910 Luchon-Bayonne 326 km Octave Lapize
1911 Luchon-Bayonne 326 km Maurice Brocco
1912 Luchon-Bayonne 326 km Louis Mottiat
1913 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Philippe Thijs
1914 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Firmin Lambot
 (World War 1)
1919 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Honoré Barthelemy
1920 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Firmin Lambot
1921 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Hector Heusghem
1922 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Jean Alavoine
1923 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Jean Alavoine
1924 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Ottavio Bottecchia
1925 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Adeline Benoit
1926 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Lucien Buysse
1927 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Nicolas Frantz
1929 Bayonne-Luchon 363 km Salvador Cardona

In the old times the Tour de France (or La Grand Boucle-the big loop) was really a route around France following the pentagone shape of France. The route was very similar for many years then some stages were always the same: Brest-Les Sables d'Olonne 412 km, Les Sables d'Olonne-Bayonne 482 km, Bayonne-Luchon 326 km , Luchon-Perpignan 323 km.

There is a Granfondo organized by the Federation Françoise de Cycloturisme, that follows exactly this stage, from Bayonne to Luchon. There are 2 choices: doing in just one stage the 326 km, and the second option is doing it in 2 stages. Next 2020 the dates are June 20th and 21st.

In our Transpyrenees trip we climb all these famous mountains in different stages: Stage 1 Hondarribia-St Jean de Pied de Port, Stage 2 St Jean de Pied de Port-Bielle (including Osquich), Stage 3 Bielle-Luz St Sauveur (including Aubisque), Stage 4 Luz St Sauveur-Luchon (including Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde). Join us!!

Col d'Aubisque

Col de Peyresourde

Col d'Osquich

Le Tourmalet, le roi

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sant Hilari Sacalm, 4 different sides to climb

Girona cycling climbs
Amazing climb to Sant Hilari from Osor
When in Girona for Cycling, Sant Hilari Sacalm is one of our favourite rides.
Sant Hilari Sacalm is also called the town of 100 fountains and it is obviously a town linked to water, as there are also several water bottling plants.
It is located at 786 mts height.

Girona cycling climbs
In this map you can see all 4 sides suggested
There are several sides:

- 1) From Girona the most popular starting point is Anglès. Amazing 25 km long climb crossing the small village Osor. A little variation is climbing from Pantà de Susqueda and getting the same road at Osor. The original 25 km climb from Anglès is one of the highlights of cycling in Girona, no doubt, both for the beauty of the road into the forest and also the totally lack of any traffic. Amazing.+
Girona cycling climbs
Big brigdes crssing road C-25
- 2) Also from Girona you could start the climb at Santa Coloma de Farners. This solitaire road is a very usual way to close the gap to Girona when you have climbed from Anglès. The loop is around 100 km long.
Girona cycling climbs
Coll de Revell, interesting solitaire road
- 3) Third side is a little different, as it starts at Arbucies and goes along Coll de Revell. Once at the top of Coll de Revell (821 mts) the road goes on on a mild 5 km climb to Els Cortals, and then you get Sant Hilari Sacalm

- 4) Fourth side from Arbúcies is possibly the least charming, as it is a busier and wider road wich goes close to the main C-25 road. Busier, wider and also a little steeper, it is a good option to take on the way down as it is a faster way to descend.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Port Ainé, stage ending in Volta a Catalunya 2020

Volta a Catalunya 2020
Elevation profile for Port Ainé
It has been unveiled the route of Volta a Catalunya professional cycling race for 2020.

It is a very special edition as it is the 100th edition of the oldest cycling race in Spain.
3/23 Calella-Calella
3/24 TT Banyoles (Girona)
3/25 Canal Olimpic-Vallter 2000
3/26 Ripoll-Port Ainé
3/27 La Pobla de Segur-Manresa
3/28 Tarragona-Mataró
3/29 Barcelona-Barcelona

There will be 2 mountain stage endings. First one will be in Vallter 2000 (a classic finish, included several times in Volta a Catalunya route), and the second one is at Port Ainé.

Port Ainé has been included three times in the route of Volta a Catalunya. But only twice the race arrived to the top of the climb... How can that be? In 2012 the route included the climbs to Port del Cantó and Port Ainé as stage ending. Nevertheless, the weather was extremely cold with snow vat the mountains and the climb to Port Ainé was cancelled (Stage winner Brajkovič described the stage and its conditions as the "hardest day of his life"). See details here.

The second time that the Volta arrived to Port Ainé was in 2016 edition, and the winner was Thomas de Gendt.See whole stage video here:


And the third time was in 2013 edition with Dan Martin winning at the top of the climb.

The climb itself is a long climb in the Pyrenees, and the bottom is located very close to a village called Rialp. The elevation profile showed in the article is a little shorter than it is nowadays, as the road gets to 2000 mts.

A true monster climb with almost 20 km of climbing, with over 6% average gradient!
Here we have the Strava segment for the climb:

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Steep climbs in La Cerdanya (Catalonia)

Cycling map Cerdanya
Map including the main climbs in La Cerdanya
La Cerdanya is a catalan region, close to the border with France, which main city is Puigcerdà.
This is a fantastic ski region, but not so known for the cycling, which is also great.
La Cerdanya is a big valley reaching to Andorra on the main road N260. There are a lot of climbs on both north (french) and south (spanish) sides.

The most popular climb around Puigcerdà is probably Collada de Tosas, the natural link with the rest of Catalonia. This is an amazing 25 km long climb (on both sides) . Volta a Catalunya has included several stage endings at La Molina ski Station (very close to Collada de Tosas and in fact on the way to it), another famous climb in La Cerdanya.

Also starting in Puigcerdà is Col de Puymorens (1915 m), on the way to Col d'Envalira and Andorra. Puymorens is a high road in the Pyrenees, a little busy though, specially on the way to Ax les Thermes!

Cycling Cerdanya
Talltendre, a climb for die-hard cyclists
cycling La Cerdanya
Cap de Rec, very interesting (and long) climb

Being in the border with France, it is worth mentioning some nice climbs on the french side, such as Osseja, Puigmal Ski Station or Lac de Builloses.

But let's present a couple of nice (and steep) climbsin La Cerdanya, not-so-known. First one is Talltendre, a true killer-climb with some passes over 18%. No exit road, you have to come back same way you climbed. Total distance of the climb is 7,8 km and the height at the top is 1575 m. See elevation profile attached.

The second interesting climb I want to introduce is Cap de Rec. This is a much longer an higher climb, not so steep though. The road leading to this shelter is the same that the one leading to Aranser Ski station, and then half the climb there is a deviation to Cap de Rec. They are 16,4 km, and the elevation at the top is 1986 meters, very close to 2000.

You noticed that there are plenty of interesting climbs in La Cerdanya valley in Catalonia. Worth a visit!

Monday, November 25, 2019

Portet d'Aspet, a crash made this climb famous

Pyrenees Portet d'Aspet
Nice statue remembering Fabio Casartelli
Portet d'Aspet is one of those not-so-known climbs in the french Pyrenees. The fact that made it famous was the fatal crash of the olimpic champion Fabio Casartelli in Tour de France 1995. Those years when wearing the helmet was not mandatory.
Fabio Casartelli had won the cycling race in 1992 Barcelona Olimpic games (at that time professional athletes could not compete in the Olimpic games). He was a cyclist with a great future ahead and in 1995 he was in Motorola team, same team as Lance Armstrong much before he had cancer and started to dominate the Tour de France.

Portet d'Aspet is a steep climb, no doubt. Usually included together with its neighbour and also very steep Col de Mente. It was in the descent towards Col de Mente with passages at 17% that Fabio crashed. Since the very first moment TV images showed how bad the crash was for Fabio. Even if other cyclists crashed with him and went off the road, he was not moving, laying on the road. Fatal crash.

Little later it was built a nice sculpture of a wheel with flying wings. This place has become a pilgrimage destination for many cyclist, to remember Fabio and the fatal crash in 1995.

Pyrenees Portet d'Aspet
Portet d'Aspet, just 1060 mts but it is a steep climb!

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Transpyrenees trip July 2020

Transpyrenees 2020 roadbike
Transpyrenees trip July 2020
Stage 1 Hondarribia-Saint Jean de Pied de Port 88 km with Otxondo and Izpegi. Izpegi is one of the nicest climbs in the basque Pyrenees! Nice first stage in tiny solitaire roads.
Transpyrenees 2020 roadbike
Hondarribia-St Jean de Pied de Port

Stage 2 Saint Jean de Pied de Port-Bielle 99 km with Marie Blanque, a very steep climb included in Tour de France 2020. For those not-so-strong riders,it is possible to skip the climb to Marie Blanque.
Transpyrenees 2020 roadbike
Saint Jean de Pied de Port-Bielle

Stage 3 Bielle-Luz St Sauveur 72 km with Aubisque. Short second stage with lots of options to include and additional second climb (no exit, way and back) before getting to the hotel. A steep option is Luz Ardiden (stage ending in several Tour de France), a scenic one is Cirque du Gavarnie, and a steep and scenic one is Cirque du Trumouse. Your choice!
Transpyrenees 2020 roadbike
Bielle-Luz St Sauveur

Stage 4 Luz St Sauveur-Bagneres de Luchon 96 km with Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde. Queen stage. This stage is worth the whole trip. The best of the best. A stage to remember forever.
Transpyrenees 2020 roadbike
Luz St Sauveur-Bagneres de Luchon

Stage 5 Bagneres de Luchon-Sort 107 km with Portillon and Bonaigua. A very steep first climb and a very high second one (over 2000 mts). We are already in Spain.
Transpyrenees 2020 roadbike
Bagneres de Luchon-Sort

Stage 6 Sort-Puigcerdà 100 km with Coll de Cantó. Still a very demanding climb, and very long approach to Puigcerdà, slighltly uphill.
Transpyrenees 2020 roadbike

Stage 7 Puigcerdà-Joanetes 100 km with Collada de Toses and Coll de Canes. Nice stage through the vulcanic region of La Garrotxa. Amazing descent from Collada de Toses!
Transpyrenees 2020 roadbike
Stage 8 Joanetes-Tossa de Mar 107 km including the final climb to Sant Grau, and the final road to Tossa de Mar is the amazing coastal road, the best road in Catalonia.
Transpyrenees 2020 roadbike
Joanetes-Tossa de Mar

Arrival to Hondarribia on July 10th
Stages July 11th to July 18th