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...

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