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Col du Tourmalet
You’ve come this far and the Tourmalet, although a monster, is the only thing standing in your way to a happy finish. Whilst it will now be well into the afternoon and you will already be tired, you must draw on all your belief that you can make it, even if it’s a very slow grind.
The last time the Tour came up this way (through Barèges) was in 1974. It goes without saying that many cycling greats have ridden to victory on this mountain pass, and so can you. Join Merckx, Bahamontes, Robic and Lapize as a rider who has conquered the Giant of the Pyrenees.
You might suffer 100, 000 times on this ride so learn to suffer and enjoy it. Let your mind drift off and meditate almost, the Tourmalet allows you to do that as it is a steady, if unrelenting beast. Try not to think about the pain or stress. Escape and immerse yourself in the surroundings, you will be in for some stunning views. If you have a mantra, this is the time when it certainly won’t seem ridiculous, whatever it is.
After about 10km there’s a river (bridge) running from a gorge to the left, rumbling and tumbling, idyllic. Again the sound of running water may be soothing, therapeutic or could drive you insane if you’re thirsty. As you dig deep the sound of goats and cowbells jangling may cut through the silence (and heavy breathing) on the mountainside. You may even hear a bear growling in the distance. Think of Alphonse Steines, the man who first made a reconnaissance to see if the mountain was passable. He got you here. With 9km to go, just over a bridge the grade eases up to 5%, which is lovely.
As you reach Barèges, a straight drag past bars and restaurants with plenty of locals and friends cheering you on to your final 8km, you know you can make it. Once out of the town the scenery really starts to boast its magnificence.
There is a lack of kilometre markers now. As we reached Super-Barèges we noticed Pharma-Lotto rider Jurgen Van Den Broeck doing reps up a new detour route. One of the top twenty climbers in the pro peloton, he made it look easy as he blazed past with his iPod earphones in. This detour had just been paved with fresh tarmac. As it plateaus and sweeps on, here you will find a water station where you can drink in an epic journey and smell the finish, only 5km to go now.
The last few kilometers offer incredible views as you move up above the clouds to the final point on your pilgrimage. When you reach the top emotions may take over, but you won’t ask why you just rode such an incredible route. It’s then a descent, where you still need to concentrate, to La Mongie for your medal and recuperation.
This ride to the top of the highest and most hallowed mountain in the Pyrenees is a magnificent journey. As 2010 is the centenary of the first time it was included in the Tour de France it means a great deal to pay homage to the pioneering riders, people and fans and the men who created this incredible sporting spectacle. If cycling is your religion then this is the ultimate pilgrimage you can make and a very special occasion. A modern-day equivalent of the stage set out by Henri Desgrange a century ago, you will suffer and savour just as the pros and amateur cyclists around the world have and will for centuries to come. Enjoy it and be part of the history of the Tour.