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Km 117-155: La Mongie to Ayros
Recover and Get Ready
The short climb to the top rarely exceeds 9% and you should be re-energised after the stop. Standing at 2,115m, the café at the top of the Tourmalet is one of the best in the Pyrenees, with great tartes, confit de canard, and a box of newspapers for cyclists starting their descent. You, however, will ride straight over, perhaps stopping for a moment to take in the staggering view to the west.
From here you’re going to be descending for 35km but the start of the descent of the Tourmalet can be quite dangerous, with a series of sharp switchbacks on ice-damaged roads offering no protection on the corners whatsoever. Once you’ve picked your way down this first section, the road straightens out and plunges down the valley to Baréges. This will be really fast. The one-way road through Baréges normally skirts the right of the village but the Etape route takes you straight through the middle of this attractive ski station. The fountain in the centre of the village, on the right, is a popular place to fill bidons. Beware of anyone crossing the road to do this (although they shouldn’t need to so soon after La Mongie) but if the road’s clear there’s no need to slow down.
At the spa town of Luz Saint Sauveur, the road turns right and down the Gorge de Luz. Shaded by rocky outcrops and trees, the descent will be fast and cool. Make sure you sip your drink frequently all the way to the bottom of the final climb as you need to be well hydrated before the Hautacam. Watch out for cramp here, too. Change position and move around on your bike to give sore muscles a rest.
At Soulom, the gorge opens out into the larger Argeles valley and the course takes a right turn, signposted the ‘Donjon des Aigles’. You now have 3km of small lanes, rolling through delightful countryside. There is a small climb through Prechac, but that isn’t the start of the Hautacam. That happens another kilometre further down the road, at Ayros-Arbouix.