How High is the Tourmalet?

The Col du Tourmalet is one of the legendary climbs of the Pyrenees. With tough ascensions on both the east and west, it is a regular feature of the Tour de France. Indeed the Tour has tackled this pass more times than any other in France. So you’d hope the altitude of the pass is agreed. In case of doubt a giant sign marks the pass.

Only a new jersey by Rapha created to celebrate the legendary climbs of the Pyrenees appears to mention the wrong altitude.

As you can see from the image above the collar has a “Tourmalet 2114m” motif. That’s one metre off the stated altitude.

Ok, it’s the smallest difference possible but all the same it’s wrong. I’m not fussed and besides, in pointing this out maybe there’s time to fix it. I often blunder on here but am lucky that with a few clicks the mistakes can be fixed. The error isn’t original, some of the signs on the way up to help tourists know the upcoming gradient appear to mention 2114m too and there are other references to this altitude on the internet.

Third time unlucky?
I feel bad pointing this new example out. I’ve been keeping an eye on Rapha’s new products for a while. In 2010 the same company produced some “country jerseys” that appeared to have the bands of national colours the wrong way round, for example the Italian jersey looked more like the Hungarian one and it became a popular read, although in the comments a reader suggests this was later fixed. Then when Rapha launched a new jersey to commemorate the Tourmalet the wording on the front of the jersey looked wrong. So when I saw something on Twitter about a new jersey to celebrate the Pyrenees, I thought I’d check to see if it was accurate almost out of habit and sure enough, the altitude was off.

Anyway, it’s no big deal and perhaps Rapha are harking back to another era when the exact altitude wasn’t measured by satellite or a geological era when the pass wasn’t so high, this could be deliberate. The Pyrenees are a remote place and if this jersey encourages cyclists to ride around in celebration of these great roads, all the better for the locals keen to welcome tourists in the summer. By the time you get to the top of the Tourmalet you probably want it to be 2114m.

63 thoughts on “How High is the Tourmalet?”

  1. Whatever the true height of the Tourmalet, my recommendation for happiness after an ascent on a cold day is to dive into the cosy mountain hut at the top and order a bowl of Garbure, the hearty local stew of vegetables and preserved meats. And a glass of red wine to wash it down. You’ll be grateful for the central heating on the descent.

  2. Very interesting read:) This “minor” detail could be a mountain rather than a mole hill, or, as you say, it could be a deliberate historical intention. Nevertheless, the Tourmalet is legendary, and its inclusion always makes for spectacular viewing. My 2nd “real” road bike was a LeMond Tourmalet:)

    This year, there seems to be more pressure from the press and the fans for more attacking, more aggressiveness more often. We want riders to launch big attacks and ride away, making the chases equally thrilling. With Wiggins on fire, and several formidable rivals who all want to shine in the mountains, the stage is set for what could be one of the best Tours in years.

    Footnote: the handful of favorites seem to be clean riders, which makes the anticipation of this edition that much more compelling!

  3. That’s actually pretty funny.
    You say the some of the signs at the bottom of the Tourmalet say 2114 meters and the one on top a sign reads 2115. There’s only one possible conclusion: the Rapha guys don’t actually ride their bikes — or if they do it just long enough for a fancy photo shoot (in black and white of course). 😉
    What is really grating is that they pretend to be all about authenticity – though clearly they have little real actual knowledge or genuine passion for cycling. As you mentioned this is not their first obvious mistake…. Give me a Giordana jersey any time of the day!
    But lets be fair, the Rapha folks are passionate about one thing: making tons of money selling mostly “made in China” Jerseys at ~ $200 a piece! (I guess they can’t afford fact-checkers or copy editors at this price…) Why do folks buy them? The mistakes on the jersey are there to tell your club riding partners that you are not just a Fred, but a wealthy mark to boot!
    All in all, Rapha would be amusing if they weren’t a symbol of crass ignorance for basic French spelling and of the altitude of one of the most famous mountain in the Tour and of how to display the national colors of countries were cycling is King. In my opinion, Rapha displays a disdain for other cultures besides their own — while profiting from them! And make no mistake about it, they make tons of cash…

  4. Hi INRNG – let us know if Rapha sends a comment to you about this. I sent them an email about the ‘Hungarian’ jersey too, and never got a reply (to be fair, it was somewhat snarky).

    I’ve been a long time Rapha customer (I have their original black w/ pink lining GT gloves) but for me, the vibe of the company has changed. I still like the way that they style most of their clothing, but they really do give off the air being pretentious snobs – and therefore anyone that wears their clothing is branded as being of the same ilk.

    • Further evidence of being pretentious snobs – they had a line of clothing that was only available to their “high dollar” customers, and the items, although referenced on their website, could only be viewed by those special folks. Since then, I have scrupulously avoided becoming a customer.

      • Rapha definitely not everyone’s cup of tea and ironic that the kings of epic may have under cooked the length of a climb. Worth remembering though that in tough economic times they are a modern success story. British ideas and marketing know-how, sourcing manufacturing from a low cost/ high quality base and selling products worldwide. I’m happy to buy a few pieces of kit from them even i might skip the most recent effort.

  5. Rapha = Frauds.

    They pretend to have a heritage in the sport but are Jonny come lately Chinese made frauds and mistakes like this just show them in their true light.

  6. Worth remembering that there are often arguments about the heights of mountains and mountain passes, in the past it was very difficult to accurately measure spot heights and even now people still argue over it. Some people also have a vested interest in making sure that “their” mountain is the highest in the area so you often find that signs and publicity materials will give various answers and some may be “optimistic”.

    The official topographical map is usually the most reliable though…and this says the Col du Tourmalet is 2115M so don’t think Rapha did enough homework in this case.

    For what it’s worth I think Rapha kit is very nice, but there’s no way i’d pay that much for it.

  7. I don’t understand the knee-jerk reaction to Rapha. They and Assos make great gear for those willing to pay for it. The paradigm is no different than a Hermes Birkin bag, which carries items no better than a polyester tote bag. Or owning a Cervelo R5, which is no faster than a Giant Defy. What do you ride, and why? Like Rapha, bikes sell and marketing and cachet as much as anything else. Cobo rode a Fuji to drop Wiggins and Froome on their Pinarellos.

    People bagged on our team’s kits because they were made by Champion System, in China. Yet many of those same people liked our previous Sugoi kits, which were made by a Canadian brand that manufactured them in El Salvador.

    I sense xenophobia, racism, and snobbery of another kind.

    • I use Rapha and Assos.

      Both are pricey.
      Assos is worth its price and more technical gear.
      Rapha is not always worth it. They try to hide behind design. Quality is not so good. Work more on brand than on actuall relly making good products. You can se how fast the rush stuff out.

      I don’t mind to pay for quality. I never would get a Rapha bib.

      (Rapha studd never keeps shape after washing. It also wears of fast)

      • I rode 235 miles straight in the regular old Rapha bibs with zero saddle sores and discomfort. Worth every single penny if only for that one ride.

        It’s nice stuff if you don’t want to look like a tool in “modern” cycling attire.

      • … in your opinion. Or are you stating this as fact based on a longitudinal comparison of quality and longevity ?

        I’ve personally never had a piece of Assos kit that I’ve thought was worth the money and several pieces have simply fallen apart after a fairly short time. But I don’t go around hating on them – I know a lot of people swear by it.

        This is what I find so extraordinary about any mention of Rapha. Everyone has an opinion on it that they think is worth sharing.

        Frankly if you like it and you can afford it, then buy it – if you don’t like it, or you don’t want it then STFU. There are plenty of other good brands and good value if you prefer.

        • The need for all the heresay talk from people who probably never have even worn Rapha really grinds my goat I have three units of gear and extremely happy but there is also good gear for less with just the same appeal and I use many other brands as well and regularly pin a number on my gear each weekend
          So yes if you don’t like then STFU

  8. Having ridden up I would like to think it is 2115 meters. Being vaguely aware of Rapha’s pursuit of perfection, perghaps they have measured the road surface height, whilst the sign is 1 meter higher i.e. up the pole?

    Rapha make nice gear, if you don’t like it don’t buy it, or better still start your own brand and flog it. There are too many green-eyed monsters happily throwing barbs and criticisng others.

    Good luck to Wiggins, hope he can handle the pressure and the cycling Gods let him achieve his dream.

    Great site, the starting site of the day, definitely the place for the thinking cyclist, … keep up the good work

  9. I’ll add that I agree with all the negative comments about Rapha and I’ll add my two cents. If you want kit designed by people who know what cycling is all about and made by folks who have it in their blood then check out Capoforma and Santini. Made in Italy.

    champ systems is the worst crap I’ve ever had the misfortune of being forced to wear (team’s first kit). I convinced them to go with capo custom last year (only after a disastrous experience with craft) and the boys couldn’t be happier.

    • You either like cycling or you don’t. You are either a part timer or you live it. Rapha is quite simply a company that lives and breathes a passion for the sport and it shows.

      Rapha is a very young company. It doesn’t have the luxury of decades of history like Santini, Castelli, Giordana, Assos, etc but it makes up for it in spades with what it has achieved in a short space of time. Marketing, passion and everything else aside, the basic fact is that Rapha make good looking and top performing cycling clothing. The look is not for everyone but that is why the world has so many clothing companies. Why all the vitriol?

      If being interested in the history of the sport and trying to imbue that in your brand is snobbish, if producing gear that actually looks good is snobbish (as opposed to the euro-trash rolled out by some of the other brands), if taking a slightly different path from the pack is snobbish, if producing something that costs more than the average is snobbish….well, Rapha are a pack of snobs, and the cycling world is better for it. Some of the chat on this topic has echos of Rick Santorum – Obama was such a “snob” for wanting all Americans to be able to go to college.

      1m difference on Tourmalet altitude aside, it is a very long bow to draw to suggest these guys don’t ride and don’t love the sport. I have been a cyclist and following professional road racing since 1985. I have owned clothing from most of the big clothing brands over those years and, in my opinion, Rapha are a breath of fresh air with serious cred (despite their youth). Yes they have had the odd quality issue, yes they sometimes get things wrong and yes they are sometimes too arty for their own good (some of the videos remind me of the ad that Homer Simpson commissioned for his Mr Plow business) but on the whole they make great gear and their nod to the past in their designs holds real appeal, for me at least.

      Rapha haters – stick to your guns, keep on playing it safe, stick with the white bread, stay in the pack and don’t trouble yourself with the more esoteric parts of the sport and its history. Rapha have deliberately tried to weave around you.

      Inner ring – this isn’t a dig at your article, just the haters.

  10. We can all disagree what about what brand of clothing ‘real’ cyclists should wear, but if somehow the Rapha brand convinces more people to ride bikes then I think it’s a good thing. And we can all chuckle if we like as we pass them on a climb and their kit costs more than some people’s bikes. But really, spend more energy riding and less worrying about the clothes that other people wear.

  11. Heights of mountains (and depths of valleys) are not static – consider earthquakes (e.g. mountain building or rifts opening), erosion, isostatic movements, thermal sag, and so on. Any number of things might be actively causing the Pyrenees to rise or fall. One likely candidate could be isostatic rebound following melting of glaciers over the past 1–2 hundred years. Glaciers have been significant, and they weigh a lot, and when they melt the buoyant lithosphere bounces back up. Perhaps the Col du Tourmalet is getting higher?

  12. Got to say, think the negative Rapha sentiment is OTT. Maybe just jealousy from those that can’t/won’t pay that much for kit. I’ve got a couple of pieces and think the quality is first rate – as is the design and finishing touches. I’m not wearing it as much as more and more weekend warriors buy it, but think this is a case of tall poppy syndrome of the highest order. They made a mistake… they look silly for it… they weren’t the first and won’t be the last…

    • Yes, Rapha is so universally desirable that anyone who doesn’t want it must be poor and jealous. Because it’s not possible to reject something because you genuinely believe that buying it will make you feel like a tool.

      Thanks for confirming the snobbish Rapha mindset we “haters” suspected all along.

  13. I’m quite baffled at the vitriol that Rapha products attract, I’m not sure why people take a brand identity so personally. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it.

    I happen to love Rapha because they are the only brand that properly celebrates cycling’s history, its dusty corners, and the intriguing peculiarities which make it much more than a sport, more than a way to get some exercise. I love that this is their raison d’être, rather than trying to be everything to everybody. You won’t find baggy MTB pants, TT skinsuits or gauche Italian colourways. And it’s OK if you don’t get it, or can’t be bothered to contemplate that it is the culmination of cycling’s cultural artifacts that make the sport what it is.

    The made in China comments are xenophobic and short-sighted. There was a time when people said the same about made in Italy. Post WWII “made in Italy” was a red flag.

    As for the height of the Tourmalet and the previous jersey’s grammatical/factual errors – well, there is no excuse for this kind of sloppiness. However, they are two small blemishes on an otherwise stellar product line. I have bought gear from every manufacturer under the sun, and Rapha continues to impress me with the fit, look and feel of their products. And when they do get something wrong, they will be the first to say mea culpa and their customer service is second-to-none.

    p.s. Consider that Rouleur, which is owned by Rapha, recently had a long feature on Santini SMS. There is a company that once had passion – now, not so much…

  14. Uh, why are we crucifying a cycling company for finding a niche and making good bucks? Love or hate the kit, I’ve got a lot of economic kudos for the Rapha guys finding their market and making a good living from it. They’ve brought a lot of money into the market that doesn’t just benefit their own ends. Good on them I say.

    And oh, almost every ‘pro tour’ frame is now made in China and designed in Europe/North America, why not the clothes too.

    • Yes exactly. If one is against the departure of local manufacturing (textile) jobs overseas, where quasi slaves are exploited working round the clock for nothing, one is against Rapha. Think about it.
      If one is against the (inaccurate) use of culture and history as a selling point, if one is against the transforming of history into a cheap advert, one is against Rapha.
      Rapha is akin to political adverts we sadly see so often on TV in the USA: all image, all lies. That’s also what is particularly ignoble about the folks who run Rapha: unlike other companies, they give of an air of altruism and love of the sport, but nothing could be further from the truth. They exploit poor Chinese workers and profit from stupid (or vain or ignorant: you pick) & wealthy european consumers, not much heritage and tradition here…. If Rapha has a lineage, it is that of the snake oil salesman and of the Robber Barons. La honte.

      • Oliver,
        I’m going to assume you apply this derision to Asia production across all industries and only eat, buy and wear things made in the Good ol’ U.S. of A.
        Past that point, I think Rapha do have a love of the sport. A good share of their profits are poured into a UK racing and development team. They want people new to the sport to fall in love with it, so if you lose weight a drop jerseys sizes they’ll swap it out for you. If you think your kit has suffered undue wear and tear they will repair it for you. If you crash in their kit, they will repair it for you. If you buy their Classics line and aren’t satisfied with it in 30 days, they’ll refund you 100%. From where I’m standing it seems like the higher prices they are charging are going back into superior customer service and racing development.

      • Clearly you have misperceptions about how large Chinese textile factories are now run. For example, the Chinese work fewer hours than full-time workers in the States, and get more holidays. Take a tour of a textile factory in California, or Italy. Tell me the difference. Examine the cost of living in those places, and tell me which is underpaid. I can tell you firsthand; I’ve looked at the factories. You’re misinformed, at best.

        As far as Rapha not being altruistic, clearly you have not seen Rouleur, the Continental, the Rapha-Condor-Sharp race team, their support of custom builders… and many other things. Yes, these are marketing tools. Just like the sponsors printed on every pro’s jersey, and likely on some of your kit, too.

        • Regarding Rouleur, I recently purchased an issue and found it very interesting (articles on zeus and casati) and the photographs were great.

          However at £10 a pop and printed bi-monthly it really is too expensive to buy every issue.

          I’ll have to go to my local library and hope they have it.

  15. Rapha make fantastic cycling clothing. They put a huge amount of research into the material they use and the design.

    It costs a lot of money and if you don’t like it don’t buy it

  16. I’ve started viewing Rapha as just very tongue in cheek semi high camp gloss, it’s impossible to take offence that way.
    The kit is lovely, I’ve got a couple of peces and the Sportwool jerseys are two of the most comfortable that I own, both bought in the sale for less than the cost of even an average lycra jersey these days!
    Would I pay full price, mmmm perhaps, perhaps not, but really I’ve worked through the hating and now look at Rapha as cycling’s Eurovision.
    Oh and as regards getting the height wrong, well that’s just silly!

  17. I haven’t read every single post, mainly because some of them annoyed me.

    A number of people make sweeping, arrogant comments about what cyclists should and should not wear. It is not the Rapha’s or Assos’ that are ruining cycling, its YOU. What ever happened to just getting out and riding your bike?

    For what it’s worth, I do think Rapha make some quality gear, although their more recent attempts to commemorate Paris-Roubaix and some of the classics were a bit p**s poor to say the least. Saying that, they were priced accordingly (£50 rings a bell).

    Lets not forget (someone has alluded to this above so apologies that i’m going over old ground) that this a British company that is doing well in a somewhat stagnant economy. There aren’t many new British brands that can say that are there? Rather than lambast them for being money grabbers perhaps we should be proud that they are making waves in a sport we all so (apparantly) love.

  18. You guys are all missing the real riff here. Rapha have styled this jersey after seminal British sci-fi series Space 1999, the premise of which is the Moon escaping Earth’s orbit. Once the Moon has gone, all mountains will drop by at least 1 metre.

  19. ah, a little early in the season but that is definitely the smell of old chestnuts roasting…

    a great debate, this.

    in particular I love this thing that you have to pin on numbers and race to be a cyclist and that there are actually such things as “real” cyclists. as opposed to what? “surreal” cyclists?

    i admire, from a distance, the fact that some people dedicate their lives to their passion, but we can’t all be obsessives who do 150 miles a weekend every weekend. knowing who won the 17th stage of the Tour in 1949 doesn’t make you more fun to ride with. believe me. and why can’t you be allowed to join in without being ridiculed for what you spend, wear or ride if it is just your hobby rather than your life? seems to me that the last thing cycling needs is negative stereotyping and an effective class system administered by gnarly old club types. more people on bikes is a good thing for all of us in the long term. isn’t it?

    rapha is as rapha does. who cares?

    but we all need to get used to the fact that no-one owns the playground and admission is, and should remain, free to all.

  20. hmm…if you had to write it down there’s a danger your “passion” is diminishing and you may not be a “real” cyclist – please check your weekly miles and say 12 hail-coppi’s.

  21. I think people are really missing the point here. What’s important to remember is that this jersey fucking sucks and is repulsive. It doens’t matter what it says- I will never buy it. Hopefully it will dissappear very quickly like the majority of their disgusting special edition tops.

  22. I think this was a great post, but many of the comments have gone too far. This is about as close to a politics and religion discussion in its polarization.

    It is a bit hypocritical to cite the made in China as a fault of the Rapha brand, when most of the great brands of bikes we all ride are now coming from factories China. If you are going to throw Rapha under the bus for this, then you might as well throw Colnago, Pinarello, Specialized, Trek, etc. there too. Plenty of our high end components are made in China too, and it isn’t like most of it is coming in at prices reflective of low manufacturing costs.

    How can one positively say they made a mistake on the altitude of the climb, when there are contradictory signs and data?

    My problem with Rapha is that the US marketing team doesn’t seem to grasp the difference between exclusivity (offering limited edition, high end product) and exclusionary (look at us, we are so cool, here are the greatest rides that you are not invited to). There seems to be a huge disconnect between their marketing message (Glory through Suffering) and their customer base (largely who want to enjoy their ride, and not suffer).

    But this said, they put a lot of money back into the sport (the Rapha Condor Team has been one of the best Continental Teams in the world for several years), and they produce some beautiful collateral which prior to their efforts was few and far between.

    Everyone has the ability to vote with their wallets; it takes more energy to hate than to ignore.

  23. All this upside down talk reminds me of a fascinating little tidbit pointed out by Cycling Inquisition;
    “Left to right, Fabio Parra (best first-timer/young rider), Alfonso Florez (overall winner), and Fernando Cruz (intermediate sprints jersey) at the Vuelta a Colombia podium in 1979.
    Small detail: Notice that the Colombian flag on their sleeves is upside down (unlike the collar), since these jerseys were for the podium, and meant to be worn with your arms up, as you celebrated victory.”

    Can be seen here;

    • I repeat my earlier assertion that teams are missing out on signing Armpit Sponsors, whose logo is visible only in victory.

      Surely a cost-effective way for SMBs to get a foot on the lower rungs of the sports sponsorship ladder

  24. Here’s more heart-attack material. Rapha’s ‘city wind-jacket’contained a label giving Marco Pantani’s weight as ’57kg, 9 stone, 130lbs’. I don’t know how much Pantani actually weighed, but I do know that 9 stone is 126lbs. They make nice kit though.

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