Regularly used, rarely celebrated. The Col de Peyresourde is often a hyphen, linking different places during a stage of the Tour de France and that’s its charm, a crossing point with a useful halt at the top.
The Route: the D618 heads west out of Bagnères-de-Luchon. It is 15.2km long at an average of 6.1% and reaches a height of 1569m above sea level.
The Feel: once it was plain old Luchon then it became Bagnères-de-Luchon, “Luchon baths” and a spa town with its own railway line and guests including royalty and emperors. The glory days are long gone and like many Pyrenean towns it has an old feel, as if held back in time by 20 years. As you leave town you pas the hydroelectric works which originally date from the nineteenth century but could still give the town a future. The road is wide and bites from the start with a slope over 8% for the first kilometre. On the right is a small sign for a “source ferrugineuse”, iron-rich spring water that helped make the spa town. There’s a brief descent and then it kicks up again. There’s no more descending but there are several flatter sections to come, like landings on a staircase. For example the profile above shows the village of Saint Aventin after 5km where the road is flat for a moment rather than just a couple of percentage points less. Before Saint Aventin there’s the turning on the right for the Port de Balès, an option for another day and one of the newest road climbs in the area being tarmacked in 2006.
What’s particular about the Peyresourde climb is its width and the long straight sections. At times the road is lined by poplar trees like something out of a Sisley painting or any road on the plains of France. Only it’s unmistakeably in the mountains, look beyond the road and there are large views of the pastures and the mountains.
Closer to the top and there’s a point where you look up and instead of the road rising up the flanks of the valley you notice it zig-zagging to reach the pass, as if the engineers didn’t make the road ascend enough and had to make up for the lost elevation with some steep ramps. But ignore the optical illusion, the road ahead looks steep but don’t hold back, it’s no harder than what you are already riding on, just with some hairpins to aim for between the ramps. At the top there’s the usual sign and a car park and in summer people in sports cars or on motorbikes high five each other – what’s that all about? – for making it up.
There’s also a hut selling pancakes and drinks which is part of this climb’s purpose, the place is an institution run by Alain Viguerie since the 1970s. You won’t climb it for its own sake but instead are more likely to go via the Peyresourde on your way to somewhere else. In which case a pancake for 60 cents – or 10 for €5 – is useful to keep you going.
The Verdict: it lacks a bit of charm, this is a big boulevard, almost a highway but thankfully very light on traffic. Instead it’s a useful passage across the Pyrenees – and part of the road joining the Atlantic to the Mediterranean and bang in middle too- with a handy café at the top, if you cross the Pyrenees from east to west or vice versa this is bound to be on the way.
Name: Peyre is an old word for a stone or a rock. Sourde means deaf so it sounds like “Deafstone pass” only the sourde is derived from sorda meaning a stone that has risen up or surged out of the ground.
History: the pass will have been used since ancient times but was made into a road under Napoleonic times when the thermal baths and spring waters were attributed with healing properties and became big business.
Race history: first used in 1910 it’s been used 66 times and regularly, several times each decade. This reflects its position in the Pyrenees, a natural crossing point en route to other finishes. The nearby ski resort of Peyragudes, formed by the merger of the Peyresourde ski resort and the other of Agudes has also hosted the Tour de France a summit finish and the Vuelta a Espana too and in 2017 they used the altiport runway for the finish (pictured); the previous year Chris Froome attacked over the top and exploited the fast descent to take the yellow jersey and keep it to Paris. Local race the Route d’Occitanie (ex Route du Sud) has also visited several times.
Future: it’s going to be used as the first climb of Stage 17 of the Tour de France this summer, the ultra-short 65km dash to the Col de Portet.
Travel and Access: you could stay in Luchon at the foot of the climb for a week and not get bored. There’s the climb of Superbagnères above, the Col du Portillon to the east, the Port de Balès and nearby delights like the Col de Menté and the whole Comminges area with many smaller mountain passes. Luchon has railway line… but no trains at the moment, they’re due back in late 2020 apparently. It’s near the A62 autoroute and Toulouse airport is 90 minutes away.
- Photo credit: main image under creative commons by Flickr’s WillJ aka cyclingchallenge on Twitter and Instagram and the cycling-challenge.com website / pancake restaurant via the restaurant’s Facebook page
More roads to ride at inrng.com/roads