The Col d’Aubisque (1,709 m) is in the department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, in the Aquitaine region of France. It is approx. 50km south of the city of Pau.
The col is on the northern slopes of the Pic de Ger (2,613m.) and connects the towns of Laruns, in the vallée d’Ossau to the west and Argelès-Gazost, in the vallée du Lavedan, via the Col du Soulor. The road between Col d’Aubisque and Col du Soulor crosses the Cirque du Litor, in the upper part of the Ouzom valley. This road is closed from December to May due to snow.
Col d’Aubisque is the second most used climb in Le Tour de France. A true legend, Col d’Aubisque is a must do for anyone who wishes to call themselves a cyclist.
There is a café at the summit which is open year round. It is a popular lunch destination with cyclists and I personally highly recommend it.
Climb Col d’Aubisque
Cat HC. From Laruns in the west, Aubisque is 16.6 km @ 7.2% and rises 1,190m to the summit. Road D918.
The first kilometres, to the partly derelict spa town of Eaux-Bonnes, are easy enough. At 8km from the summit there is a section of 13% and the remainder averages 8%.The ski station of Gourette is 3.5km from the summit at 1400m altitude.
Max elevation: 1698 m
Total climbing: 1190 m
Cat 2. From the east you must first climb Col du Soulor (1474m). From Col du Soulor the Col d’Aubisque is just over 10km. Firstly the road descends to Cirque du Litor and then climbs for 7.5km at 4.6% to the summit gaining 350m. Road D918.
This road between Col du Soulor and Col d’Aubisque crosses Cirque du Litor. It is one of the most beautiful roads in the world. Absolutely breath-taking. There are 2 short tunnels on the Cirque. One has a turn in it which makes it very dark, remember to remove your sun glasses and watch out for the sheep. From the Cirque du Litor, the climb is 7.5 km. at 4.6%, a height gain of 350m.
The complete climb from the east side is 32km from Argeles-Gazost. The climb is very hard, 8% for the first 5km to Arras en Lavedan, it then eases off until the village of Arrens, 8km from the summit of Col du Soulor. That 8km is the hardest of the climb, averaging 8.3% with one short section at 18%.
From the north you climb Col du Soulor via Ferriéres and then onto the Cirque du Litor. From the north it is 23km climb to Col du Soulor, average 4.5%. The last 12km to Col du Soulor average 8%. Roads D126 and D918.
Max elevation: 1692 m
Total climbing: 336 m
At the summit there is a large carpark in front of 2 cafes and souvenir shops. The cafe on the right is the oldest and most famous, it makes for a great lunch stop. I highly recommend the “Garbure” a bean stew traditional to the region.
The summit of the col has a commemorative plaque to André Bach, 1888–1945. A member of Legion of Honour and President of the Cyclo Club of Béarn (governors of Raid Pyreneen.). André Bach lost his left arm in WWI. In 1943 he was deported by the Nazi to the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. He died on the return journey after being freed in May 1945. The club hold a commemorative ride to the summit each year in his honour.
The inscription reads:
“Andre Bach 1888-1945
Officier de la Légion d’honneur
Grand Mutile President du C.C.B. Mort en Deportation
Pour perpetuer son souvenir en ce lieu qu’il aimait tant
Ses amis Les Cyclotouristes du C.C.B. 1948”
There is also a sculpture of 3 bikes in yellow, green and red polka dot. Outside the cafe is a bust of Lucien Buysse winner of the 1926 Tour. The stage that crossed Col d’Aubisque that year is legendary in the history of Le Tour. Many historians claim that it was the hardest stage ever.
Tour de France
The Col d’Aubisque appeared in the first big mountain stage of Le Tour de France in 1910, François Lafourcade was first to cross the summit. It has appeared frequently since then, more than once every two years. It was included at the insistence of Alphone Steinès, a colleague of Tour de France director Henri Desgrange. Steinès visited the man responsible for local roads, the ingénieur des ponts-et-chaussées, who said: “Take the riders up the Aubisque? You’re completely crazy in Paris.” Steinès agreed that the Tour would pay 5,000 francs to clear the pass. Desgrange later renegotiated the price down to 2,000.
In 1951, Wim van Est was in the yellow jersey, the first Dutchman to wear it and chasing the leaders towards the Soulor when he slipped on gravel and fell into a ravine. He said:
“That first bend was wet, slippery from the snow. And there were sharp stones on the road that the cars had kicked up, and my front wheel hit them and I went over. Well, there was a drop of 20m. They’ve built a barrier there now but then there was nothing to stop you going over. I fell 20 metres, rolling and rolling and rolling. My feet had come out of the straps, my bike had disappeared, and there was a little flat area, the only one that’s there, no bigger than the seat of a chair, and I landed on my backside. A metre left or right and I’d have dropped onto solid stone, six or seven hundred metres down. My ankles were all hurt, my elbows were kaput. I was all bruised and shaken up and I didn’t know where I was, but nothing was broken.
The team’s manager, Kees Pellenaars, took a tow rope from the Dutch team’s car. It was too short to reach van Est and so to it he tied 40 racing tyres. It was like that that he was pulled out. Van Est said: “It was all the tyres that Pellenaars had for the team. By the time they’d tugged me up, they were all stretched and they wouldn’t stay on the wheels any more! Forty tyres! I wanted to get back on my bike and start racing again. But I couldn’t. Pellenaars stopped the whole team.”
Van Est told journalists: “I had the feeling that I was taking that bend badly but I so much wanted to keep the yellow jersey, so I went flat out and off I flew. A plaque on the rocks spot. “Here on 17 July 1951 the cyclist Wim van Est fell 70 metres. He survived but lost the yellow jersey.” He later made some money advertising watches. The adverts in the Netherlands featured van Est displaying the watch that he’d worn, with the legend: “My heart stopped, but not my Pontiac.”
The Col d’Aubisque has been ridden by Le Tour de France 73 times since 1910.
There has been 2 stage finishes at the summit in 2007 and 1985. In 1971, stage 16a finished at Gourette 3.5km from the summit..
This is the list of the first rider up the climb on each stage.
2012 – Thomas Voeckler – France
2011 – Jérémy Roy – France
2010 – Christophe Moreau – France
2007 – Michael Rasmussen – Denmark – Stage finish. Rasmussen sacked by team after stage. Second rider Levi Leiphimer – USA
2005 – Cadel Evans – Australia
2002 – Laurent Jalabert – France
2000 – Javier Ochoa -Spain
1999 – Alberto Elli – Italy
1998 – Cedric Vasseur – France
1996 – Neil Stephens – Australia
1995 – Stage nutralised after death of Fabio Casartelli on previous day.
1993 – Claudio Chiappucci – Italy
1991 – Guido Winterberg – Switzerland
1990 – Oscar Vargas- Colombia
1989 – Miguel Indurain- Spain1987 – Thierry Claveyrolat- France
1980 – Maurice Le Guilloux – France
1977 – Hennie Kuiper – Netherlands
1976 – Wladimiro Panizza – Italy
1972 – Wilfried David – Belgium
1971 – Bernard Labourdette – France
1970 – Raymond Delisle – France
1969 – Eddy Merckx – Belgium
1968 – Julio Jimenez – Spain
1967 – Jean-Claude Theillière – France
1966 – Tommaso de Pra – Italy
1965 – Julio Jimenez – Spain
1964 – Federico Bahamontes – Spain
1963 – Federico Bahamontes – Spain
1961 – Eddy Pauwels – Belgium
1960 – Graziano Battistini – Italy
1958 – Federico Bahamontes – Spain
1957 – Jean Dotto – France
1956 – Valentin Huot – France
1955 – Charly Gaul – Luxembourg
1954 – Federico Bahamontes – Spain
1953 – Jesus Loroño – Spain
1952 – Fausto Coppi – Belgium
1951 – Raphael Géminiani – France
1950 – Jean Robic – France
1949 – Fausto Coppi – Italy
1948 – Bernard Gauthier – France
1947 – Jean Robic – France
1939 – Edward Vissers – Belgium
1938 – Gino Bartali- Italy
1937 – Mario Vicini – Italy
1936 – Maes Sylvère – Belgium
1935 – Ambrogio Morelli -Italy
1934 – Rene Vietto – France
1933 – Vicente Trueba -Spain
1932 – Vicente Trueba -Spain
1931 – Alfons Schepers – Belgium
1930 – Benoit Faure – France
1929 – Lucien Buysse – Belgium
1928 – Camille Van de Casteele – Belgium
1927 – Michele Gordini – Italy
1926 – Lucien Buysse – Belgium
1925 – Ottavio Bottecchia – Italy
1924 – Ottavio Bottecchia – Italy
1923 – Jean Alavoine – France
1921 – Leon Scieur – Belgium
1920 – Firmin Lambot – Belgium
1919 – Luigi Lucotti – Italy
1914 – Oscar Egg – Switzerland & Henri Pelissier – France
1913 – Eugène Christophe – France
1912 – Louis Mottiat – Belgium
1912 – Eugène Christophe – France
1911 – Maurice Brocco – France
1910 – François Lafourcade – France