3 days cycling, 521km
A long weekend in another world, finishing on a high (literally) with a new understanding of this magnificent mountain range.
Three increasingly difficult stages through two very different parts of the Pyrenees give us the perfect mix of charm and challenge and everything there is to love about cycling in the mountains (plus, only the third stage involves transfers).
Stage 13 is a wonderful warm up; we head south through “holiday-France” towards the mountains, which are visible from lunchtime in a long line ahead of you. It will be hot, fast, relatively flat (we expect about 1,500m of climbing which is very little for a 171km Tour stage) and full of anticipation.
Stages 14 and 15 take us on a mega exploration; first the big names (Tourmalet & friends) which are historic, imposing, grand climbs and then on stage 15 we’re hit with a journey much deeper into the eastern mountains where fewer cyclists (or indeed people in general) get to. Here you can expect craggier peaks, narrower roads, fewer signs of life and plenty of time for reflection.
This last stage of the Pyrenees Loop will be extremely tough (read: extreme bragging rights one week later) but don’t let that put you off – there are Lite options if you need them (sign up the day before) and as ever, the Le Loop team will be on hand from morning to night to cheer you on and make it possible.
Thurs 4th July: A transfer from Bordeaux airport to Agen is included in this Loop (see travel info below) OR make your own way to Agen. Meet the team, meet your fellow cyclists, arrival briefing and dinner.
Fri 5th July: Cycle stage 13
6th July: Cycle stage 14
Sun 7th July: Cycle stage 15
Mon 8th July: A transfer from the hotel to Narbonne station or Toulouse airport is included in this Loop (see travel info below) OR depart under your own arrangements.
Stage 13 – Agen to Pau – 171km
This is a beautiful all-change stage, taking us from the low-lying Garonne Valley where the skies are blue and it’s always summer (Agen is famous for its sun-ripened prunes) to Pau, the Royal city generally considered the gateway to the Pyrenees which has hosted the Tour de France more often than anywhere except Paris and Bordeaux. The regional change will add to the sense of journey with cultural, architectural and agricultural changes ever couple of hours.
Today’s ride should be easy-ish on the legs, and with amazingly varied views, from scenic balcony roads as we leave the Garonne, to classic French countryside, including long avenues of poplar trees and rolling fields of sunflowers.
There are some sections of long, straight roads today, perfect for group riding and an extra couple of kilometres per hour. These roads are interspersed with lovely, small French towns where colonnaded squares provide shade to coffee-drinkers and market-goers.
Although this is billed as a flat stage, it avoids the path of least resistance, and there are a couple of short sharp climbs to keep the legs nimble as we work our way south. The mountains loom ahead and are visible long before we approach Pau– a thrilling sign of what’s to come.
Le Loop logistics
Start: Agen hotel
Finish: Pau hotel
Stage 14 – Pau to St Lary Pla d’Adet – 152km
Our first Pyrenean stage includes a robust 4,000m ascent and three classic Tour climbs, including the mighty Tourmalet.
We have a relatively flat start, with no significant climbs for the first 50km as we make our way out of Pau and follow the valleys through Lourdes and Argelès-Gazost, watching the mountains get closer and closer, until they surround us completely. From here, the only way is up – for 19km, with an average gradient of 7.4%, until we stand on top of one of cycling’s most famous cols, with almost 20km of descent awaiting us.
Our next big climb is the gorgeous Hourquette d’Ancizan – a very different hill from the Tourmalet. A quiet, immaculately surfaced road winds us up through shady woodland (with gentler gradients than we’ve endured so far), then out into a peaceful landscape of sheer green hillsides and curious sheep, before shooting us down a fast, tree-lined descent into Saint-Lary (our home for the night).
We have the psychological challenge of passing our hotel before the last, and steepest, climb: a 10.6km slog (with 7.9% average gradient) up to Pla d’Adet. This is a challenging ascent, with the first 5km hovering around the 9% mark, before the gradient lessens in the final laps, leaving us a little energy to appreciate the panoramic views of La Vallée des Nestes.
Then it’s back down the hill to St Lary, a charming ski town for a night in the mountains.
Le Loop logistics
Start: Pau hotel
Finish: St Lary hotel
Stage 15 – Loudenvielle to Plateau de Beille – 198km
One way or another, today’s stage will be the ride of your life – we cross five big-name cols, gain close to 5,000m of elevation (4,850m to be exact), and finish on top of the 1,780m Plateau de Beille, where we join Tour history alongside Contador and Pantani.
We start off with an old favourite: the Col de Peyresourde, a scenic 7km climb that made its Tour debut in 1910, and has featured over 50 times since. After a final glance back into the Neste Valley, we whizz down to the pretty spa town of Luchon, enjoy a pleasant roll along the valley, and then set off up the wooded slopes of the Col de Menté. This, and the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, which immediately follows, will hold our steepest gradients of the day, with averages above 9%.
Over the next 30km we descend more than 500m, and briefly emerge from the mountains – but don’t be fooled: there’s much more to come! After turning south in the picturesque riverside town of Saint-Girons we spend another hour or so following the River Garbet back into the thick of it, regaining all the height we just lost as we approach the base of the Col d’Agnes. From here we go down only slightly before reascending to the Port de Lers – a sequence that captures Pyrenean cycling in all its remote, green, sheep-scented glory.
There now remains just the descent to Tarascon, and then our grand finale – the 16km climb up to the Plateau de Beille. This is a test of our tired legs, with an average gradient of 8%, and much steeper sections in the first 5km. But as we emerge above the treeline we’re treated to endless mountaintop views on all sides and a heroes’ welcome at the top.
Due to coach access, we descend 16km from the summit back down to Les Cabanes for dinner and transport to our hotel.
Le Loop logistics
Start: Transfer to Loudenvielle
Finish: Transfer to Narbonne
Due end Jan
Due end Mar
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due end April
- Accommodation (Mostly twin share. Single supplements are available to buy by January)
- All food (3 meals and the best feedstops you’ve ever seen)
- Fully signed route, the stuff of legend
- Mechanical, medical and moral support
- Luggage Transfers
- Coach transfers to the next stage start when the stages aren’t contiguous
- Travel to and from France (but we’ll give you advice on the best travel routes)
- Bike Transport (£40 each way if you want us to drive your bike there and back)
- Evening massage (£10 or €10 per massage if you’d like one – highly recommended)
- Beer/wine/drinks at dinner