Col du Tourmalet

Col du Tourmalet
Col du Tourmalet

Location of Col du Tourmalet

Elevation 2,115 m (6,939 ft)[1]
Traversed by D918
Location Hautes-Pyrénées, France
Range Pyrenees
Coordinates 42°54′29.5″N 0°8′42.4″E / 42.908194°N 0.145111°E / 42.908194; 0.145111Coordinates: 42°54′29.5″N 0°8′42.4″E / 42.908194°N 0.145111°E / 42.908194; 0.145111
View from the Col du Tourmalet to its western side

Col du Tourmalet (elevation 2,115 m (6,939 ft)) is the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees, located in the department of Hautes-Pyrénées. Sainte-Marie-de-Campan is at the foot on the eastern side and the ski station La Mongie two-thirds of the way up. The village of Barèges lies on the western side, above the town of Luz-Saint-Sauveur.

Tourmalet is also a cheese made from sheep milk produced in these mountains.

Higher streets in the Pyrenees

The Col du Tourmalet is the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees. However, in contrast to frequent claims (see for example [2][3]), it is neither the highest paved road in the French Pyrenees, nor the highest mountain pass in the French Pyrenees, nor the highest paved mountain pass in the Pyrenees. Paved roads leading to the mountain lakes Lac de Cap-de-Long and Lac d'Aumar in the same French Department Hautes-Pyrénées are higher, as these lakes are at altitudes of 2,161 m (7,090 ft) and 2,192 m (7,192 ft), respectively.[4] However, these roads are not mountain passes. Departing directly from the Col du Tourmalet we find a road to the mountain pass Col de Laquets with an altitude of 2,637 m (8,652 ft) [5] However, this road is not paved. Finally, the highest paved mountain pass in the Pyrenees is the Port d'Envalira in Andorra with its altitude of 2,407 m (7,897 ft).

Meaning of "Tourmalet"

Some Frenchmen believe that Tourmalet translates into "bad trip" or "bad detour" because in French Tour translates into "trip" and mal translates into "bad"; however, the correct language to translate from is Gascon, not French, because of the mountain's location in the Gascony-region and the "du" in the name, which is the Gascon pendant to the French "de". Then Tour becomes "distance", which is spelled "tur" but pronounced "tour", mal is translated into "mountain", and et becomes "the". The translation from Gascon to English then becomes "The Distance Mountain".[6]

Details of the climb

The western side, from Luz-Saint-Sauveur, is 19.0 km (11.8 mi) long, climbing 1,404 m (4,606 ft) at an average of 7.4% with a maximum of 10.2% near the summit.[7] Starting from Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, the eastern climb is 17.2 km (10.7 mi), gaining 1,268 m (4,160 ft), at an average of 7.4% with a maximum of 12%.[8] As with most French climbs, each kilometre mountain pass cycling milestones indicate the height of the summit, the distance to the summit, and the average gradient of the next kilometre.

From the pass, a rough track leads to the Pic du Midi de Bigorre observatory. Up to the Col de Laquets (elevation 2,637 m (8,652 ft)) this track is a dirt and gravel road. The part between the Col de Laquets and the observatory is a steep and narrow hiking track.[9] Some terraces of the observatory can be entered for free from the end of the track. Paying an entrance fee, one can enter the actual observatory and also take the funicular down to La Mongie.

Tour de France

Jacques Goddet memorial at the top of the Tourmalet

The Col du Tourmalet is one of the most famous climbs on the Tour de France. It has been included more than any other pass, starting in 1910, when the Pyrenees were introduced. The first rider over was Octave Lapize, who went on to claim the yellow jersey in Paris. In 1913, Eugène Christophe broke his fork on the Tourmalet and repaired it himself at a forge in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan.

Up to 2014, the Tour has visited the Col du Tourmalet a total of 83 times, including the uncategorised passage en route to Peyragudes on Stage 17 of the 2012 tour. The total includes two stage finishes at the summit and three at La Mongie. Since 1980 it has been ranked hors catégorie, or exceptional. The Vuelta a España has also crossed the pass several times.

The 2010 edition of the Tour included the pass on two consecutive stages, crossing westward on the 16th stage to Pau and eastward on the 17th stage with a finish at the summit.

At the col is a memorial to Jacques Goddet, director of the Tour de France from 1936 to 1987, and a large statue of Octave Lapize gasping for air as he struggles to make the climb.

The Souvenir Jacques Goddet prize is awarded for the first rider to cross the Col du Tourmalet summit.

Origins in the Tour

The Pyrenees were included in the Tour de France at the insistence of Alphonse Steinès, a colleague of the organiser, Henri Desgrange. He told the story in a book published soon after the event.[10]

Steinès first agreed that the Tour would pay 2,000 francs to clear the Col d'Aubisque, then came back to investigate the Tourmalet. He started at Sainte-Marie-de-Campan with sausage, ham and cheese at the inn opposite the church and arranged to hire a driver called Dupont from Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Dupont and Steinès made it the first 16 km, after which their car came to a stop. Dupont and Steinès started to walk but Dupont turned back after 600m, shouting: "The bears come over from Spain when it snows". Steinès set off. He mistook voices in the darkness for thieves. They were youngsters guarding sheep with their dog. Steinès called to one.

"Son, do you know the Tourmalet well? Could you guide me? I'll give you a gold coin. When we get to the other top, I'll give you another one"

The boy joined him but then turned back.

Steinès rested on a rock. He considered sitting it out until dawn, then realised he'd freeze. He slipped on the icy road, then fell into a stream. He climbed back to the road and again fell in the snow. Exhausted and stumbling, he heard another voice.

"Tell me who goes there or I'll shoot".

"I'm a lost traveller. I've just come across the Tourmalet".

"Oh, it's you, Monsieur Steinès! We were expecting you! We got a phone call at Ste-Marie-de-Campan. Everybody's at Barèges. It's coming on for three o'clock. There are search teams of guides out looking for you".

The organising newspaper, L'Auto, had a correspondent at Barèges, a man called Lanne-Camy. He took him for a bath and provided new clothes.

Steines sent a telegram to Desgrange: "Crossed Tourmalet stop. Very good road stop. Perfectly feasible".

Tour de France stage finishes

Year Stage Start of stage Distance (km) Category Stage winner Yellow jersey
2010 17 Pau 174 HC  Andy Schleck (LUX)  Alberto Contador (ESP)
1974[11] 17 Saint-Lary-Soulan 119 1  Jean-Pierre Danguillaume (FRA)  Eddy Merckx (BEL)

Other appearances in Tour de France

Year Stage Category Start Finish Leader at the summit
2016 8 HC Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Thibaut Pinot (FRA)
2015 11 HC Pau Cauterets  Rafal Majka (POL)
2014 18 HC Pau Hautacam  Blel Kadri (FRA)
2012 16 HC Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Thomas Voeckler (FRA)
2011 12 HC Cugnaux Luz-Ardiden  Jérémy Roy (FRA)
2010 16 HC Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau  Christophe Moreau (FRA)
2009 9 HC Saint-Gaudens Tarbes  Franco Pellizotti (ITA)
2008 10 HC Pau Hautacam  Rémy Di Gregorio (FRA)
2006 11 HC Tarbes Val d'AranPla-de-Beret  David de la Fuente (ESP)
2003 15 HC Bagnères-de-Bigorre Luz-Ardiden  Sylvain Chavanel (FRA)
2001 14 HC Tarbes Luz-Ardiden  Sven Montgomery (SUI)
1999 16 HC Lannemezan Pau  Alberto Elli (ITA)
1998 10 HC Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Alberto Elli (ITA)
1997 9 HC Pau Loudenvielle  Javier Pascual-Rodriguez (ESP)
1995 15 HC Saint-Girons CauteretsCrêtes du Lys  Richard Virenque (FRA)
1994 12 HC Lourdes Luz-Ardiden  Richard Virenque (FRA)
1993 17 HC Tarbes Pau  Tony Rominger (SUI)
1991 13 HC Jaca Val-Louron  Claudio Chiappucci (ITA)
1990 16 HC Blagnac Luz-Ardiden  Miguel Martinez-Torres (ESP)
1989 10 HC Cauterets Superbagnères  Robert Millar (GBR)
1988 15 HC Saint-Girons Luz-Ardiden  Laudelino Cubino (ESP)
1986 13 HC Pau Superbagnères  Dominique Arnaud (FRA)
1985 17 HC Toulouse Luz-Ardiden  Pello Ruiz-Cabestany (ESP)
1983 10 HC Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Patrocinio Jimenez (COL)
1980 13 HC Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Raymond Martin (FRA)
1978 11 1 Pau Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d'Adet  Michel Pollentier (FRA)
1977 2 1 Auch Pau  Lucien Van Impe (BEL)
1976 15 1 Saint-Lary-Soulan Pau  Francisco Galdós (ESP)
1975 11 1 Pau Saint-Lary-Soulan Pla d'Adet  Lucien Van Impe (BEL)
1974 18 1 Bagnères-de-Bigorre Pau  Gonzalo Aja (ESP)
1973 14 1 Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau  Bernard Thévenet (FRA)
1972 8 1 Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Roger Swerts (BEL)
1971 16 1 Bagnères-de-Luchon Gouretteles-Eaux-Bonnes  Lucien Van Impe (BEL)
1970 19 1 Bagnères-de-Bigorre Mourenx  Andrés Gandarias (ESP)
1969 17 1 La Mongie Mourenx  Eddy Merckx (BEL)
1968 8 1 Pau Saint-Gaudens  Jean-Pierre Ducasse (FRA)
1967 17 1 Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau  Julio Jiménez (ESP)
1965 9 1 Dax Bagnères-de-Bigorre  Julio Jiménez (ESP)
1964 16 1 Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau  Julio Jiménez (ESP)
 Bahamontes (ESP)
1963 17 1 Pau Bagnères-de-Bigorre  Raymond Poulidor (FRA)
 Bahamontes (ESP)
1962 17 1 Pau Saint-Gaudens  Federico Bahamontes (ESP)
1961 17 1 Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau  Marcel Queheille (FRA)
1960 11 1 Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Kurt Gimmi (SUI)
1959 10 1 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Bigorre  Armand Desmet (BEL)
1957 18 1 Saint-Gaudens Pau  José Manuel Ribeiro da Silva (POR)
1955 18 1 Saint-Gaudens Pau  Miguel Poblet (ESP)
1954 12 1 Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Federico Bahamontes (ESP)
1953 11 1 Cauterets Bagnères-de-Luchon  Jean Robic (FRA)
1952 18 1 Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau  Fausto Coppi (ITA)
1951 14 1 Tarbes Bagnères-de-Luchon  Jean Diederich (LUX)
1950 11 1 Pau Saint-Gaudens  Kléber Piot (FRA)
1949 11 1 Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Fausto Coppi (ITA)
1948 8 1 Lourdes Toulouse  Jean Robic (FRA)
1947 15 1 Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau  Jean Robic (FRA)
1939 9 Pau Toulouse  Edward Vissers (BEL)
1938 8 Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Gino Bartali (ITA)
1937 15 Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau  Julián Berrendero (ESP)
1936 16 Bagnères-de-Luchon Pau  Sylvère Maes (BEL)
1935 15 Perpignan Bagnères-de-Luchon  Sylvère Maes (BEL)
1934 15 Tarbes Pau  René Vietto (FRA)
1933 18 Tarbes Pau  Vicente Trueba (ESP)
1932 5 Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Benoît Fauré (FRA)
1931 9 Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Jef Demuysere (BEL)
1930 9 Pau Bagnères-de-Luchon  Benoît Fauré (FRA)
1929 9 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Victor Fontan (FRA)
1928 9 Hendaye Bagnères-de-Luchon  Camille Van de Casteele (BEL)
1927 11 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Nicolas Frantz (LUX)
1926 10 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Odiel Taillieu (BEL)
1925 8 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Omer Huyse (BEL)
1924 6 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Ottavio Bottecchia (ITA)
1923 6 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Robert Jacquinot (FRA)
1921 6 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Hector Heusghem (BEL)
1920 6 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Firmin Lambot (BEL)
1919 6 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Honore Barthelemy (FRA)
1914 6 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Firmin Lambot (BEL)
1913 6 Bayonne Bagnères-de-Luchon  Philippe Thys (BEL)
1912 10 Bagnères-de-Luchon Bayonne  Odile Defraye (BEL)
1911 10 Bagnères-de-Luchon Bayonne  Paul Duboc (FRA)
1910 10 Bagnères-de-Luchon Bayonne  Octave Lapize (FRA)

See also La Mongie

Other events

The Col du Tourmalet features in other bicycle races, including the Vuelta a España when it has made excursions into France. It is also on the route of cyclosportive competitions. Thousands of amateur riders make the climb every year and many take documents to have rubber-stamped in the shop at the summit to show they have made it.


  1. IGN map
  2. "Roaming The Google Streets: Col du Tourmalet - Highest Point in Tour de France". Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  3. "Cycling The French Pyrenees (Col du Tourmalet and Luz-Ardiden)". Retrieved 17 June 2015.
  4. Topographic map published by IGN Number 1748 ET, Scale 1:25 000.
  5. Topographic map published by IGN Number 1747 ET, Scale 1:25 000.
  6. Velo Peloton article about the translation
  7. "Col du Tourmalet -". Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  8. "Col du Tourmalet -". Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  9. Topographic map published by IGN Number 1747 ET, Scale 1:25 000.
  10. Unidentified, but the story is retold in Chany, Pierre (1988), La Fabuleuse Histoire du Tour de France, Paris: La Martinière, p. 111, ISBN 2-09-286454-8.
  11. Video of 1974 stage finish in front of restaurant at Col du Tourmalet
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