Friday, March 23, 2012

Greatest cycling climbs #3 Col d'Aubisque

Alberto Contador approaching Col d'Aubisque 2011, here at Col Soulor
(photo Touho Häkkinen)

Location: Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Aquitaine, France
Altitude: 1709 m
Length, Laruns side: 16600 m
Climb: 1190 m
Average gradient: 7.2 %
Steepest portion: 13 %

The Col d'Aubisque (Occitan: Còth d'Aubisca) is a mountain pass in the Pyrenees 30 km south of Tarbes and Pau. Together with Col du Tourmalet, Col du Galibier, and Mont Ventoux, the Col d'Aubisque is one of the greatest legendary Tour de France climbs . Col d'Aubisque is the second most climbed Col in Tour de France history (72 times) after Col du Tourmalet (77 times)!

Col d'Aubisque profile Laruns side (
The heaviest climb to the Aubisque starts from west, in Laruns: 16.6 km with a vertical climb of 1190 m (average 7.2 %). The first km's finishing to the spa resort of Eaux-Bonnes, are easy. There is  a section at 13 % after the Cascade de Valentin comes . After that to the top the climb is 8 km at 8 % average, passing the ski resort of Gourette at 1400 m. The last 5 km:s are difficult.

From the east side, the Aubisque is much easier -  but it is climbed almost immediately after the tough Col de Soulor.

Col d'Aubisque appeared first time in the Tour de France in 1910. It was included in the TdF at the insistence of Alphone Steinès, a colleague of Henri Desgrange. Steinès had visited the man responsible for local roads, who said: "Take the riders up the Aubisque? You're completely crazy in Paris." In the Tour de France, the Col d'Aubisque has been climbed very frequently since then, almost every year.
Here some cool Col d'Aubisque highlights (
  • In 1926, on the Aubisque stage, only 47 riders reached the finish town before midnight.  Suddenly a dozen or so riders surged into town together.  At the same moment an angry man approached the Tour General Secretary: "It's a scandal, the shame.  I took them in my bus and they haven't paid me." The Tour official quietly paid him. 
  • Two time Tour champion, the Italian Ottavio Bottechia, or The Butcher of Frioul  (he also liked to sing while pedaling), was first over the col three times but abandoned on Aubisque in 1926.
  • THIS IS TOUGH! Willem van Est (1923–2003) was a Dutch racing cyclist. He is best known for being the first Dutch cyclist to wear the Maillot Jaune in the Tour de France1951, but not less for falling into a ravine while wearing it. Van Est (nicknamed "le miraculé de l'Aubisque") fell of the cliff entering the cirque du litor, while descending Aubisque. Due to a flat tyre (according to himself), he slipped away and fell into a 70 m deep ravine! Miraculously, he survived the fall and had no serious injuries. Using a chain of tyres, and helped by spectators and his manager, he managed to get back to the road. Van Est wanted to continue, but was persuaded to go to the hospital.
  • During his career, The Eagle of Toledo, Frederico Bahamontes, crossed Aubisque in front a record four times.
  • In 1969 the great Eddie Merckx, while in yellow, had a 12 minute lead at the foot of Aubisque.  He suffered a rare défaillance, but still managed to catty home a seven minute victory on the way his first ever Tour victory.
  • Sean Kelly was dressed yellow only once in the Tour de France.  In 1983, he wore it and lost it during the Aubisque stage.
  • Until now, the only mountain top finishes at Aubisque were won by Stephen Roche in 1985, and the Danish ballroom dancer Rasmussen, in 2007.
  • Z climbing Col d'Aubisque 2010 (photo: Touho Häkkinen)

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