The Pyrenees Cent Cols Challenge is the most rural of our routes and the most technical. Ten days without passing through a major town, and accompanied by the sound of cascading water and cowbells, the tranquil beauty of these mountains will work their way to your heart. Steeper climbs and some rougher roads mean this Challenge is definitely harder than the Alps. This new version, first ridden in 2014, is harder than its predecessor, too, with stats that compare closely with the Dolomites. It is a tough but wonderful way of experiencing the sheer majesty of the Pyrenees.
I didn’t think the CCC Alps could be bettered but the Pyrenees is perhaps the ultimate cycling adventure. Where the CCC Alps is primarily a physical challenge, the Pyrenees edition is more a spiritual voyage of discovery. To anyone considering these rides, I would recommend them both; if I could only do one, it would have to be the Pyrenees.
30th August to 9th September 2015
Stage One: Rivesaltes (Perpignan) to Prades
Key climbs: Auzines, Aussieres, Roque Jalere, Jau
After warming up legs on hills still guarded by the ruins of Cathar castles, we trace our way up to the Col ‘Auzines. From here we have our first big descent towards Prades, bringing us to the foot of the Roque Jalere climb. This is a steady but relentless ascent that offers us the best views of the region. From Sournia, we wind our way up to the Aussières, leaving the Col de Jau to provide the grand finale of the stage.
Stage Two: Prades to Saillagousse
Key climbs: Palomère, Ste.Eusebe, Mantet, Llosse, Font Romeu
A superb loop up, then down through two different but very dramatic gorges opens the stage. A relatively gentle wooded climb follows, up to Vernet-les-Bains, before the stage’s main challenge of the Mantet, with its fiercely steep final kilometres. After this monster, the incredible corniche road that starts the long climb to the Col de la Llosse ensures the stage remains demanding throughout. This backroad climb must be the highlight of the stage, leaving ‘only’ a short climb up to the attractive ski-village of Font Romeu.
Stage Three: Saillagousse to Oust
Key climbs: Quillanne, Pailhères, Plateau de Beille, Port de Lers, Agnes, Latrape.
Another steady beginning to a stage gives us time to loosen legs before hitting the Pailhères for the first of our two meetings with this beauty. Once over and down to Ax-les-Thermes, we head down the N20 for the Plateau de Beille climb up to lunch : a real treat, (both!). That leaves the duo of the Port de Lers and Agnes – Pyrenees Perfection! Oh, there is one more climb before our hotel…
Stage Four: Oust to St. Lary-Soulan
Key climbs: Core, Portet d’Aspet, Menté, Portillon, Superbagnères, Peyresourde, Azet.
Things toughen up a bit on this stage. All the climbs here are classically Pyrenean, harder than they look on paper but more beautiful than you could imagine. Each climb has its own distinct character and challenge. Mid-stage, the Superbagneres climb could be omitted if legs are screaming.
Stage Five: St. Lary-Soulan to Oloron
Key climbs: Ancizan, Tourmalet, Luz-Ardiden, Spandelles (east), Soulor, Aubisque.
Arguably the king stage of the Challenge, and the Ancizan now seems to have become a Tour favourite. We ride the tougher side, naturally. The Tourmalet, of course, towers over all others, although he Spandelles/Soulor/Aubisque combi will leave you speechless, certainly breathless. A long but genteel section, through the Bois de Bager, provides a well-earned stretch of fun.
Stage Six: Oloron to Larrau
Key climbs: Burdinolatze, Chalets d’Iraty, Erroymendi, Port Larrau, Pierre St Martin
We dip into Spain for a Basque stage with, and quite a few steep bits along the way. After an almost flat start, the route climbs through the Basque hills, all the way to the Spanish border at Port Larrau. The gradient is varied, yet always sustained, making for some tough riding. On a good day, the views from the top of St Martin are the best.
Stage Seven: Larrau to Argeles-Gazost
Key climbs: Ste Gracie, Soudet, Bouesou, Houratate, Marie Blanque, Spandelles, Hautacam.
Rolling foothills to begin with, before tackling one of the toughest climbs of the event, the Ste Gracie/Soudet. A very big climb up but certainly worth it for the views. Across some spikier hills, before riding the 13%-plus Marie Blanque on its vicious side. The superb, tight Spandelles climb, which deservedly gets a second visit, brings us to Argeles, where the final big one awaits for us, the Col de Tramassel (Hautacam), star of Le Tour in 2014. Not a bad day on a bike.
Stage Eight: Argeles-Gazost to Bagneres-de-Luchon
Key climbs: Couret, Palomières,Beyrede, Aspin, Peyresourde, Hospice de France.
After a bumpy crossing of foothills, we tackle the Col du Couret. Whereas the Aspin and Peyresourde are more bucket-list climbs, this little-known climb gem is revered by those in the know, and a similar claim could be made for the Beyrede. This backroad stage finishes with another up-and-back (optional) and a seldom-ridden climb, the wonderful Hospice de France.
Stage Nine: Luchon to Ax-les-Thermes
Key climbs: Port de Bales, Portet d’Aspet, Crouzette, Port
The formidable Port de Bales opens the day with a touch of class, before a gentler section takes us to the steeper, but shorter, side of the Portet d’Aspet. Then follows the beautifully quiet but occasionally steep climb to the Col de Crouzette. After the Col de Port, a long descent takes us to Tarascon and the start of the Route des Corniches, bringing us to our hotel via the high road.
Stage Ten: Ax-les-Thermes to Rivesaltes (Perpignan)
Key climbs: Chioula, Pradel, Pailhères, Saint Louis, Bataille
A slightly terrifying trio opens our final stage but what a way to come away from the high Pyrenees. Once over the Pailhères and down one of the best descents of the trip, the afternoon will seem easy, though hardly flat.
Full price of trip: £2950
- More info: centcolschallenge.com »