Day 1: Rivesaltes (Perpignan) to Prades
Stats: 191km, 4,260m
Key climbs: Auzines, Aussieres, Nadieu, Dent, Triby, Garabell, Jau
The stage begins by warming up on the hills guarded by the ruins of Catharre castles, then we trace our way up to the Col d’Aussieres via Sournia. After descending to Axat, we take a remote loop to bag four ‘back-road’ cols with some serious climbing, before briefly joining the Gorges of St Georges. From here we begin the long climb up to the Col de Jau for our final battle of the day.
Day 2: Prades to Saillagousse
Stats: 175km, 4,760m
Key climbs: Roque Jalere, Mantet, Llosse, Font Romeu
A superb loop opens the stage, via the Roque-Jalere. After this comes a relatively gentle wooded climb to Vernet-les-Bains, before the main challenge: the Col de Mantet, with its steep final kilometres. After this monster, the incredible corniche road that starts the 30km climb to the Col de la Llosse sustains the days’ demanding nature. This back-road climb is the highlight of the stage, leaving ‘only’ a short climb up to the attractive ski-village of Font Romeu.
Day 3: Saillagousse to Oust
Stats: 204km, 4,600m
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 along the N20 for the Plateau de Beille climb up to lunch : a real treat!
Day 4: Oust to St. Lary-Soulan
Stats: 196km, 5,900m.
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.
Day 5: St. Lary-Soulan to Oloron
Stats: 223km, 5,600m
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 combo will leave you speechless, certainly breathless. A long but genteel section, through the Bois de Bager, provides a well-earned stretch of fun.
Day 6: Oloron to Larrau
Stats: 200km, 5,200m
Key climbs: Burdinolatze, Chalets d’Iraty, Erroymendi, Port Larrau, Pierre St Martin
We dip into Spain for a Basque stage with 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. Tough, steep riding, though on a good day, the views from the top of St. Martin are fantastic.
Day 7: Larrau to Argeles-Gazost
Stats: 201km, 5,200m
Key climbs: Ste Gracie, Soudet, Bouesou, Houratate, Marie Blanque, Spandelles, Hautacam.
Rolling foothills to begin with, before we tackle one of the toughest climbs of the event, the Ste Gracie/Soudet. A very big climb up but certainly worth it for the views. We’ll head 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.
Day 8: Argeles-Gazost to Bagneres-de-Luchon
Stats: 192km, 5,600m
Key climbs: Couret, Palomières,Beyrede, Aspin, Peyresourde, Hospice de France.
After a bumpy crossing of foothills, we tackle the Col du Couret – a little-known gem that is revered by those in the know. A similar claim could be made for the Beyrede, but the Aspin and Peyresourde are real classic, bucket-list cols.
Day 9: Luchon to Ax-les-Thermes
Stats: 217km, 5,400m
Key climbs: Port de Bales, Portet d’Aspet, Crouzette, Port
The formidable Port de Balès 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. After the Col de Port, a long descent takes us to Tarascon and towards our hotel via the high Route des Corniches.
Day 10: Ax-les-Thermes to Rivesaltes (Perpignan)
Stats: 198km, 3,900m
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, as riders complete an epic out-and-back across the Pyrenees.
We recommend that you visit Phil Deeker’s Cent Cols Challenge website which explains in greater detail what is involved in these trips.