There is a strong correlation between having Hautacam on your TdF palmares and performance enhancement through drugs. I took the opposite approach and rode it with a mild hangover.
I got chatting to a local cyclist at one of the campsite dinners who told me how beautiful this climb was. Also, the start of the climb was only about 8km from where we are staying so I couldn’t not do.
However, it turned out to be lot harder than I was anticipating.
The pattern of this climb is one of reported average gradients bearing little correlation to the actual gradients you experience.
A reported 8% km section is inevitably several flatter sections followed by ramps of more than 10%. For some reason I thought this climb got easier about halfway up but saw no evidence until in the final 2km. I was out of my saddle for more on this climb than any of the others I’d done in the Pyrenees over the last week.
The lower slopes are tree-lined and in morning shade that makes the torture slightly more bearable.
Around about 6km from the end the good stuff really starts to happen. Amazing views across the valleys that meet at Argeles-Gazost.
Across the Val d’Azun with the Soulor and Aubisque Cols at it’s head and the Pic des Tourettes, whose name entertained the schoolboy in me, towering over. And up towards Cauterets with Vignemale, the tallest mountain in the French Pyrenees. The ascent up to Hautacam being on the western side, these were all bathed in morning sun.
After a punishing 2km from around 5km to go things started to get easier and it’s possible to take in the view now the trees no longer line the road. I had the usual Pyrenean livestock to negotiate and the last km was an easy run round to the TdF finish.
What I then discovered, after taking the obligatory photo opp, was that there was still another 1.2km to go up to the top of Col de Tramessel. There you’ll find a refuge and the start of several Nordic ski routes and views over the other side of the Hautacam massif.
The descent was, again, brilliant. Lot’s more of accelerating out hairpins in the big ring and really feeling like you’re living the dream. I’ve come to the conclusion that the real danger on Pyrenean descents is hitting some fresh livestock poo. Terrifying when you come hurtling round a bend and find shiny brown splodges across the road.
One more cycling day to go. I think I’m going to try something a little off the beaten track for my last excursion.