DAY 11 - The mighty Col du Tourmalet

Today is one of the must watch stages of the Tour de France. 

Starting from Pau the riders will take on the Col d’Aspin and then the mighty Col du Tourmalet, the highest paved mountain in the Pyrenees,  travelling a total of 188 km to an uphill finish at Cauterets.

This is the first of the big mountain stages this year and given Chris Froome’s lead over the other contenders it is quite possible that we will see attacks starting on the Col D’Aspin with one or two riders hoping to make up some time on the Col Du Tourmalet.

Both of these climbs featured for the first time in the 1910 tour when in that year France’s Gustave Garrigou earned himself a 100 franc payout for being the only rider to scale the Tourmalet without stopping. But it is the events of the 1913 tour however that really catches our imagination.

Riding for team Peugeot a 25 year old Eugene Christophe was well placed to win the tour and was leading the general classification by 18 minutes, when descending the Tourmalet disaster struck as his forks broke.

Alone on the road 10 kilometres from a small village called Sainte Marie-de-Campan, Christophe was left with no option but to walk with his bike on his shoulder back down the valley in search for help. It took him 2 hours to get to the village and to find a blacksmith.

The village blacksmith, Monsieur Le Comte, offered to weld the broken forks together. However the race rules at that time stipulated that he was responsible for his own repairs and so outside assistance was prohibited. Under instruction Christophe set about repairing his own bike and some 3 hours later with bread in his pockets and fixed forks, he ready to set off again. Unbelievably the race officials penalised him 10 minutes (later reduced to three) as he allowed a seven year old boy, Corni, to pump the bellows for him. Christophe eventually finished the tour in seventh place.

The building on the site of the forge has a plaque commemorating this episode. The riders in today’s stage may be going a little too fast to notice the plaque, but if you are ever in the Pyrenees its worth hunting out! The village of Saint–Marie–de-Campan is situated perfectly for watching or climbing the Col du Tourmalet or the Col d’Apsin as it sits midway on the route between the two.

Our French Sister company Allons – y – Pyrenees runs cycling holidays that will lead you up these famous mountains, and show you around the fabulous French mountains and villages of the Midi-Pyrenees. See our website for further information about the custom tailored cycling holidays.