Le Col du Tourmalet

Odds on

Tough at the top

Watching the Tour de France pass over the Cols of the Pyrenees is not a suitable means of understanding the task at hand. Human and geological freaks combining to create a spectacle deceptively couched in terms that we all understand. Weights and measures.

The Col du Tourmalet is the most extreme that the Pyrenees has to offer, take a moment to check the footage (about 12 minutes in) from June 2013 to understand just how extreme this extreme is.

To consider each turn of the pedals that is required to conquer the Col is to make the task seem overwhelming. Inspiration is the motivation for the climb - most obviously emulation of those we have watched in the Tour. 

Stretching the legs within sight of the 19km marker is a steep start ramp out of the town. To sit and watch in a cafe provides an endless stream of challengers, fresh and out of the saddle, or already plodding, or spinning a light gear to save energy, God loves a tryer.

And this is, in fact, the inspiration. To acknowledge ourselves in the spectrum of the cycling world, and to be inspired by others in that spectrum. A spectrum which seems all the broader on the slopes of this mountain. The challenge is open to all and accepted by many.

The crowds, colours and combatants of the Tour have brought us this far, but what is it that will finally take us to the top? 

The young, the old, the able bodied and fit, the able bodied and unfit, and those with disabilities - sharing the road with the unfamiliar and inspiring.

Conquering the cols is about a constant climb from the bottom to top, no stops, but the challenge here for many is conquering the col at all. And this is the atmosphere at the top, a cycling party, celebrating achievement, an understanding of a shared experience, of which all are rightly proud. Crossing the top an older man shouts and punches the sky - to a cheer from the crowd.

August 2013 sees a different road from a year before, from barely two months before. The destruction of parts of the village in Luz St Sauveur, the tearing away of the road and the heart of the village at Bareges and still more at Super Bareges. Houses and buildings have disappeared, two barns have had their backs broken by the river, supported by the straw bales they contain, a house with the front wall missing has curtains still hanging over the drop, the campsite is gone and the children’s play park has a post apocalyptic look. The 14km sign is nowhere near the road, heavy machinery hefts huge rocks out of the stream bed, and it’s business as usual.

The road is almost empty of cyclists, but the inspiration is in the road itself a symbol of the recovery from disaster.