Hi everybody.

Just back from France, and a beautiful trip.

Some of you know I was going to attempt to climb the Tourmalet---one of the toughest climbs of the Tour de France.  Something really crazy as those of you who ride with me know hills are not my friends.



This is something my cousin François, an avid cyclist, had been coaxing me into doing for years now.  I never felt ready, always wanting to drop a few pounds… I would be in better condition next year.  Well, after a few years of procrastinating, it was clear the pounds would not go away, and it would become harder and harder to make that climb instead of easier…

So this year was the year.  I would climb the Tourmalet with François.  When I told my friend Gary from Montréal (you may remember him, he rode with the BCC a few times) about this crazy idea, he absolutely needed to come along, so the three of us met in Barèges, in the Pyrénées.

Here’s how it went:

At 9:30, we left from Barèges.   Yes, this is cheating quite a bit. It cuts the hike by almost half.

If you start down at Luz St-Sauveur, it is a 1404m climb over 19km to reach the top at 2115m.

From Barèges it is an 884m climb over 11km.  Still, you have to deal with a pretty constant climb, no breaks, and a long stretch at 8% with the last km at 10.5% and a wall at 13% for the end.

Needless to say this is a hard climb.  We have nothing even close to this here.  The scenery is breathtaking as much as the actual grinding up the mountain.

By the time we reached the top, I was content with the effort and amount of pain inflicted. I took in the immensity of the scenery.  Yes, we really came all the way up from down there! 

I was pretty happy because I was in good shape, still within the realm of known pain for me.

That was about to change.

After a quick break and taking a few pictures, François directs us to the other side of the mountain.  We are going down to Sainte Marie de Campan.  17 km.  1268m down.  7.3% average.  In disbelief, I state the obvious: -‘But if we go down there, we will have to climb back up!’  François smiles and just says: ‘Yes’.

So here we go.  I’m not super confident as I’m on a borrowed bike.  My bike’s gearing is not suitable to this kind of terrain.  You really need a compact or a triple for this.  But the bike François lent me is a little long for me and the hoods lower than I would like.  So I’m holding on for dear life, making sure I don’t miss a turn and beat everyone down to the next “lacet”.  Hands and arms hurt by the time we reach the pretty little town at the bottom of the mountain.  Who knew going down would also be hard?!?


Here we are.  Still morning and we are in Sainte Marie de Campan.  What could we do…?

Well, François has this great idea.  Let’s go up to this other “col” or pass.  It’s small, tiny pass---- a piece of cake.  Col d’Aspin.  Only 642m over 12km.  5% average.  Nothing.  Gary is all gung ho, and I’m not going to wait for them on a terrace with a beer, so I reluctantly follow them up the col d’Aspin. 

By the time we reach the top, I’m pretty much out of juice.  And I know we have to do the Tourmalet, all of it this time, if we want to get home to Barèges.  

So we wrestle our bikes back from the cows that thought our seats tasted really good and salty.  (There was one that insisted on licking François’ seat, and he had to take it by the horns quite literally to get it to stop!)   And we are on our way back down.  We stop in Payolle for lunch.  A welcome break.  Salad with ham and cheese.

And we are off again.  Down to Sainte Marie de Campan.  We fill our bottles at a beautiful fountain by the church.  A group of maybe 20 young energetic Spaniards is there, I take a picture for them.  That would be the last we would see from them for a while, as they quickly started their assent of the Tourmalet in a concert of chatter.   We were on our way, at a more modest pace, for the last climb of the day.   From that side, it’s a 1268 m climb over 17.2 km at an average 7.4% and parts at 10%.  I knew it would be tough, but I really had no idea how tough it would be.

It’s the middle of the afternoon.  The sun is strong.  I’m drinking as much as possible, but still rationing my litre and a half of water, wanting to keep some for the last half of the climb.

I’m getting tired.  Worried.

I’m thinking about those extra pounds I’m dragging.  How I should have trained for this.  François is taller than me and weighs 65kg.  Me, 90!!!  That’s why I don’t see him anymore…

By the time we get to La Mongie, I have nothing left.  I have to have a break.  Get my heartbeat to a manageable pace.  We are 8km from the top.  My companions are much faster than me and are nice enough to wait for me there.  I fill my bottles, and we are off again.

This mountain is huge.  Is there not another gear on this thing?  No.  That’s it.  6 km/h.  I’m giving all I have.  Can I do this?  I’m not sure at all.  I’m dreaming a taxi picks me up.  I may not finish this thing.  Every km is a lifetime.  One last one.  I pass a Spaniard.  One that was at the fountain at the bottom.  He is on the side of the road, in pain, with leg cramps.  Doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.  Bummer so close to the top.  I don’t have cramps.  I’m just out of steam, and tired.  I’m still moving.  Barely.  But moving.

In the end, I join my friends at the top.  I think they were not expecting me anymore by the time I got there.  2794 m of vertical climb in a day.  Way more than I had prepared for (if only mentally).  What a feeling.  You are on top of the world.  You have conquered the mountain and yourself.  It is a great satisfaction, a feeling everyone should find one way or another.

The descent back to Barèges was quick and liberating. Parts of the road were straight enough to reach 70km/h without pedalling!   You forget all the effort and enjoy the moment where you fly down to the valley in picture-perfect scenery.  By 18:00 we were home.  A good stretch and a shower. What a day.  I’ll never forget all the ups and down.  Physical and emotional.  Thank you François, for this great opportunity.  And Gary for your support.  You guys pushed me past what I thought was my limit.  I’m happy I did this with you. 

Would I do it again?  Well…  I think I would need to lose a few pounds and get in better shape before I attempted something like this…  maybe next year?


Views: 163

Comment by chris andrews on August 3, 2014 at 3:30pm

a great day of riding Christian especially on a borrowed bike without the best gearing! You are smiling in every picture aren't you or is that just a grimace of pain?

Comment by Christian Dognon on August 3, 2014 at 4:14pm

Not so sure about doing it again Albert.  The procrastination might set in.

As for the borrowed bike, the gearing was good.  It was a triple.  Just a bit big of a frame for my comfort but much better for the job than my own bike.  And yes, there is a bit of pain in those smiles. ;-)

Comment by Joseph on August 3, 2014 at 6:57pm

Congratulations Christian, well done! Pain is temporary, victory is forever and one for the books.

Comment by Jon Spira on August 5, 2014 at 1:25pm

Congratulations.  Conquering an HC is an achievement.  And thank you for such a fabulous write up.  The big mountains are an experience like no other.  I'm so envious that you got to ride the Tourmalet.  I wanted to climb it when I was there in April but the road was still blocked with snow 7 km from the summit.  I rode up to Luz-Ardiden instead.  Like the Tourmalet, the climb starts just outside the centre of Luz-Saint-Sauveur.  It takes 13 km to climb to 1715 m elevation at an average 7.7%.  The scenery is beautiful, but with more switchbacks than Alpe d'Huez and constant changes of grade it's a conflicting experience: a bizarre mix of exhilaration and pain.  Your descriptions of the exhaustion and how every km lasts a lifetime are perfect.  I remember wondering during the last 3 km why the ski station at the summit wasn't getting any closer, and talking to myself during the last km, encouraging myself to keep going.  No doubt in my mind, though, that given the opportunity I'd go back and do it again any day.

Comment by Dave Ogilvie on August 29, 2014 at 1:42pm

Awesome Christian- I spoke with Jon about his adventures in France as well- it's definitely on my list as soon as the kids are old enough to enjoy Europe!  What an amazing experience and accomplishment!  Congrats!


You need to be a member of Beaches Cycling Club to add comments!

Join Beaches Cycling Club

BCC Rides

Cycling in the summer can be about casual riding, sprinting, spinning, big-ring hammerfests or what ever your chosen type of riding is. The BCC was founded for the sole purpose to network cyclists. It has grown into a successful club which accommodates Riders at almost all skill/fitness levels. Everyone should be able to participate and have fun at their respective levels.


Weekend Rides: 


Saturday Morning
Start time is 8:00am early season, 7:00am as days get longer. Route distances vary from 55-120km and several pace groups are available. Saturday morning rides focus on a social vibe.


Sunrise Sundays
Rides will start around sunrise. Rotating routes will focus on distances from 55-160km.  Remote start rides outside the GTA.

Weekly Rides:



Advanced Turbo Tuesdays
For this ride, advanced group riding and bike handling skills are required. You must also be aware of your limitations. Riding speed is 35kph+.


Hillicious Thursdays
Starts at 5:40am. This ride includes Bayview, pottery rd, redway other local hills.



Starts at 5:30AM. Bring your CX or MTB out for a great Don trail ride. Some weeks, we'll head to a local park to practice CX skills.

Informal Rides Click Here

Other Rides:

Race Team

BCC Race Team
Please join if you will be racing in 2018 as part of the BCC Race Team!

Track Cycling

BCC Track Cycling Group

A place where those interested in, or already addicted to, riding the boards can share info.

BCC Youth

BCC Youth Group

An initiative to have weekly skills sessions and rides for young riders.

Interested in finding a new route or refreshing your memory on an old faithful? Check out the Routes page.


BCC on Strava


© 2019   Created by DY.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service