Cycling From River Cottage

High above La Mongie, Tourmalet in sight

River Cottage in the Lesponne valley is great for cyclist.  The owners are keen cyclists  -  here are few notes of where we go.

Cycling is fantastic here. Whether you are a seasoned club athlete training for the Etape du Tour or just enjoying the scenery, this area is perfect for you. Velo de route (road bike) or VTT (Mountain bike) are equally popular and your rides are from River Cottage itself.  Think of it as a bike in bike out gite, just like a ski in,ski out chalet and you will get the idea.

The views will quicken the pulse and the climbs will have your heart bouncing off the "rev limiter".

Here are some of my personal favourites. It is always possible to do a straight out and back "Col" but I will describe some linked rides below too. All the rides are challenging.

For the serious road rider you will already know the cols you want to tick off.  Realistically you can make all of the following Cols and return to the gite comfortably.  

The Col du Tourmalet (2115 metres) is one of the most famous climbs on the Tour de France and has been included more than any other pass.  It is the Daddy of the Pyrenees, Hors category and generally open from May if the snow has cleared.  It can remain open as late as early November but the weather is the boss. The climb starts at the bottom of our valley 10 minutes after leaving the cottage . Your stay at River Cottage will not be complete unless you have stood at the summit.  It's famous,  awesome and breathtaking.  You will pass the famous Eugène Christophe statue, who whilst leading the 1913 tour, broke his fork on the Tourmalet and repaired it himself at a forge in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, he then went on to complete the tour. The Tourmalet averages a 7.4 percent incline whether tackled from East or West with up to 12 percent at various points.  Despite having climed it on numerous occassions, it never gets easier, but the elation is addictive. The Western side climb from Bareges is longer and equally challenging.  A photograph with the famous

Coming through the trees, Hourquette reveals itself

Hourquette d' Ancizan. (1564metres).   Starting from Payolle and heading the 10k or so to the summit.  A stunning ride, starting in the pine trees with short stretches of 15 percent but soon evening out to a sustainable 8 percent. The road opens out to my favourite views of the Pyrenees. Don't be fooled by the first summit as it is faux. Continue on to the real summit and pat yourself on the back.  Western ascent, like Tourmalet, is longer but not as steep apart from the very steep first kilometre.

Aspin (1489 metres) The main climb starts from Payolle which is River Cottage side. It is debatable whether it starts much earlier from St Marie de Campan but I like to consider it as a short sharp 5K at around 8 percent.  It is classed as an easy climb compared to Tourmalet but don't be fooled.  This is a short tough cookie and demands respect.  Most of the ride is in the tree line which is great if the weather is hot. The last Kilometre is open, the car park at the summit always seems to take a long while to get to even though the last sprint kilometre is "only" 6.5 percent. You are rewarded at the top with stunning views over Arreau and a panorama of the Pyrenees.  The western side of the climb is longer and more open. A good ride from river cottage is to link Aspin and Hourquette it matters not which one you do first as it makes for a circular route. There is always a coffee stop at Payolle or Arreau as a reward , whichever one you choose to do first.

Hautacam Hors categorie (1635 metres) Starting point from Argeles-Gazost, many times used as a finish in the great Tour de France. Average gradient 6.8 percent but it has some vicious ramps throughout the climb. Very open all the way up so if it's hot you will climb in full sun, superb views of the valley below throughout. Link Tourmalet and Hautacam to emulate the 2014 Tour de France route returning via Juncalas and Bagneres de Bigorre and then to River Cottage.

Col du Soulor (1474 metres) and linked to Col d'aubisque (1709 metres).  This run starts from Argeles Gazost climbing up gently for the first 14k or so. The last 4 kilometres to the summit of Soulor have some parts over 10 percent. The ride on from Soulor to the famous Aubisque is open rocky and rugged with stunning views.  Return to River Cottage via either Juncalas, Lourdes or if you have the energy the west side of Tourmalet.

Peyresourde (1569 metres).   Start point Arreau so this will be an up and back having either already climbed Hourquette or Aspin. This is a pleasant and slightly more sedate climb than some of the aforementioned climbs. The last 2 kilometres opening out once again to stunning views of the surrounding Mountains. Top tip.  Loudenvielle which is a short detour part way up the climb has Balnea Spa. Relax inside and out in 40 degree natural springs, resting your tired legs. Get someone to drive you home!

The Baronees are often overlooked, they shouldn't be.  Just on the doorstep of the Lesponne valley,  Spin down 10k to the start at Bagneres de Bigorre. Take the D84 out of Bagneres and head straight up the Col des Palomieres.  This will get your lungs and legs working. Lovely view from the Col and Montaigu and Pic de Midi open up on your right. Continue along the rolling D84 until the D26 where you turn right.  t's up and down in true Baronees style, real back of beyond farming country, so plenty to keep you interested. Continue past Esparross and head towards Capvern, Mauvezin and return to Bagneres.  You won't have conquered any famous cols but this ride is hard on the legs as there is little flat riding. Just up, then down/repeat many times. Real interval stuff.  You will brush past The Château de Mauvezin which presents commanding views across the Baronees and Pyrenean Moutain range.


The obvious thing to do when you come out of the cottage gates is to turn left. Great idea. You are on the old road to Chiroulet.  A reasonably tough 5k climb to a beautiful location. If you just do an up and back you can fly down the return ride. Make sure your brakes work. I like to climb to Chiroulet on the old road, then head down to the bottom of the valley on the new road before picking up the old road again to climb back. Moderate circular ride of about 20K.

For something a bit harder. Cross the bridge near the gite and turn left. Continue uphill about 1.5k on the D29. Turn right at the yellow sign for Montaigu. Very soon the road will kick up to over 15 percent.  Continue to the parking area of the Pic de Montaigu where there is a fork in the road.  Turn right on the forest track and continue for several kilometres.  It is up and down, steep and quite rocky in places but all rideable. Basically you are high up in the Lesponne valley following the forest track contour line. Continue past a cluster of houses and eventually you will have steep descent to another fork in the road. Turn right and descend to the Lesponne valley. About 20k in all. There are many other marked trails from Beaudean at the bottom of the valley by the tourist information office.

Payolle. I've mentioned this before.  Either drive or cycle there for numerous marked winter snow shoe routes which in the summer are mountain bike routes. Heavan.

I'm always happy to tag along as unofficial guide. If you are really quick just wait for me at the top. I will afford you the same courtesy if needs be. But to be honest I'm happy to cruise. Above all come and enjoy. I guarantee you will come again.