The Col d’Aspin is one of the most famous category 2 climbs in cycling. Col d’Aspin is normally sandwiched between the Tourmalet and Peyresourde in the Queen Stage in the Pyrenees (also known as the circle of death). In 2016 it was close to being a stage finish with the riders summitting Col d’Aspin and finishing in nearby Payolle. For everyday riders, Col d’Aspin is part of the famous Raid Pyreneen and part of the very difficult Marmotte Pyrenees.
When to ride Col d’Aspin
The summit of Col d’Aspin is only 1,400 metres and the road is normally open all year round unless there is severe weather in winter. It is possible to base yourself in St Lary and ride early in the season in May or even late April but the real cycling season is the start of June to end of September. The roads in the Pyrenees are much quieter than the Alps or the famous Italian climbs. As with anywhere in the high mountains, the weather can be very unpredictable and you can easily experience extreme heat and rain in the same week.
Riding the Col d’Aspin
Taking in Col d’Aspin after the Tourmalet, the climb starts as you turn right off the descent close to the town of Campan. This is very much a climb in two parts with the first 8 kilometres feeling like a false flat before the steeper last 4km. The first part of the climb is quite forgettable with nothing to see but is a good time to get the legs back working after a long descent. As you get to the hamlet of Payolle, the views widen out with a stunning lake offering a nice opportunity to stop, with a couple of nice cafes and shops here. If you turn right you are on to the stunning Hourquette d’Ancizan, a climb used in the Tour a number of times since its debut in 2011.
Just after passing through Payolle, the main climb begins properly. The last 4kms feature 5 hairpins with a consistent gradient averaging 8%. This section starts with lovely views of the valley below, before you get into a pine forest for an exhilarating 3km of riding on perfect tarmac. The best part of the climb is the final 200m as you get out of the forest and see sweeping views in all directions of the high mountains.
This is not a classic climb like the Col d’Aubisque or Col du Tourmalet, but it is relatively short and fun with varied landscape and a chance to spin easily before hitting the Peyresourde.