Cycling the Pyrenean passes

© HPTE / Morel
At the feet of the Pyrenees Mountains, the Laurent Fignon centre offers cycling workshops personally devised by the former French champion. They are aimed at serious amateur cyclists who want to improve their technique or tackle some legendary passes.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
815 km from Paris on autoroutes A6a and A10 till Orléans, then on A20 and A62 till Toulouse, then on A614 and A64 till Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
- By train
TGV from Paris Montparnasse to Tarbes. Journey takes approximately 6 hours.
Night train from Paris Austerlitz to Tarbes. Duration of the journey : 9 hours.
Bus from Tarbes to Bagnères de Bigorre. Duration of the journey : 35 to 45 mn.
- By plane
Air France has two flights per day between Paris Orly and Tarbes.
Tourist Information
- Bagnères de Bigorre Tourist Office
Tel : 0562955071,
- Hautes Pyrénées Tourist Office : 0562567065,
Centre Laurent Fignon
- Workshops prices
From €365 to €510 per person depending on the workshop.
- Address
1 avenue du 8 Mai 1945, 65200 Gerde
- Information and bookings
Tel : 0562446670
Tour de France winner in 1983 and 1984, second in 1989 only 8 seconds behind Greg Lemond, Laurent Fignon knows well the Pyrenees mountain range. During his career he ran many races there and climbed several times the most famous passes such as Aubisque, Tourmalet and Aspin.
He fell under the charm of the region and, in 2007 he opened there a cycling school : the Centre Laurent Fignon.

Laurent Fignon © T.Joly
 Superb landscapes
Set up in a 3* hotel located in the Adour valley at the gates of Bagnères de Bigorre, a renowned small spa town, it is not designed for high-level sportsmen. It is aimed at serious amateur cyclists who want to improve their technique and learn how to climb legendary passes while enjoying the superb and various landscapes. At a short distance North of Bagnères there are indeed plains and the foothills of the Pyrenees while the Tourmalet and Aspin passes are only about 30 km away towards the South. So there are itineraries fitted to cyclists of all levels. Moreover, if the high passes are sometimes only open few months a year, it’s possible to cycle in the plains from March to November.
Supervised by professional state certified instructors – each one taking care of a maximum of ten persons – the worshops last four or five days. The teaching is about technique, physic, training, effort management, security and dietetic.

© T. Joly
 60 to 120 km rides
Our goal is to provide people with technical notions and knowledge so they can have pleasure while cycling even on tough itineraries”, explains Alain Laguerre, director of the Centre. The rides take place on the morning on distances ranging from 60 to 120 km depending on the workshop and the cyclists’ level. In the afternoon, after the lunch and a debriefing, the participants have the choice between two options : either discover the region heritage, enjoy balneotherapy, taste local specialities, or have cycling related activities. In this case they can do a cycling posture review in order to optimize their cycling position, take a massage by a certified masseur or test up to date cycling equipments and materials. The Centre is indeed dotted with a material test centre allowing the participants to test bikes, wheels, tyres, shirts, cycling shorts, shoes, glasses, helmets and cardio frequency meters from the best manufacturers such as Time, Mavic, Rudy Project, Polar, Zipp, Campagnolo, Michelin...

© T. Joly
 Learn how to pedal more efficiently
Meanwhile the trainers work on the maintenance of the bicycles used in the morning rides. Then, on the evening, at 7 pm, a briefing brings together participants and instructors. That’s when the program of the following day is announced.
Only one of those workshops is really suited to cyclists of all levels. Called “Evolution 1”, it consists of 60 to 90 km rides across in the foothills of the Pyrenees, where there are no passes to climb, and it aims at teaching the participants to better manage their efforts, to pedal more efficiently, to choose the best trajectories… “We determine the strong and the weak points of each one, put in place adapted physical and technical exercises during the rides and at the end of the course we give them a four months training plan “, adds Alain Laguerre.
Exclusively or largely held in high mountain areas, the other workshops are more demanding and require a more severe selection. “When people register we ask them to fill up a questionnaire to be able to precisely evaluate their level because in the passes we need to have relatively homogeneous groups if we want to be able to properly supervise everyone”.

© HPTE / Morel
 Climbing the Tourmalet
As its name suggests so, the “Tourmalet” workshop aims at learning to climb high mountain passes. For this purpose, the instructors explain the descent and climbing techniques, how to breathe, how to manage ones effort, how and what to eat,… Those advices are provided during 60 to 90 km daily rides of increasing difficulties. The first day in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the second day in a area with mini passes, the third one on an itinerary scattered with real passes and, if the participants’ level is good enough, the fourth day is devoted to the climbing of the Tourmalet. A pass located at 2 115 m of altitude that include slopes reaching sometimes 10 %. It’s one of the toughest in France.
Slightly similar, the “Climbing the giant” workshop specifically prepares the participants to climb this pass. Moreover, the climbing is done on a very festive day, the one the statue paying homage to all cyclists who did it is taken back to the summit after having spent winter down in the valley.

© HPTE / Morel
 Legendary passes
As to the “On the roads of the Tour de France” workshop, it is reserved to the very fit cyclists used to ride in the mountains. “We recommend this course to people who ride at least 3 000 – 4 000 km per year”, underlines Alain Laguerre. The Peyresourde pass is indeed on the agenda of the first day. Then, on the following days that’s the Aubisque, Soulor, Aspin, Marie Blanque and Tourmalet passes as well as the Luz Ardiden arrival in altitude that are waiting for the participants. Fortunately, on the third day there is only a recovery ride on the program. Besides, the choice of the itinerary is decided every evening by common agreement between the participants and the instructors. Having said that, this course brings extraordinary sensations to cycling enthusiasts as it takes them to passes and arrivals in altitude where the Tour de France regularly goes. And the ones who want one more time get into the skin of the champions can attend another workshop called “Reconnaissance of a Tour stage”.

© T. Joly
 Tour stage
Every year it allows the participants to follow in the exact route of one stage of the coming Tour de France. Last year it was the one going from Montélimar to the Mont Ventoux, this year it’s the one starting from Pau and finishing at the Tourmalet pass that will be climbed on its steepest side uphill from Barèges. The participants will ride this stage over two days with a 24 hours break for training, advices as well as physical and technical exercises in between. A welcome rest because this 174 km long itinerary also includes two others passes that will be climbed on their steepest side. The 1474 m high Soulor pass that is a 22,5 km long ascent with an average slope of 5,3 % reaching 8 % during the last 10 km. The Marie Blanque, that is much more difficult than one would think at first glance. It is indeed only 1035 m high and its climbing is no longer than 9,5 km, but it has an average slope of 7,5 % reaching 11-12 % over the last 5 km and even the greatest champions fear it.

April 20, 2010
Thierry Joly