We’re not sure whether Mike Cotty is psychic, but just this week we were wondering when the Col Collective series of videos that show him tackling some of cycling’s iconic climbs would be complemented by films of the descent – and what do you know, the very next one has him going up the Col d’Aspin and down the other side.
The climb feature in the Tour de France – it’s been on the parcours in around two in three editions ever since the Pyrenees provided the race’s first ever mountain stages in 1910, with that year’s winner Octave Lapize the first man over, on the same day he branded the race organisers as “murderers!”
Another episode that has gone down in Tour history came exactly 40 years later when French spectators attacked Gino Bartali whom they blamed for causing home favourite Jean Robic to fall – the entire Italian team, including race leader Fiorenzo Magni, abandoned the race that evening.
The climb is included on the route of this year’s race, appearing on Stage 11 from Pau to Cauterets.
It may not be the highest, hardest or longest climb in the Pyrenees but that’s not to say the Col d’Aspin should be totally overshadowed by the more prestigious peaks in the area.
Starting from Sainte Marie de Campan you face a 12.8km climb at a moderate 5% average gradient. Unlike the steep pitches of Hautacam or the Col de Portet d’Aspet, the Aspin is gentle in comparison, initially meandering alongside the Adour de Payolle river before the road starts to rise with 5km to go.
It’s for this reason that the Col d’Aspin is the perfect medicine if you’re new to the mountains and want to tackle something a little less daunting but equally as iconic.
First used in the Tour de France in 1910 the Aspin has featured over 70 times in the race, often acting as the ‘middle man’ linking the Tourmalet and Peyresourde.
Smell the rich pine aroma, fill your lungs with mountain air. The Aspin is like a good friend, there to encourage you to enjoy the day at your own pace and without the nervous prospect of a hammer to the head moment that can so often sit in the back of your mind and distract you from fully appreciating just how wonderfully mellow the mountains can be.
Start: Sainte Marie de Campan
Elevation gain: 649m
Average gradient: 5%
Max gradient: 9%
Here’s Cotty talking about the descent:
Nestled in the Hautes-Pyrenees, from the summit of the Col d’Aspin to Arreau in the east is a 12km slither of tarmac that’ll have you smiling all the way to the valley. Cascading mountain layers fill the horizon as you trace your way down the narrow road.
Moderately technical with five 180° hairpins and a flurry of fast, flowing, bends the Aspin descent allows you to keep your speed, look past each corner and really enjoy the buzz of free-falling downhill on two wheels.
For the more experienced it’s a blast and, just like the ascent, if you’re looking to build your confidence before taking on bigger things then it’s a great place to start as it allows you to concentrate on your every movement while at the same time enjoying the view!
Elevation drop: 799m
Average gradient: 6.7%
Max gradient: 10%
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.