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%
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.