The ski resort of Superbagnères sits atop the Pic d’Aspe and the Grand Hotel holds a commanding view down the valley to the northern end of the Pyrenees. It is perched 1123 metres high above the town of Luchon be Bagnères and at 1800 metres above sea level. It has hosted six stage finishes of the Tour de France, won by cycling royalty such as Greg LeMond, Bernard Hinault, Robert Millar and Frederic Bahamontes.
From Luchon, the road winds its way up the southern side of the Pic d’Aspe, flirting with the Vallée du Lys and teasing the glaciers of Madaleta and Aneto on the Spanish side of the border. Internet research will declare that the average gradient is ‘only’ 6.3 % with repeated ramps of 10% alternating with some recovery stretches.
The Wattmeister decided to give it a go on the afternoon of Monday 28th September after a most enjoyable morning climb of the Col du Peyresourde in the company of The Wattmeisterin.
On exiting Luchon, there are a series of formidable steep ramps with little of the promised recovery stretches. The road turns to face Spain. A strong arm might throw a cricket ball over 3404m high Aneto into the Spanish town of Benasque With 15 kms to go, this was going to be a tough undertaking as the ribbon of tarmac bucked and weaved like a wild mustang.
Where blue sky dominated the northern valley, dark clouds circled the Spanish peaks. One minute it was warm, the next an icy taste of Autumn brushed through the trees. The climbing continued, smooth tarmac replaced by a sticky surface, no doubt to allow motor vehicles better grip in the winter months. With 10 kilometres ridden and still eight to go. this was the situation: Suffering on SuperB
The gradient crept up to 11 %, as the strength ebbed from The Wattmeister’s legs. This was to be no chest-beating exercise. It would be enough just to make the summit. With 4 kms to go, the trees were replaced by a green desert as the road traced a series of outrageous curves up the mountainside. Somehow, there were now only 1500m left to endure, but the final straight was just that…straight and bare…at an average gradient of 9.5%. It taunted The Wattmeister’s resolve. With just 250 metres remaining the road lurched up one last time, but the legs kept turning just enough to produce forward motion.
Maybe it was just a bad gig, but this climb ranks as tough as Mont Ventoux, Tourmalet, Alped’Huez and Glandon on the patented scale of Pain au Raisins….it gets five!
The 360 degree view is utterly mesmerising and was worth the hurt, but alas TW did not possess the strength to take a photo.