Tour de France 2021 - Etape 17

In 2020 the organisers of the Tour de France moved mountains (almost quite literally) to be able to stage this world-renowned event in what has been a challenging year for us all. With the 2021 dates recently announced we thought we would throw the spotlight on Stage 17 which will pass through the Vallée du Louron on Wednesday 14th July 2021.

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The “départ” is from the town of Muret situated on the outskirts of Toulouse and it will be a stage of two very distinct parts. The first 100km is relatively “flat” but at around 113km, as the riders arrive in the town of Bagnères de Luchon, the three climbs that are between them and the finish begin. The riders will face three giants one after another: Peyresourde, Val Louron-Azet and finally the Col du Portet. Here is a little background on the three challenges. The Col du Peyresourde is a regular feature of the Tour first featuring in 1910. In 2012 it was crossed twice, firstly as Stage 16 when it was a Category 1 climb and again the following day when it was unranked as the Stage continued up to our ski resort Peyragudes. Some of you may remember back in 2016 when the eventual winner Chris Froome made a daring descent attack from the top of the col which not only caught his main rivals off guard, achieved a top speed of 90.9km/hr and an average of 62.5km/hr and gave him a solo stage victory.

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Chris Froome - 2013 The Col de Val Louron-Azet first featured in 1997, since then it has featured six times, most recently in 2014. The climb is renowned for the seemingly endless hairpins at the start and the beautiful views that unfold as you come out of lower tree-lined section and finally arrive at the summit.


Image above looking down the Col de Val Louron -Azet with Peyresourde in the distance (RHS)

The descent down to St Lary is a breath-taking ride (it is also a stunning climb from St Lary too) but the descent will just be a brief respite before the riders tackle the final monster of the day – the Col du Portet.

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Image above looking down the Col d’Azet and on the opposite hills the Col du Portet

Opening up the Col du Portet for the Tour was considered as far back as 1982 but the planned finish was cancelled that year in favour of a finish at the Pla d’Adet. The road remained primarily an unmade route allowing access to pasture and was an interesting driving adventure to access the Néouvielle National Park. However, after a 36-year wait, the road was tarmacked and in 2018 welcomed its first ever Stage finish.

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The Col de Portet sits at an altitude of 2215m and is higher than the Tourmalet making it the highest pass in the French Pyrenees to host the Tour. It is a new challenge for cyclists both professional and amateurs alike. It is a longer, steeper and higher climb than Alpe d’Huez. It climbs for some 16km with an average gradient of 8.7% peaking at around 11%. Another bonus for all of us amateur riders is that in the height of summer the road is closed from Espiaube to the summit meaning the last 8kms, or so, are free of vehicles except permit holders therefore we amateurs can get a real sense of it being just for us with no big camper vans to dodge but you will still need to watch out for the cows!

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Cows on the route August 2018 - Image credit Roland Cazassus


View from the summit - Image credit Roland Cazassus So, lets all hope in 2021 we get a chance watch this incredible stage together and maybe dust off the road bikes and tackle some, or all of it ourselves!