Why Port de Balès? Kingfisher Cycling’s Port de Balès loop, more than any of our rides, takes in a bit of everything. A meander of the Haute-Garonne valley will lead away north from Luchon through a few smaller, mountainside villages. Then we’ll ride adjacent to several farms, pastures, and hunting grounds into the glacially formed Barousse Valley, and stop for a break in the ancient village of Mauléon-Barousse. It probably looks no different than it did 100 years ago; split down the middle by an enchanting stream, even the allure of upcoming peaks won’t prevent us from taking long, slow sips of espresso before riding out from Mauléon. Alongside the same stream a moderate climb will guide us upwards into a thick forest for several kilometers, and then, gradually, the steeper grades and switchbacks will begin. Eventually, we’ll break out above tree line and you’ll know immediately why we want to guide you to the top.
Featured in Tour de France stages in 2007, 2010, 2012 & 2014, and also in the Vuelta a España in 2013, it’s where tour legends Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck had their “moment” in July of 2010. The road was barely passable by 4-wheel drive vehicles in the 80’s & 90’s, and not suitable for a road race until pressure from tour organizers resulted in adequate paving in the summer of 2006. Soon after it became a classic, unforgettable climb, a credit to the vast, stunning views.
Who can do it? Most avid cyclists could get it done on their own given proper gearing, plenty of fuel, and sufficient time. We’ll manage the Port de Balès as a group, one step-at-a-time, properly warming up on the flat, 18-mile run to Mauléon, where we’ll break for coffee and snacks. From here we’ll ride conservatively, saving our legs somewhat for the steeper grades. It will be tough work, but a sense of satisfaction comes with this ascent, and our ever-present support vehicle will steadily supply us with fluids and nutrition (and even piggy-back rides if necessary!) until we hit the top.
How far and how high is it? It’s about 42 miles round trip, starting and finishing in Bagnères-de-Luchon. The climb itself is 12 miles long with an average grade of 6.3% from Mauléon-Barousse to the top, rising almost 1200 meters, or about 4000 ft. The altitude at the summit, however, is less than 6000 feet, so there’s still plenty of oxygen! Then it’s 12 miles of non-stop descending, dropping us right back into Luchon.