Are you inspired by the Tour de France and fancy a crack at it yourself?
The Hautacam is a sensational climb and one on the bucket list of many cyclists due to its infamous history and testing gradients.
It is situated beside the Argelès-Gazost region of the Hautes-Pyrénées and is surrounded by climbs that have etched themselves into cycling folklore.
Although it is not as long as nearby behemoths such as the Col du Tourmalet, it still packs a punch. It is well known for boasting an abundance of steep gradients, which are littered at random points throughout the climb.
There is only one route up, leaving from the town of Argelès-Gazost, and once you reach the summit, you are gifted with a bonus round in the form of the Col de Tramassel.
In this profile of the Hautacam, we’ll be covering:
- Cyclist’s History of The Hautacam Climb
- Guide To Cycling The Hautacam Climb
- Hautacam: The Surrounding Area
Ready for the lowdown on Hautacam?
Cyclist’s History of the hautacam climb
The Hautacam is located in the heart of the Pyrenees. During the winter months, it is a popular ski resort, originally built in 1972.
Luc Leblanc was the first Tour de France rider to win a stage on the Hautacam during its inaugural appearance in 1994.
The Hautacam is renowned as the backdrop to many infamous Tour de France races.
Most notably, Lance Armstrong’s decisive battle in the 2000 Tour de France. After a punishing day in the hills, Lance Armstrong decisively dropped Marco Pantani, who at the time was widely regarded as the greatest climbing specialist in the sport.
Lance Armstrong narrowly missed out on a victory that day, with the stage won by Basque rider Javier Otxoa, who bravely broke away from the group with an audacious attack with over 150 km of racing still to go.
Despite starting the climb 9 minutes ahead of the field, Otxoa crossed the line just 42 seconds ahead of Armstrong.
A year later, Otxoa and his brother were involved in a collision with a car while out on a training ride. His brother tragically died, with Javier left in a coma. Just three years later, he would go on to win a gold medal at the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens.
The Hautacam has a bit of a checkered past, featuring in the Tour six times since 1994, with three of the winners – including KOM holder Bjarne Riis – later caught or admitting to doping.
In 2014 the Tour featured a summit finish atop the Hautacam, won by Vincenzo Nibali, who powered up the climb to put himself in the driver’s seat for a first Tour de France victory with a 7-minute lead over his opponents.
More recently, the super-domestique performance of Wout van Aert during Stage 18 of the 2022 Tour de France was one for the ages.
Spending the day in the breakaway, Wout van Aert would hang back to torpedo Jonas Vingegaard up the Hautacam, cracking chief rival Tadej Pogačar in a decisive day for Vingegaard’s yellow jersey triumph.
- Check out our in-depth Guide to the 2023 Tour de France Route here!
Guide to cycling the Hautacam climb
- Departure Elevation: 423 m (1388 ft)
- Finish Elevation: 1630 m (5348 ft)
- Altitude Gain: 1209 m (3966 ft)
- Length: 16.3 km (10.1 miles)
- Average Gradient: 7.4%
- Steepest 100 meters: 12.8%
- KOM: Bjarne Riis, 34:38
- QOM: Roos De Jong, 53:43
Be sure to check the weather before you head out, and be prepared for radically different conditions at the summit. The Pyrenees is well-known for rain and cold winds, even in the summer.
As you depart from Argeles-Gazost, it’d be easy to believe it was going to be an easy day out, as the first 1.5 km flickers between a 0-1% gradient.
Each kilometer is marked by a road sign depicting the distance and altitude left to be gained.
As you approach the village of Ayros, you will be greeted on either side by fields brimming with sunflowers (depending on the time of year). You won’t have much time to appreciate the scenes; however, as soon after Ayros, the climb starts ramping up.
Your legs will soon lift out of the valley over the next 1.5 km, with the gradient averaging 8%. You’ll get some brief respite as you cross Ruisseau d’Aygueberden.
Unlike many climbs, the Hautacam involves a few downhill sections totaling 1.5km. Although this may sound like a blessing, it is often followed by a sharp ramp and hides the actual average gradient. It can also make it challenging to get into any rhythm.
After crossing Ruisseau d’Aygueberden, the road follows a familiar pattern of sharp ascents and descents for the next 4 km. With way more up than down, obviously!
The climb may not offer the most spectacular views that some of you veteran climbers are used to, with trees shrouding the views of the valley for the most part.
Nevertheless, there is a certain rustic and minimalist feel to the sleepy farmsteads that you cycle past. Watch out for animals on the road; there are plenty.
When you enter the small village of Artalens-Souin, you’ll get a few hundred meters of descent; savor them as the next few kilometers are the hardest of the entire climb.
As you leave the village, you are thrown into a couple of 14-15% gradients, with the following 3 km averaging just under 10%.
You’ve conquered the most demanding section, and now it’s back to the punchy gradients followed by a flat section. There is one more tough segment that will require your attention, a 2 km stretch of road that again averages just under 10%.
By this point, you have been pulled out of the treeline and onto the slopes, and although the terrain is rugged, the road remains well-maintained. You are practically there with just 1.5 km to go at an average of 6%.
Depending on the weather, you will be treated to a glorious panoramic view of Vallée du Lavedan and the surrounding mountains.
Congratulations, you made it to the top. It turns out you don’t need EPO like Lance et al., just a love of bikes and mountain views!
There is a lovely little cafe at the summit to rest your weary legs with a well-deserved coffee and cake. If this doesn’t do the job, Argeles-Gazost is a spa town with some great thermal baths.
Take your time on the descent; it is packed with steep declines and sharp turns.
Hautacam: The Surrounding Area
As mentioned earlier, if you find yourself near Argeles-Gazost, count yourself lucky. You have plenty of stunning climbs at your doorstep.
There are three climbs you do not want to miss. These are:
#1: Col du Tourmalet
Arguably the most famous climb in cycling history.
It is a bucket-list climb for fans of cycling across the world, and for good reason. It is steeped in cycling folklore, featuring in the Tour de France 90 times – more than any other climb in the Tour’s history.
- Check out our Complete Guide to the Col du Tourmalet here!
Most riders choose to tackle the route from Luz-Saint-Sauveur; you can expect an average gradient of 7.5% over 19 km.
The climb is long, intimidating, and beautiful. The Hautacam can be done as a loop alongside the Tourmalet if you fancy it. Here’s a route I took just before the Tour de France in 2022. It includes both climbs and some charming roads connecting them.
It was a brilliant day out, even if I was woefully under-fuelled!
#2: Col d’Aubisque
Just across from the Tourmalet and through the Gave de Pau valley lies an awe-inspiring climb that offers some of the finest views in the Pyrenees: the Col d’Aubisque.
Another favorite of the Tour de France, this climb has featured over 60 times, usually as a connecting pass through the Pyrenees. However, there have been three summit finishes atop the Aubisque.
The traditional route leaves from a town called Laruns, although, in my opinion, the more beautiful ascent departs from Argeles Gazost and includes the Col du Solour.
You are guaranteed an incredible day out on the bike!
#3: Col du Soulor
Often overlooked as a stepping stone to the Col du Aubisque, the Soulor is a gem in itself.
There are three ways to tackle this climb, and all will take you through wide-open valleys and picturesque French villages.
If you have a choice in which route to take, approach it from the North. It’s not the toughest of climbs – but they don’t always have to be!
#4: Hike to Lac D’Isaby
I don’t want to offend the purists, but there are some great hikes or even runs in the area if you want a day off the bike.
Assuming you have cycled to the top of the Hautacam, equipped with a pair of hiking boots in your bag, you can continue your journey on foot towards Lac d’Isaby. The hike will take about 45 minutes to an hour.
Expect complete tranquility at the gorgeous emerald-green mountain lake. You can even consider turning into a triathlete with a swim!
#5: Mountain Biking
There are plenty of cross-country mountain bike trails in the area and the nearby Bareges Bike Park, which has curated trails for all to enjoy!