Get as fit as possible and spend maximum time on a bike before you travel. As well as needing fitness for the ascents, there are fast descents too so we advise cyclists to train on two wheels, not in the gym, so they are confident on a bike from day one.
- David Sears from our cycling specialists, Exodus
The Raid Pyrénéan is one of our most challenging road cycling vacations along a stunning mountain chain – so a decent level of fitness is essential. However, it's not a race, so you can go at your own speed knowing that all riders will be waiting at the top of the climb and nobody gets left behind. Climbs are long but not steep so they require endurance and determination more than outright physical fitness. Most cyclists joining this tour are regular weekend club riders; people who like to challenge themselves by riding long distances and climbs but who also enjoy a beer or a glass of wine in the evening. This vacation isn't aimed at racing cyclists or as a fast ride; there may be times when you want to speed up but the majority of the time you'll be able to chat as you cycle. This is a classic, point-to-point route as part of a guided small group with no more than 16 participants. The small group size not only reduces impact on local communities but also allows you to stay at smaller, independently-owned, accommodation that rarely gets to benefit from tourism outside of the Tour de France season.

The Raid Pyrénéan Route

This coast to coast challenge is not for the faint hearted and includes 11 of the most notorious cols in the Pyrénées, made infamous by the riders of the Tour de France as well as those cyclists who have tried to complete the 700km (approx) route from the Atlantic to the Med in under 100 hours. Below is a day by day itinerary to help you assess whether this guided small group ride is for you.

Raid Pyrénéan highlights

Some of the highlights of the Raid Pyrénéan include riding over Col du Tourmalet (the most ridden climb in the Tour de France), cycling across the entire Pyrénéan mountain range and the brilliant food and drink along the French/Spanish border (especially the wine). The biggest challenges are the climbs – Col du Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourd, Soulor, Ares and Portet de Aspet; in total over ten first and second category climbs over the course of a week. Of course, it’s not all about burning calves, with coffee stops on mountain summits, long descents (up to 30km downhill), swimming in the Med and popping open champagne on the last day, just a few moments to ease inevitable aches and pains.
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Hendaye to Musculdy – 100km (1,500m ascent)

First off is the gradual climb over Col de St Ignace (169m) where the tarmacked road continues upwards into the mountains en route to the medieval city of St Jean Pied de Port. Next up is Col d'Osquich (392m) whereupon the road culminates at 500m before descending to the village of Musculdy.

Musculdy to Agos-Vidalos – 145km (2,600m ascent)

The Basque Country awaits as the route heads west from Col d'Aubisque towards a 17km hors catégorie (HC – too difficult to categorise) pass that boasts an average gradient of 8 percent, although some sections are closer to 10 percent. After conquering the 1,709m summit there’s a short descent before starting a second climb to the top of Col de Soulor prior too freewheeling down to the village of Agos-Vidalos.

Agos-Vidalos to Saint Marie de Campan – 95km (2,600m ascent)

This section features one of the most challenging climbs in the Pyrénées, Col du Tourmalet, which stands at 2,115m and has made it into the Tour de France on more than 50 occasions. As an HC pass the 18km Col du Tourmalet has an average gradient of 8 percent with several sections stretching to 10 percent. Once at the top there's a lovely twisty, turny descent to Saint Marie de Campan whereupon you'll encounter a first category 12km climb up Col d'Aspin (2,600m) which averages out at a gradient of just over 5 percent.

Saint Marie de Campan to St Girons – 100km (1,600m ascent)

This section starts with a 20km ascent up Col de Peyresourde that has an average gradient of 4.5 percent, although some sections are more like 8 percent. The follow on ride through Bagnère de Luchon valley is really beautiful with views over the lakes and mountains making designated rest stops all the more rewarding. From here it's up and over the Col des Ares which then merges with the impressive third category pass Col de Portet d'Aspet which has a 9.7 percent gradient for just over 4km.

St Girons to Ax les Thermes – 110km (1,600m ascent)

The road between St Girons to Col de Port starts with a constant ascent from Massat before descending to Bompas. Throughout the route you can expect some stunning Ariège valley scenery as you experience the legendary Route des Corniches which culminates in the 1,431m summit of Col de Chioula before a downhill approach to Ax-les-Thermes.

Ax les Thermes to St Cyprian – 140km (1,600m ascent)

Wave au revoir to the cols and high peaks and follow the river through the dramatic rock formations of Gorges de l'Aude as the road winds its way to the Mediterranean via views over the Corbières vineyards en route to the seaside town of Saint-Cyprien.
David Sears from our cycling specialists, Exodus:
"Nearly all cyclists bring their own pedals and cycling shoes that can be fixed to a rental bike. We also recommend bringing several pairs of padded shorts, cycling jerseys, rain coats, helmet (mandatory), sunglasses, warm base layers, gloves and some regular clothes for evenings. If you're bringing your own bike we advise also bringing adequate spare parts. Clients hiring bikes don't need to worry about bringing any spare parts."
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Sjaak Kempe] [Intro: Gilles Guillamot] [Raid Pyrénéan highlights : Soumei Baba] [Musculdy to Agos-Vidalos : Myrabella] [St Girons to Ax les Thermes : Valier]