There is only one possible route to the top and at 31km with an average of 5.1%, it is a pretty serious proposition. The first 18km are pretty leisurely as you follow the verdant gorge road along the river between Luz-Saint-Sauveur and the village of Gavarnie. The road then kicks up with a significantly tougher gradient all the way to the summit, topping out at 11% and peaking at 2,270m. It takes the fastest a little over an hour to reach the top – meaning an average speed of 25.3km/h – but two hours would be a perfectly admirable target.
The Cirque de Gavarnie is much less busy than some of its closest neighbours, like the Tourmalet, Hautacam and Luz Ardiden, and you may well find the only other living beings on its slopes are hikers and carefree cows – keep your eyes peeled for the latter on the descent!
Its protected status, being bang in the heart of the Pyrenees National Park, has prevented the Tour de France from making use of this hors catégorie climb with the park authorities concerned about the impact of all the fans and infrastructure that La Grande Boucle brings with it. But don’t miss it off your list just because it doesn’t have a long racing history. You can ride up as far as the ski resort almost all year round, but we recommend heading out there when the summit is open between June and October. You’ll need to make sure you have a good stash of calories though, as there are no amenities on this very long climb.
The Cirque de Gavarnie is perfectly positioned in the Midi-Pyrénées, surrounded by epic climbs and beautiful places to stay. Luz-Saint-Sauveur would be a good base, filled with hotels, restaurants and bakeries that are perfect for the hungry cyclist.