Vincenzo Nibali has completed the last Giro d'Italia of his career. Everyone's admiration was felt especially during the mountain stages, where the champion cemented an all-important fourth place in the general classification.
All that’s missing for the 2021 Tour to cover the entire distance of the legendary crossing of the Pyrenees are the Col d’Aubisque and the Col d’Aspin. These two passes are truly important because, together with the Tourmalet and the Peyresourde – part of this edition, as well – they have watched over the Tour de France as it happened since 1910.
However, despite the two absences, the Pyrenees will lose neither their attraction nor their centuries-old might. Not surprisingly, Port d’Envalira – located within the borders of Andorra – will be crowned with the Souvenir Henry Desgrange as the highest pass of the 2021 Tour de France.
The Port d’Envalira has two souls: landscapes and cycling.
The road that climbs up to the pass from both sides (the 2021 Tour will cross it from the Col de Puymorens and from Pas de la Casa) is something of a panoramic route through the Pyrenees which bend after bend provides more and more spectacular views overlooking Pic Carlit and Pic de Coma Pedrosa, gradually expanding the horizon over the Hautes-Pyrénées National Park.
As for its cycling soul, it tells the famous story of Jacques Anquetil‘s mishap during the 2408 metre-climb towards the pass during the 1964 Tour: a temporary setback caused by indigestion from eating too many Pyrenees lamb chops the night before the stage. Though quite some time has passed, the lamb remains a gastronomic must for those who face the Pyrenees with the bike touring spirit.
But aside from the Port d’Envalira, the 2021 Tour de France has determined that these mountains should be the true scenario of the Grande Boucle battle. It is from beautiful Carcassonne – an essential stop for any bike tour of Southern France – that the grand crossing of the Pyrenees will take off for a five-stage run.
The two most important finish lines will be at the end of the steep and whirlwind climb to the Col de Portet, above Saint-Lary-Soulan, and at Luz Ardiden, the last uphill finish line of the Tour, which will be tackled immediately after having crossed the king of mountain passes, the Col du Tourmalet (Souvenir Jacques Goddet).
This tip of the hat to the Pyrenees is a heartfelt tribute to the region that has most of any other mixed history with cycling.
The memorable feats of Ottavio Bottecchia easily fit in with Carcassonne, with Occitanie and with the Albigensian Crusade. On the road to Tourmalet, you first come across the piety of Lourdes and then the cycling holiness of Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, where Eugene Christophe bravely repaired his bicycle during the Tour of 1913.
And finally Mourenx – from where the 2021 Tour will leave the Pyrenees behind and travel north towards Gironde – inextricably linked to Eddy Merckx‘s greatest exploit at the Grande Boucle, and also the best place to start your journey on the long trail to Roncesvalles.
In short, if there is an Eden for cycling enthusiasts and lovers of culture, it is very likely that you will find it here. In the Pyrenees.