Col de Péguère
This is one of my favourite climbs, partly because the village where I live lies at the bottom of it, but primarily because there is such a variety of options to reach it – no less than eight. A Tour occasional, it earned a touch of infamy in the 2012 edition when someone – believed to be a local in an area where being anti-establishment and living off-grid is a badge of honour – scattered tacks on the road near the summit, causing dozens of punctures to riders and race vehicles.
That incident occurred on the best known of the three roads that converge at the summit, the so-called Mur de Péguère. Rising from the Col de Caougnous, which sits on the ‘main road’ this very narrow strip of tarmac laid over an animal track ascends 428m in 3.6km, averaging a leg-shattering 11.8%. As it scales the steep facade of the south-facing Massif de l’Arize, several sections rear up well beyond that figure and don’t relent quickly. Once past the first kilometre, though, it does gradually get easier and the view from the Tour Lafont at the summit with peaks disappearing off in both directions makes it well worth the sweat.
Yet, many in the area insist this isn’t the toughest of the several routes to this summit. To the south-west, another lane climbs from Biert to the Col de la Crouzette. It’s part beauty, part beast. Initially the former as it tracks steadily upwards through thick woods typical of this region, its aspect changes frighteningly in its final third in the shape of what could be dubbed the Mur de Crouzette, another 3km+ grind at more than 11%. Thankfully, once at the top, the road bumps more delicately over the Col de Portel and on to the Pégère.
The routes from the north and east are all easier. The main route from Foix via Serres-sur-Arget and the Col des Marrous is the most straightforward of all, but rather dull above the Marrous as it speeds through thick pine forest that blocks out the views. Far better to take the back road through Brassac and Cazals on up to the Col de Legrillou, where there are likely to be more deer on the road than cars.
One of the main advantages the Pyrenees has over other ranges is the close proximity of so many passes. Reach the bottom of one and, almost inevitably, you can start up the ascent of another. Descending the Mur to the Col de Caougnous offers the option of the second half of the winding ascent to the Col de Port, or the meandering drop into Massat in the upper part of the comparatively isolated Arac valley, to the south of which lies the far longer climb up to the Étang de Lers, its dark waters overlooked by café/restaurant/ski station that almost demands a stop before continuing on to the Col d’Agnès or retracing a little to climb the neighbouring Port de Lers, from which parascenders leap and soar.
Thanks to the multitude of roads and passes, there is any number of options taking in the Péguère. Among my favourites would be to start in or near Foix and follow the minor road through Aigues-Juntes and Gabre to Mas d’Azil and its spectacular grotte, through which both the River Arize and the main D119 road weave for more than 400m. Continue to Rimont and then climb the Col de la Crouzette and the Col de Portel to reach the Péguère and take the steady descent back down to Foix (70km, 3-5 hours). Tour fans can recreate the 2017 stage from Saint-Girons to Foix via the Col de Latrape, Col d’Agnès and the Mur de Péguère, and either descend back to Saint-Girons via the Col de la Crouzette or to Foix for the complete Tour experience, although Saint-Girons is now 50km distant!
For a big day out, head south from Foix on one of the back roads (avoid the N20 at all costs!) past Tarascon and into the Vicdessos valley, passing the famous caves with their prehistoric paintings at Niaux to climb the Port de Lers. Crest that pass and continue on to the Col d’Agnès and down into picture postcard Aulus-les-Bains, where a left turn starts up the Col de Latrape. The very keen might fancy the diversion soon after up to Guzet-Neige, where Robert Millar and Marco Pantani won Tour stages, before continuing Seix, Oust and crossing the Col de Saraillé to Massat and the final kick in the tail that is the Mur before returning to Foix.