Towering mountains, lung-busting climbs and scintillating views are why French Pyrenees cycling holidays in Ax Les Thermes are so popular. The fact the Tour de France regularly passes through is another, and that on the 2013 Tour it’s where Chris Froome first took the yellow jersey adds some extra meaning for us Brits.
The area has become known for its mountain stage finishes, passing through Ariege and usually crossing the line on the high Plateau de Beille – a popular fixture on the Tour. Every year more and more road cyclists are testing their climbing skills and sheer determination riding the famous routes around Ax Les Thermes.
Ax Les Thermes is the main town at the base of the Ax 3 Domaines ski area, and makes it an ideal summer cycling destination. The ample facilities, and more than 500 miles of quiet and idyllic cycling roads, all add to the significant appeal.
Riding here couldn’t be easier. Most of the time all you need do is step outside the front door, clip in and away you go. Most rides are, as you might expect, pretty challenging, with some huge circular routes being the most popular amongst riders.
The town of Ax Les Thermes has a lot more to offer than riding. As the name implies it is the home to thermal baths, perfect for loosening aching muscles. It is also an attractive town that feels authentically French, but with a slight Catalan flavour, making for a lovely holiday destination.
Local Tour stage routes include Port de Pailheres 2001m, which includes taking in four different ski resorts in a single day. It’s a tough circuit, covering part of the Tour stage. It goes up and down the Port from Ax Les Thermes, tackling hairpin bends and dropping down into the steep and wooded Gorge de l’Aude.
You’ll pass ancient Cathar castles before crossing more pastoral land up to Col des Sept Freres and Col de Chioula. Take a break in the square here before heading back to Ax.
There are several other cols that are close by and included on Tour de France stages, including Agnes and Lers. The 74 mile circuit starting at Latour du Carol, passing Monte Louise, the Gorge de l’Aude and Gesse is another fine day’s riding.
You can ride at your own pace but if you fancy something a little more challenging, then there are a number of organised races too. In recent years, as well as the Tour, the Fabio Casartelli Cyclosport, Le Decouverte and La Marco have all held events here.
For those who fancy taking things a little easier, you can take advantage of the ski lifts to take your bike up the gondola from Ax Les Thermes and simply enjoy the ride back down. You can either come back down by road, or head off road for a bit of mountain biking.
For fans of British cycling, Ax Les Thermes is of particular importance because this was the place Chris Froome first gained the Yellow Jersey back in 2013. Setting out from Castres, Froome dominated the climb to claim victory in the eighth stage, before going on to win the Tour de France a few weeks later.
Of course he won the Tour again in 2015, and Chris Froome is the 6/4 favourite to win the Tour de France again in 2016. French Pyrenees cycling holidays in Ax Les Thermes give you the chance to follow in Froome’s footsteps, as well as testing your cycling ability to the absolute limit.
With mountain biking options also available, a French Pyrenees cycling holiday in Ax Les Thermes could be the perfect biking experience. Complete with stunning views, plenty of two and three star accommodation, friendly bars, and good but reasonably priced restaurants, it is tough to beat.