Bicycle sculptures at the Col d'Aubisque, Hautes Pyrenees, France
© Fco. Javier Sobrino/age fotostoc
Big wheels on a big mountain
Today we're high in the French Pyrenees at the Col d'Aubisque, a beautiful mountain pass topping out at 5,607 feet above sea level. The Col d'Aubisque is one of the legendary climbs of the Tour de France, which starts today in Nice. The grueling bicycle race lasts 23 days (21 days of racing), with riders clocking around 2,200 miles overall, and this mountain pass is often one of its most challenging stages. The road up the pass has grades in either direction that can tilt past 10%. This epic mountain stage was first added to the 1910 race and it's since appeared in more than half the annual Tours, though not this year as it happens.
Just off to the side of the road at the pass, these three giant bicycle sculptures are painted in colors that correspond to the colorful jerseys worn by Tour de France riders. The yellow bike represents the overall time leader's yellow jersey; a green jersey is worn by the leader in stage points; and a polka-dot jersey is for the best climber, or the 'King of the Mountains.' It's an apt name for anyone who conquers the Col d'Aubisque, which is an 'hors catégorie' climb, meaning it is beyond categorization. In other words, it's really, really, hard. While climbing the Aubisque in 1910, French rider Octave Lapize famously yelled at Tour officials, 'You are murderers!' Today, motorists can drive over the pass without breaking a sweat, but cyclists still have their work cut out for them.