The Pourtalet is one of the most well-known and enjoyable climbs in the region of Aragón. It is a long climb of almost 27km with gentle gradients averaging 4%. The road winds its way up to one of the highest passes in this part of the Pyrenees reaching a total of 992m.
The scenery here is just beautiful. It is a showcase of untamed splendour. On this journey one is led through raw wilderness on a backdrop of infinite expanses of deep green forests, rocky cliffs, extending up into the beautiful open mountains in the last few kilometres of this route.
The early parts of the climb take one past shimmering azure lakes and a stream that snakes parallel to the road. One can catch a brief glimpse of water between the trees, mirroring the same blue from the cloudless sky. The road takes one through the village of Escarilla and then through a long brightly lit tunnel. The road then gradually ascends alongside the Embalse de Lanuza dam at 15km which continues along the Gallego River. After this landmark it continues higher until the border of France with further panoramic and spectacular views.
The climb has been used numerous times in the Vuelta a España and also once in the Tour de France. This is a good reason to do this climb and get a feel for how the pros felt while racing on this stretch of road. It is also used each year in the famous Quebrantahuesos Gran Fondo. Before the top of the climb, with 5 km to go, you will reach the ski resort of Formigal - this has also held stage finishes in the Vuelta - notably in 2013 when Warren Barguil claimed his victory.
How to tackle it:
You will know by 6km what condition your legs are in because you would have had a taste of the first testing gradients, an idea about what is to come later on in the ride. From this point on until 13km it is quite flat. Here you can ride at 60-70% of your FTP in order to save the energy needed to stay the full course and to pace yourself smartly. This flat section, if handled conservatively will prepare you for the climb that is to follow or it can be your undoing! From 18km to 20km you will have another small climb before another plateau of 2km where you can recover before the final haul to the end which is quite tough. Be sure to have enough energy saved for maximum enjoyment and to realize the result of clever pacing and planning.