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headlong 16-kilometre descent to Laruns. This year, the Tour will plunge down this, the western side, which is even steeper than the east.

From the west

The west has an easy start, but at the Eaux-Bonnes spa the similarities with the eastern ascent end. The Aubisque twists and turns, and bucks from one gradient to another every few hundred metres. This is exactly what Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle meant when he said that the Aubisque represents the character of the Pyrenees. Many roads here climb like this, working with the slope, using natural gaps and ridges, rather than trying to defeat it with civil engineering, as happens in the Alps.

About halfway up, at the Valentin waterfall, there is a wicked section of 13 per cent. After that, the average for the climb, another eight kilometres, is eight per cent, although to describe it as an average belies the huge variation in gradients as the road fights its way up.

"The middle section of the climb and well into the second half is the hardest," says Duclos-Lassalle. "There is no let-up after the 13 per cent really, it's always between eight and 10, and you are

"It's always between eight and 10 per cent and you are always shifting gear"

HOTEL: Les Cimes is in Argelès-Gazost, so right at the start of the Soulor-Aubisque ascent, the same way as the 2010 Tour de France goes. It's at 1, Place d'Ourout, 65400 Argelès-Gazost, +33 (0)5 62 97 00 10. Or book via www.venere.com. SELF-CATERING: Gîte de Stouet is a two-bedroom house in the countryside, just outside Argelès-Gazost. www.homelidays.co.uk. CAMPING: Camping Les Trois Vallées is 300 metres from Argelès-Gazost, and has just about everything you can think of for a perfect camping experience. Book through http://en.campings.com.

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