Classic Climbs of France, Day 1, Col du Soulor

Alan Gilbert
4 min readJun 20, 2023


This is part of a series of posts from my cycling trip to France to experience the “classic climbs of the French Alps, Pyrénées, and Mont Ventoux.

Today’s Ride

Our rides so far, today’s in red


Our first day was memorable, with a challenging, beautiful loop, featuring a climb up and over Col du Soulor. The weather was overcast with a few sprinkles but no significant rain — pretty much perfect conditions given how hot it can get here. This area of France is very wet and green with lots of rain and rivers, streams, and creeks everywhere.

It felt good to get the first real climb in (4,639 total ascent) to know “I can do this.” Today’s ride features plentiful switchbacks, high altitude mountain farms, a bitchin’ descent down the mountain, and a nice bike trail back into Lourdes. We were told to steer clear of the sheep dogs, because they look chill, but they are working and if you get close they will bite you (see photo below).

The last half mile of the climb to Col du Soulor was probably the most difficult road-bike stretch I have ever done. The grade was about 10%, the surface was loose pea gravel (pre-paving construction in progress), and there was a horizontal, misty drizzle driven by 50 MPH, in-your-face headwinds. Fortunately, it was only for a short time.

I am pretty happy with how the standard-issue Domane SL 7 bike climbs. It feels a bit heavy compared to my BMC Roadmachine, but still pretty good. I have tended to be at the back of the pack on the climbs. I suppose I’m am not used to nor trained for climbing like many others on this trip, being an Ohio “flatlander.” Most of the crew are from more hilly or mountainous areas. But I also just like to hang back to set my own pace and take a lot of pictures. However, the downhills are a different story. I really enjoy the thrill of letting the bike go on the straightaways and carving the banked turns. Sometimes it really does feel like you are flying. I also figure you can still learn to ride downhill in Ohio — you can learn the same skills in a one-two mile run as you can a 10 mile run. One of my crew mates told me “wow, for a guy from Ohio you can really downhill..” I take that has a high compliment.

Family affair. Hard to see but there are two calves.
In many of the villages, homes and shops go right up to the road. A lot different than in the US.
French countryside homes built right on the creek
This sheepdog is making sure you don’t get anywhere near his flock
Climbing up Col du Soulor
Beautiful switchbacks all the way up
Breathtaking view from the top
Unexpected obstacles on the way down
Just three miles from finish line!