The French Alps are an integral part of cycling folklore. Entwined with the story of the Tour de France and a rite of passage for every serious cyclist, the mountain region features numerous legendary climbs. Famed for beauty, infamous for difficulty and revered for their power to inspire, the French Alps are the ultimate playground for cyclists.
The names of most famous climbs in the French Alps roll off the tongue; Alpe d’Huez, Galibier Glandon and Madeleine. House hold names now, largely thanks to cycling. At best these peaks were known as mere ski resorts until the Tour de France made them famous the world over. In fact it was the race that brought these climbs into French public consciousness. The French perception of their own country and landscape underwent a grand discovery with the advent of the great yellow parade.
The Tour de France didn’t initially take in the French Alps, it wasn’t until the fifth edition in 1907 that the race ventured into the famous mountain range. Emile Georget won the first Alpine stage and was ultimate the race’s Meilleur Grimpeur — the forerunner of the King of the Mountains. It was another four years until the first of our Super Climbs made the parcours when Col du Galibier made it’s debut. Georget was the first to the summit again, one of only three racers not to walk!
King of the Mountains
Officially the KOM jersey didn’t come into existence until 1933 when the organisers decided to reward a man who’s own climbing prowess was severely let down by his abilities to descend. Vicente Trueba summited many of the 16 mountains first that year, and yet was never really in contention for yellow. Sadly he didn’t even win polka dots since that jersey didn’t exist until 1975. Perhaps even more impressive about those early climbers was the improbably terrible condition of the roads. Barely roads at all, these dirt tracks were rock strewn and broken up. Ascending them on heavy bikes with impossible gearing would have been unimaginably difficult.
Le Mirror des Sports put it wonderfully —
“The sun ardent on the terrible Col de Galibier, loose scree rocks strewn over percentages of over 15%, make the task of the leader and his adversaries even more difficult. In the desert landscape, devoid of all vegetation and shadow, the road of the Tour de France rises slowly, painfully for the hero of our sport.”
The Charm of the Challenge
The sheer scale of the French Alps makes the cycling challenges such a memorable experience. Cycling infinitely small in the grandiose alpine mountains, with a grand mass of stone at the foot and snow at the summit, following the laces of the sinuous roads of the Izoard, L’Iseran, Colombiere or Croix der Fer. The poetry of the journey makes the reward far greater, to be amongst impossible beauty as we battle the tarmac ribbons to the summits conquered by generations of cyclists.
The French Alps have their own personality. The warm smell of smooth tarmac, the promise of good food and plentiful coffee. The history and culture seeps into you the longer you’re there, heightened by that rewarding sip of wine in the evening! It’s as if the place was made for cyclists.
Two Trips to Test You
We have two trips built around the French Alps, both taking in the most famous climbs and unknown Cols the region have to offer. The one week Trans-Alp trip and the two week Ruta Negra are the essence of pure road cycling for lovers of climbing. There are few places which compare with the French Alps when it comes to the mystique, challenge and pure joy of riding a bicycle.
Departures — July & September
From Morzine to Mont Ventoux, the Trans-Alps is an opportunity to ride one of the most ambitious routes across the legendary French Alps where you can test yourself on the battleground of the Tour de France.
Alpe d’Huez, La Madeleine, Galibier, Mont Ventoux, Glandon, Joux Plane, Colombiere – these are just a few of the iconic Tour de France climbs that we’ll conquer in the French Alps. We’ve prepared an awe-inspiring, week-long adventure that will test your limits and introduce you to the majesty and wonder of cycling’s most celebrated terrain.
Climb the ‘Giant of Provence’ – Mont Ventoux – with the option to climb it not once, but twice on the same day! You’ll be thrilled by the stunning Col de Sarenne, the back-road to Alpe d’Huez and a classic loop over the Lacets de Montvernier, the Col du Chaussy, the Col du Glandon and the Col du Mollard. You can’t fit more Alps into one week!
Read our full itinerary for the full details on this unmissable week in the French Alps.
Ruta Negra — The Hors Categorie Feat
Departures — June
With the Ruta Negra French Alps, we’ve designed a unique ride through the Alps, featuring the majority of the classic climbs and lots of lesser-known gems. In addition to legendary climbs like Alpe d’Huez, Galibier, Ventoux, Madeleine, Glandon, Izoard & Croix de Fer we’ve included the Col de la Bonette, the highest paved through-road in Europe and the Col de l’Iseran, the highest paved pass in the Alps.
This is not a trip for the uninitiated, with a daily average of 119km and over 45,000m of climbing over two weeks. Beginning in Provence with two ascents of Mont Ventoux, the Ruta Negra travels north through the French Alps and finishing near Grenoble. Here you will conquer the Col de Sarenne, one of the most beautiful climbs in the Alps.
Along the way you can gorge on the twisty roads and incredible scenery of the Gorges de la Nesque, a truly magical place to cycle. With the Col de la Bonette which rises to 2,802m, making it the highest paved through road in Europe, and Mont Colombis, with steep pitches reminiscent of the Mortirolo you will battle the lesser known along with the legendary.
Read our full itinerary for the full details on this stunning fortnight in the French Alps.
This great cartoon from a 1933 edition of French sports paper Le Miroir des Sports shows the race mechanic diligently following. You can be sure to enjoy the French Alps at first hand, unlike the poor mechanic featured. The caption reads —
“one of the most curious phenomena of the tour. The mechanic of the workshop truck: he always follows the peloton and he never sees it”