There are few places which compare with the French Alps when it comes to the mystique, challenge and pure joy of riding a bicycle.
The Tour de France has ensured the Alps are embedded in cycling folklore, thanks to the pain, suffering and glory dished out by all the legendary climbs. But there’s so much more to the French Alps than the Galibier or the Alpe d’Huez.
With the Ruta Negra French Alps, we’ve designed a unique loop around the Alps, including many classic climbs and lots of lesser-known gems, focussing on the challenge aspect. We’ve included the Col de la Bonette, the highest paved through-road in Europe, the Col de l’Iseran, the highest paved pass in the Alps, twice up the Mont Ventoux, and the Col d’Izoard, the last mountain-top finish on the 2017 Tour de France.
There’s a daily average of 147km and close to 48,000m of climbing over two weeks, this is not a trip for the uninitiated and is on a par with the Ruta Negra Italia.
Bienvenue en France!
Our staff will meet you at Lyon St Exupery Airport. From the airport we have a short transfer to our first hotel, the 15th century Chateau des Comtes de Challes near Chambery. After checking in to the hotel we’ll have our Orientation Meeting followed by lunch, then our mechanics will be on hand to help you get the bikes ready for the first ride.
Our warm-up ride gives us our first taste of climbing in the Alps with the Cat.1 climb to the Col de Marocaz.
Meeting Time and Place
Our guides will meet you at 9:00am - either at Lyon St Exupery Airport or at the Hotel NH Lyon Airport
Col du Coq
We kick off our fascinating loop around the French Alps with a huge day in the Chartreuse & the Vercors National Park, refuge of the French Maquis Resistance during the Second World War.
Highlight of the day will be the unknown Col du Coq, a spectacular HC climb with an average grade of almost 9% over 13km. A favorite with local riders, today is your turn to test your climbing legs on this extremely challenging climb.
Three other categorised climbs complete a tough day in the saddle and with a total elevation gain of almost 5000m of climbing, this is one of the biggest climbing days of our trip!
Through the Vercors to Provence
Our ride continues south through the heart of the Vercors National Park, in our mind, one of the most beautiful regions of France to ride a bike. We’ll ride past Pont en Royans with its famous “hanging” houses over the Bourne river. After Pont we start our first big climb of the day, the Cat 1 Col de la Machine.
After 75km, the long descent of the Col de Rousset, with its many switchbacks, signals the transition from the Vercors into the region of Provence. Provence offers us a warm welcome in the form of the Cat 1 Col de la Chaudiere, then it’s typical rolling Provencal terrain to our hotel in the medieval village of Poet Lavel.
After the last 2 tough days we have an “easier” day through the rolling terrain of Provence - and a bit of a rest before the big day on Ventoux tomorrow. Don’t get caught out though - there may be no big climbs today but we still have almost 3000m of elevation gain - so definitely a day to ride tempo!
Highlight of the day is the Cat 2 Col de la Pertie with some really spectacular views of the surrounding Provencal mountains.
Our hotel for the next 2 nights is the beautiful 18th century Chateau de Mazan, former residence of the Marquis de Sade.
Not much needs to be said about today’s ride - except maybe, that in true Thomson style, we’ll climb the Giant of Provence not once, but twice!
Our hotel in Mazan is only 10km from Bedoin so we’ll attack the Bedoin side of the climb first. After 14km climbing through the pine forest we break out of the trees and are faced with the final 7km, across the famous lunar landscape, to the summit at 1900m.
A long descent to Malaucene where we can enjoy a coffee-stop and some refuelling before tackling the 20km ascent back to the summit. Enjoy!
Gorges de la Nesque & Lure Mountain
The Gorges de la Nesque are a magical place to cycle through, with some quite spectacular rock formations, twisty roads and tunnels cut directly into the rock face.
The Montagne de Lure figures often on the Paris - Nice race, and has been the scene of some interesting battles in the past, including a famous victory by Richie Porte in 2013. Climbing to an elevation of over 1700m over 18km, the Lure Mountain is quite similar to its more well-known neighbour, Le Mont Ventoux.
Todays’s ride takes us out of Provence and back into the French Alps via the HC Col d’Allos. Leaving Sisteron we immediately start climbing the Cat 1 Col de Fontbelle. The quiet road continues through some really spectacular Pre-Alps scenery and it’s not long before we’re climbing the Col du Corobin, our 2nd climb of the day.
The town of St Etienne les Orgues signals the start of the main event of todays ride. At 2250m high and coming after 150km of riding, the 21km Col d’Allos will have you wishing the rest day was tomorrow.
The Queen Stage
The Queen Stage of our loop through the French Alps - and probably the biggest ride we do all season. With almost 200km of riding and 3 HC climbs to cross, this is a truly epic stage!
First up is the Col de la Bonette which rises to 2802m making it the highest paved through road in Europe. The Bonette is a truly remarkable climb and has been named by many previous guests as their all-time favorite climb in Europe.
The Col de la Couillole is next, another HC climb rising to 1700m. The final climb is another monster, the 31km Col de la Cayolle which reaches 2300m before the long drop down to our hotel in Barcelonnette.
It’s not often that you get to enjoy a rest day on a Thomson trip so make the most of it.
We’ll be staying at the Grand Hotel in Barcelonnette and the town centre is a great place to chill out, relax at a cafe and stretch your legs.
Alternatively - join our ride leaders on an informal “wee” spin around the Barcelonnette area. They may even find an extra climb to ride…
Izoard & Granon
We like to do things in 3s, so we have another triple HC day including the spectacular Col d’Izoard - the highlight of the 2017 Tour de France.
The Col de Vars sees us climbing right from the hotel. After the descent to Guillestre the ride takes us through a stunning canyon on the way up the valley to the start of the Izoard.
From the Izoard we drop down into Briancon where soon after we have a surprise for everyone, in the form of the HC Col du Granon. The Granon is listed in the Top 30 most beautiful climbs in France and we’re sure you’ll enjoy this really beautiful and challenging climb.
Another epic day on the bike as we take a brief detour into Italy for the beautiful ride up to Mont Cenis.
First climb of the day is the relatively easy Col de L’Echelle. At the summit we cross the border into Italy and a truly beautiful descent into Bardonecchia.
We continue along the valley to Susa where we start the climb that will eventually take us back into France. We’ll take the small road with its many switchbacks that leads to a first summit in Moncenisio before joining the main climb to Mont Cenis and the border with France.
We saved the best for last - the 2764m Col de L’Iseran is the highest paved pass in the Alps. Another epic ride comes to an end in the ski station of Val d’Isere, 18km down from the Col d’Iseran.
Views of Mont Blanc
A great start to the ride today - we can enjoy a 30k descent into Bourg St Maurice before starting our first climb, the HC Cormet de Roselend. The ride around the lake just after the summit is truly stunning.
The Montee de Bisanne is an alternative road up to the Col des Saisies and is included in the 2018 Tour de France route. From the Col des Saisies enjoy the long descent into Flumet and the start of our final climb - the Col des Aravis. The Aravis offers spectacular views of Mont Blanc off to your right and is a really picturesque climb with numerous switchbacks towards the top. Cowbells will accompany us all the way down our final descent into La Clusaz.
We finally close the circle as we head back to Challes les Eaux in a day dominated by the spectacular views of the Annecy lake.
The Semnoz climb from Annecy featured as a stage finish on the 2013 Tour de France and was won by Nairo Quintana.
The Col de Glieres features in the 2018 Tour de France and stands out for being particularly short and sharp, with a 2km gravel section at the top to make it even more interesting.
The final stretch takes us through the Bauges National Park and back to the hotel we started from almost 2 weeks ago.
Mont du Chat
The final ride of the Ruta Negra French Alps features the incredible and infamous final 100km of Stage 9 of the 2017 Tour de France. A massive ride with 3 super-steep HC climbs including the Mont du Chat where Richie Port abandoned the race.
Riding out from Chambéry, you will be treated with stunning views of the lake as we climb up from Aix-les-Bains. Once we reach the north end of the lake the climbs come in quick succession - Col de la Biche, Col du Grand Colombier and the final test, the Mont du Chat. 179km and 4600m of elevation - a fitting end to an epic journey featuring the very best of the French Alps!
Unfortunately, our trip must come to an end. Our shuttle will take you to Lyon St Exupery Airport, arriving at approximately 9:00am.