If you’re planning to ride the French Alps, then good news - plan your trip right, and you’ll get to experience some of the finest road biking in the world. We’ve written this little guide to help you plan your trip and make sure you get to experience the best road biking in the French Alps. As we publish this on November 27, with snow outside our door... it's important to remember you need to time your trip right, and late May - Mid October is best.
From our base in Chamonix Mt Blanc, we’ve ridden some of the very finest, and these are our pick. We’ve based this on a few factors: elevation, road quality, how quiet the road is and ultimately how much fun we had.
It’s difficult to write one of these lists without talking about Alp d’hues. With 1100M of climbing across just 14km, its 21 corners deliver one of the most brutal climbs you’re likely to find. The start is particularly tough, with it averaging 11% for the first 6 bends…
Col du Glandon
Never heard of this one? You’re not alone. This Col doesn’t sit far away from Alp d’Huez, and although it’s lesser-known… don’t let that fool you. It’s one of the biggest you’ll find with nearly 1500M of height gain across its 21km. With an average gradient of 6.9%, it packs a punch - you’ll be up at 12% on some sections.
Alongside the staggering views, you’ll be greeted with a cafe at the top, which is, after all, the only reason we all ride - right? It’s well worth
Col du Petit Saint Bernard
Nestled on the French/Italian border, the Col du petit Saint Bernard is another absolute classic. For this article, we’re talking about riding it from the French side, but you can also ride it from the Italian side (La Thuile).
This col is a long one. 26.5km to be precise, starting from Bourg Saint Maurice (the base of the Les Arc/La Plagne ski resorts, for those wondering). This col is unique because, well, part of the road is Pink. Yep, pink. That’s something the town did when the Tour de France rode through in 2018. The road is still pink to this day (in La Rosière), and it makes for quite the picture. Alongside that, the road is quite busy - if you’re going to ride this one, it’s best to avoid the two peak months (July and August).
You can ride down to La Thuile on the other side and grab an excellent pizza, but be warned… it’s no picnic to ride back up…
The hits just keep on coming, and this is one of the biggest monsters of them all. Col d’Iseran is a near 2000M (height gain) behemoth, which summits at 2,763M. That is the highest paved road in Europe. Quite the accolade.
The col itself has a bit of everything, although the average gradient of the 48km climb is just over 4%, you’ll find sections at 15%. Starting in Bourg St Maurice (the same as the previous climb), it’s going to take all you’ve got to get to the top. Make it to the top and you’ll be greeted by a small lake and a little cafe, to eat your bodyweight in cake. This climb is obviously extremely exposed and you’ll do well to find a day with good weather, quiet roads and no snow…
Lacets de Montvernier
Another Col in our region of the world, the Lacets de Montvernier isn’t the highest. Or the furthest. But it is a LOT of fun. This Col has 18 hairpins which are spread across just 2.5km of road. That’s a hairpin every 150m or so… which is a lot.
The height gain is borderline laughable compared to the others in this list (276m…), but that’s not the point. This climb is fun, short and punchy - with an average gradient of 7.5%. Lacets means laces, when translated to English - for those that wondered.
If you’re riding the French Alps, you’ve got a whole host of different options and the limit is your imagination. Self guided rides are perfectly possible, and a lot of these cols are quite close together.
That’s our five done, and it’s left us wanting more… so expect another article soon.