Archived General DB Blogs
Destinations - Road Riding in the French Alps
Posted: Oct 04 2006
In mid-September, two of the Different Bikes team embarked on a much anticipated 10 day riding trip to France. It was a busy agenda with a little sightseeing and a bunch of riding planned – the main goal was to experience some of the great climbs of the Tour de France – Alpe d’Huez, Col du Galibier, Les Deux Alpes, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col de Telegraphe to name a few, plus a drive down to Provence to ride â€œle geantâ€ – Mt. Ventoux.
We started the trip with a prologue on the Normandy coast. Here we adjusted to the time zone, took in the historic landing beaches and memorials of D-Day, and did some warm up rides through the quiet and welcoming Norman countryside overlooking the English Channel. From there it was into the rental car for a long transfer across the country to the Alps. The French highway network is excellent and the toll highways are well worth the cost if you need to go a long way in a day!
Our destination in the Alps was a small village near Bourg d’Oisans, the town that is home to the base of the famous Alpe d’Huez climb and is well placed in the middle of endless miles of amazing alpine roads and climbs. The village was called Le Rivier and is situated near the top of the col d’Ornon about 8km from Bourg d’Oisans. Here is where our hosts, Guy and Helyn of King of the Mountains are based. This ex-pat British couple have made a 150 year old converted school house their home and a B&B targeted at riders looking to tackle the roads and mountain bike trails of their adopted part of the Alps. We can’t say enough good about how much they helped make our stay and our rides truly epic! Very comfortable accommodations, a great workshop for bikes, excellent food, maps and ride recommendations, and even rolling support for one very long ride. Check them out if you plan to visit, you will not be disappointed!
In our 4 days riding in this area of the Alps, we put in hundreds of kilometers and over 10,000 metres of climbing, experiencing many of the great tour climbs on our list as well as many lesser known roads and climbs that surprised and rewarded with their challenge, smooth pavement and seemingly endless views and scenery. Some quick highlights:
- Alpe d’Huez is a great ride, worth the trip up, but allow extra time to take an alternate trip down via the Col de Sarenne – the additional terrain experienced and the great descent is well work it.
- Col de la Croix de Fer may have been our favourite climb for the challenge and varying landscapes you pass through. We chose the endless descent from below the top via the Col du Glandon, which may have been the most fun downhill.
- Galibier is a very tough climb, with spectactular reward if the weather is hospitable at the top. Don’t listen to the guidebooks that describe the Col du Telegraphe (a climb that is done to reach the traditional southern approact to Galibier) as a â€œwarm upâ€. It is tough too!
- We achieved many of the above by following most of the route of â€œLe Marmotteâ€, a famous annual amateur race route. We opted out of the Alpe d’Huez at the end and instead climbed the Col d’Ornon back to our accommodations, but it was still a long day! Some 185km and 8+ hours of riding – a challenging ride but one that needs planning and possibly support to enjoy fully.
- The riding available in the area is nearly endless, if you can’t stay with excellent hosts like King of the Mountains, do your research and get route maps to discover some of the great lesser known gems.
- We did not have a chance to mountain bike in the area this time but with the many ski resorts in the area and abundant alpine trails, we are assured that both lift accessed fun and XC exploring are also amazing otions.
Next we were off to Provence (about a 3 hour drive) to tackle Mt Ventoux as well as some of the excellent other riding in the wine regions surrounding that area. Here we stayed in another very cycling friendly B&B , this one run by a former British National Triathlon exec and his wife – Peter and Joan. Referred to us by King of the Mountains, watch for them to be together providing joint weekly packages like the one that we did as a matter of course in the future. They are located in a Rhone Valley wine-producing village about 25-30 km from the access routes up le Ventoux.
Although our second day of riding was washed out by unseasonable storms and rain, on our first day we did manage to get to the top of Ventoux. There are several routes up, we chose the classic tour route that climbs from Bedoin and descended down the other side to make an enjoyable and challenging 100km, 2000 m vertical ride from our base. Notes from Ventoux:
- A truly relentless climb, but great roads and wide reaching views from above treeline.
- the top of the mountain very much lives up to its name (translation:â€windyâ€) so bring extra gear to stay warm
- An alpine landscape that has been described as â€œlunarâ€ and must be seen to be appreciated. You will wonder what moved people to put a road up there!
- Get ready for a â€œfast as you dareâ€ descent
An amazing riding trip, and only a small sample of what can be found in this area of France. You’ll experience why road riding is so popular in that part of the world and feel a bit of the cycling culture. You’ll demystify some of the epic climbs we see each year on the tour and at the same time gain an even greater respect for what the pros are capable of. And of course you can explore the great local culture, meet new people and enjoy excellent French food and wine. The world is a big place – ride more if it!
We’ll post cycling-related travel reports from Different Bikes friends and family and from you! If you have experiences of great places to ride and great places to stay, pass us along a note with some highlights and pictures and we’ll add it to the â€œdestinationsâ€ file.Read more Archived General DB Blogs »