The cycling is unbeatable in Europe, and the climbs are world class. It’s no wonder that the best cyclists in the world gather for a three week race in France every July….there’s nothing that compares to the smooth mountain ascents that should hold a place on every rider’s bike tour bucket list. Here are a few of our favorites French climbs:
- Le Mont Ventoux: (1912 meters—6273 feet—22 kms—Average grade 7.1%–Max grade 11%) Dominating the landscape in all directions, Ventoux has rightfully earned the nickname “The Giant.” There are three ways to ascend this beast (4 if you count the forest road) but the most famous route starts in the village of Bedoin where you will want to buy yourself a celebratory jersey after your valiant efforts. After all, not everyone has made it down alive. Just a half-mile from the summit, you will pass a memorial to the British pro-cyclist Tom Simpson who died racing a tour stage here in 1967.
- Le Col du Tourmalet: (2115 meters—6939 feet—19 kms—Average grade 7.4%–Max grade 10.2%) When asked why the Tourmalet is so famous, many riders speak of its mystic prowess. You have not truly experienced the Pyrenees until you have climbed the range’s highest pass. It’s hard-core and there’s no wonder why this climb has been used more than any other as a Tour stage.
- Le Col du Galibier: (2645 meters—8678 feet—34 kms—Average grade 6.9%–Max grade 10.1%) 2011 was a big year for the Col du Galibier as it was celebrating its 100th year anniversary in the Tour by having riders ascend it twice over two days during the race. Don’t be surprised to find yourself dwarfed by columns of snow if you summit the pass in early summer; this col is closed through winter and opens only when road officials decide to blast through the dense snow pack.
- L’Alpe d’Huez: (1860 meters—6102 feet—14 kms—Average grade 7.9%–Max grade 14%) Immortalized by regular tour finishes, this Mecca of Alps climbs is famous for its grueling 21 switchbacks. The record ascent is 37:35 minutes, but riders of all abilities come out in force each year to test themselves against this mammoth of a climb.
- Col d’Aubisque: (1709 meters—5601 feet—16.6 kms—Average grade 7.2%–Max grade 13%) This col made its Tour debut in 1910 when race organizers were deemed crazy by Pyrenees locals when asked to have the roads cleared of debris in time for race day. Nonetheless, the Aubisque has become a Tour staple and is a favorite climb by riders the world over. Not for the fainthearted, the climb is famous for its sinuous roads that are gingerly carved to hug the mountainside and sport drops of hundreds of feet beyond the safety barriers.
Check out our list of Bike Tours in Europe so that you too can ride these legendary climbs.
- 5 Things You Might Not Have Known About the Black Forest in Germany (insitutravel.com)
- 5 Things You Might Not Have Known About Girona & Catalonia (insitutravel.com)
- Alps Bike Tour: A Day in the Life (insitutravel.com)