French Alps Cycling Tour

Cycling and switchbacks on Col d'Izoard in the Alps

Tour Description

Here is a classic cycling tour to challenge all recreational cyclists looking to tick off a full bucket list of epic climbs in the French Alps. It all kicks off in Grenoble the capital of the French Alps and concludes on Mont Ventoux affectionately known as the ‘Geant de Provence’. This iconic route includes some of the biggest household name climbs with Alpe d´Huez, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col de l’Iseran, Col du Galibier and Col d’Izoard all dotted along the route path.

There is no doubting that the giants of the French Alps will have you gasping for oxygen; Col de l’Iseran (2770m altitude), Col de la Bonette (2715m altitude) and Col du Galibier (2642m altitude). But what adds to this epic cycling adventure are the lesser known climbs such as Col de la Sarenne, Lacets de Montvernier, Col du Granon and Col du Murs. Breathtaking scenery, challenging climbs, awesome descents and the quiet backroad experience all await!

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Daily Tour Overview

Day 1 – Grenoble to Alpe d’Huez (21 bends)

Grenoble is considered by many as the French Alps capital and the Fort de la Bastille sitting high above the city centre provides an amazing backdrop. The town is surrounded by inspiring mountain peaks which will have you all itching for some cycling action. You will ride the first 50km on the 2017 TDF Stage 17 route which includes the Col d´Ornon climb (14km / 600m ascent). Following a great descent, we will have you at the base of Alpe d´Huez and its famed 21 switchbacks. No other mountain has had so much Tour de France drama. With or without the TDF the atmosphere on the mountain is always fantastic and the 13km at 8% average grade will be a constant test. Each of the 21 hairpin bends has been named after past stage winners and you too will soak up all the history!

Distance: 60km / Meals: Dinner Included / Sleep: Alpe d’Huez ski station

Day 2 – Sarenne & the back road to ‘Huez’

From the Alpe d’Huez ski station the ride follows a small backroad which initially descends, later slightly rises, hugs the edge of the mountain and then provides spectacular views down to the valley floor. If you are looking for action the climb to Villard Reymond will be sure to impress. The climb rises out of Le Bourg d’Oisans and while it is asphalted for the most part it also includes a few unsealed sections for the gravel grinders in the group. The views across the valley to the Alpe d’Huez ski station are exceptional and all past guests love to see what they achieved yesterday!

With some good work under the belt there will be time for a lunch stop in ‘Le Bourg’ to gain energy for Col de la Sarenne. To get things going again we have what’s best described as a lumpy 20km to the base of ‘Sarenne’ following yet another remarkable balcony road. The 15km climb to Sarenne needs to be respected as it has ≥ 10% ramps in places and will be a huge test. The trade-off though is cycling through the beautiful Ferrand valley and the final hairpins which take you up to 1999m elevation (yes 1999m to be precise)!

Distance: 70 or 100km / Meals: Breakfast Included / Sleep: Alpe d’Huez ski station

Day 3 – Cycling to the Maurienne valley

Col de la Croix de Fer offers a fantastic climb for those keen to add another Tour de France giant to their CV. It has been used during the TDF on 19 occasions and the climb is a serious 29km test with an average gradient of 5%. It is a difficult climb which should not be underestimated as a number of short downhill sections misrepresent the average grade (maximum uphill gradients of 11%)! Cycling from the Allemont approach means you also collect Col du Glandon for free. It is now time to take in the expansive views before enjoying the long 20km descent down Col du Glandon.

While the next climb is not overly difficult the chance to ride Lacets de Montvernier will be truly memorable. This short but spectacular climb has only been used twice during the 2015 and 2018 Tour de France editions. 18 tight switchbacks (‘lacets’ in French) wind up over 3.5km creating a simply incredible cycling experience. Remember: the mythical Alpe d´Huez has 21 switchbacks over 13km!!

Distance: 90km / Meals: Breakfast & Dinner Included / Sleep: Lanslebourg

Day 4 – Conquer Europe’s highest pass

Today the mighty Col de l’Iseran and its staggering 2770m elevation awaits. Despite this giant col being ranked number 1 on the list of Europe’s highest asphalted passes it has only been scaled on nine occasions during the Tour de France. During 2019 the race successfully scaled its summit before later having to cancel the stage finish due to a freak storm on the way to Tignes ski station. The climb measures 48km with an average 4% grade. It is really only the final (12km) where the feeling of riding an epic mountain road takes shape. From here switchbacks, rock carved tunnels and glaciers are all around.

Once at the top our ride descends back towards the base of Col du Mont Cenis where we will again sleep tonight. This location is very strategic on a tour front because one can decide to rest at the hotel with ‘Iseran’ successfully accomplished or even take on the additional Mont Cenis climb up to the French/Italian border. The optional 10km final climb up towards the Italian border averages 7% and these mountain roads are simply put cycling paradise!

Distance: 65 or 110km / Meals: Breakfast Included / Sleep: Lanslebourg

Day 5 – Double up: Telegraphe & Galibier

Today is a fantastic ride that combines the best of Stages 18 and 19 from the 2019 Tour de France. The first 45km are mostly downhill however we make sure to include Montee d’Aussois and Cote de Saint Andre. It is from the bottom of the valley though where to be honest things will start to get very interesting. One of the toughest Tour de France climb doubles is calling; Col du Telegraphe (13km) & Col du Galibier (18km)! The ride will be broken up with a lunch stop in the ski village town of Valloire.

The Galibier featured in the Tour de France for the first time during 1911 when only three riders got to the summit without walking. When it comes to the Pyrenees the Tourmalet rules yet Galibier is a futher 500m higher and 14km longer (when combining Telegraphe) making this arguably France’s most epic col. From the top of Galibier you will descend one of the most scenic mountain roads down to Col du Lauteret and ride through to Briancon.

Distance: 105km / Meals: Breakfast & Dinner Included / Sleep: Briancon

Day 6 – Time to explore Briancon

For those looking for a rest day then the historical centre of Briancon is sure to impress. The old town is strongly fortified and was built in the 17th Century with steep and narrow streets to defend the region from the Austrians. You are visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to the Fortifications of Vauban which include the city walls, a number of forts and the Pont d’Asfeld bridge across the Durance River. Briançon at 1326m elevation is also categorised as the highest town in France.

Cyclists looking to do some more have a treat with a Col du Granon expedition on the cards. It will only be a short ride today but this 11.5km climb averages 9% and offers glacier views above the Massif des Ecrins peaks. The col has only been used as a summit finish during the 1986 Tour de France. With the race getting bigger and bigger and limited space at the top the logistics are too difficult for the race organisers. But we will have the privilege to enjoy the spectacular mountain views all for ourselves!

Distance: Rest Day or 40km / Meals: Breakfast Included / Sleep: Briancon

Day 7 – Cycle the iconic ‘Casse Deserte’

Today is yet another classic route which includes many kilometres from Stage 18 of the 2019 Tour de France. To put it simply the Col d’Izoard and Col de Vars climbs are there for the taking! We will ride the two climbs from north to south whereas the 2019 TDF raced in reverse. For many the ´Izoard´ (2360m) and its sandy eroded cliffs above la ‘Casse Deserte’ resemble an amazing lunar landscape. The 36 TDF crossings have provided many an iconic photo of the race! Our climb from the north-west approach includes 19km at an average gradient of 6% and a maximum of 9%. The gorge road linking Izoard and Vars is another highlight (all downhill) before the final assault climbing the green lush pastures of Col de Vars. Tonight you will sleep at the base of yet another resting giant, Col de la Bonette.

Distance: 100km / Meals: Breakfast & Dinner Included / Sleep: Barcelonette

Day 8 – Col de la Bonette – bragging rights?

The legs will get going again with a 10km warm up to the base of the ‘Bonette’. This 24km climb averages 7% and is a constant climb that rarely gets too steep (you will just have to trust us on that one!). Let the switchbacks take you up into what is an expansive alpine landscape and which officially rounds out at 2715m altitude. The extra loop up to the car park though is the highest asphalted road in France (2802m altitude). Surprise, surprise but this latest pavement leapfrogs ahead of Iseran and perhaps the rivalry for bragging rights really does exist in the French Alps!

If you were looking for a sleep-in or a relatively easier ride option today then why not treat ‘Bonette’ as optional and ride Col d’Allos with the group after lunch. The Tour de France visited the ‘Allos’ climb nearly every year between 1911 and 1939 making it one of the most popular original cols. The climb was last visited by Le Tour during Stage 17 of the 2015 edition. After scaling its 2250m elevation (17.5km and 6% average) you find yourself descending into Provence. Post ride there will be a 2hr transfer to our home for the next three nights in the heart of the Luberon Natural Park. 

Distance: 70 or 140km / Meals: Breakfast & Dinner Incl. / Sleep: Provence

Day 9 – Picture perfect Provence

A scenic hotel to hotel loop ride through Provence has been designed for today. The idea is that there are some short climbs but nothing too taxing seeing we have the goal of climbing to the towering Mt Ventoux summit tomorrow!  Before pulling in at the first coffee stop you will have rolled over Col de Murs and Col de Trois Termes. These are two small climbs which peak at approximately 600m elevation and are often linked during a Tour de France rendezvous. Back to the coffee and you will pull into the the small Provencal village of Gordes. The cycling loop continues by taking you through Roussillon another of France´s ‘Plus Beaux Villages’ and its famous Ochre Trail.

Distance: 70km / Meals: Breakfast Included / Sleep: Provence

Day 10 – Mt Ventoux: Le Geant de Provence

When it comes to challenging, beautiful, rewarding and historic pro-cycling routes then today´s ride has all of the above rolled into one plus more! Cycling through Provence is amazing at the best of times but this adventure through Sault, Gorges de la Nesque and Mt Ventoux is one to savour! The ´Geant de Provence´ has celebrated 10 TDF summit finishes and the last battle in 2016 saw Chris Froome actually comically running up the climb without a bike! Who remembers watching that and the bewilderment of the race commentators?

From Bedoin the early kilometres up Ventoux are quite easy cycling past vineyards with the group chatting away. Here you can still keep an eye on the prize being the iconic summit weather station. On reaching the St Esteve bend you enter the ‘forest’ and things do not let up for nearly 10km. Rejoice on arriving at Chalet Reynard where you can catch your breath. From here the average 8% now feels flat unless you are unlucky to be hit by strong winds on the exposed white cliffs. Be amazed as every pedal stroke now reveals the lunar landscape towards the summit! After such a big week on the bikes we won’t compare you against the pro’s who typically need 60 to 75 minutes to climb Ventoux. Our aim is to get to the top and enjoy the incredible views from the Le Geant de Provence! 

Tonight there is a celebratory dinner in a fabulous wine estate which is the perfect way to look back over some amazing achievements. How about a glass of wine for every epic col? Maybe not, some of you still have the Italian Alps (Dolomites & Stelvio) cycling tour to now look forward to.

Distance: 70, 100 or 130km / Meals: Breakfast & Dinner Incl. / Sleep: Provence

Day 11 – Goodbyes from Marseille

Following breakfast the guides will be available to transfer the group to Marseille Airport. We hope you enjoyed your Epic French Alps cycling challenge and we look forward to seeing you shortly in Epic Italian Alps or otherwise in the near future!

If you are keen to continue your European cycling adventure our guides are organising a 2 night transition package (Marseille to Venice) before commencing our Epic Italian Alps cycling tour. Feel free to Contact Us for more information.

Meals: Breakfast included


Dates & Prices

Dates2021 dates subject to Covid-19
Duration10 nights / 11 days
Price (per person)4250€ (twin share)
Bike Hire350€
Single Room Supplement850€

5% Discount for Groups of 4 or more!

Go Private: Round-up some Friends & Ask Us for a Customised Package!


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French Alps Cycling Stories

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‘Cycling the French Alps’

(September 2020)


Client Reviews (French Alps)

Jenny (Griffith, NSW, Australia)

We enjoyed everything about the trip, the towns and the hotels we stayed in were great choices. I think you lads do a great job and handle the different personalities with ease and calm. We would certainly like to experience another cycling tour with you and will recommend you to anyone who is thinking of doing a cycling holiday.

John (Sydney, NSW, Australia)

Thanks again Paul. I am already dreaming of what my next trip will be.

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