The Alps have long been a classic destination for those seeking a cycling vacation in Europe. It is, after all the place where the fiercest battles of the Tour are won and lost, where almost every climb is a ‘classic’, the roads are smooth and the terrain is challenging and varied. To that end we have decided we simply must add it to our ever-expanding list of European locations, should you need to be convinced any further as to why the Alps are a must-ride for every cyclist take a look at our run-down of the classic climbs of the Alps!
By far the most famous Alpine climb Alpe d’Huez is known for it’s 21 hairpins.
It may not be the toughest, steepest, longest or most beautiful of climbs but it provides what must be one of the most iconic stretches of climbing in cycling history. The climb has been used 30 times in the Tour de France so far, usually to dramatic effect. One of the most memorable ascents of Alpe d’Huez was that of 1997 when El Pirata, Marco Pantani, flew past Jan Ullrich on his way to the fastest ever ascent (37 mins 35 seconds). Mere mortals fulled on jam sandwiches and espresso can aim for the hour as being an exceptionally good time.
Alpe d’Huez Stats:
- 8.1% average gradient
- 11.5% max gradient
- 1,071m elevation gain
- 1,850m elevation at the summit
Col du Galibier
From St Michel-de-Maurienne
The Galibier is one of the toughest climbs in cycling. Most famously tackled from the northern side it is an epic 34 km long. To reach the pass you must first climb the Col du Télégraphe (12km at 7%). After a 5km descent to the ski town of Valloire the road gets steeper & steeper en route to a mighty summit at 2,642 m.
It is the altitude towards the top combined with the length of the climb which make the Galibier so tough. It is the fourth highest paved pass in France at a (literally) breath-taking 2,642m.
Col du Galibier Stats:
- 5.5% average gradient
- 12% max gradient
- 1,924m elevation gain
- 2,642m elevation at the summit
Col de la Colombière
North from Scionzier
Featured in the 2018 Tour de France and La Course
In the Arve valley near to the town of Cluses, Scionzer is where the Colombière starts proper. The climb can be split into two parts as there is an ‘easier’ point around half way with a plateau. The first section is under the cover of the forest and rises gradually from 3% up to 8% in the last few kilometres before it levels off. After, the road becomes a lot steeper with the gradient rising and rising up to the 10-11% slopes at the top. The rocky landscape gives way to make the summit visible from around 3km to go which can be both a blessing and a curse depending on how long the final few kms feel!
Col de la Colombière Stats:
- 6.8% average gradient
- 10.2% max gradient
- 1,108m elevation gain
- 1,613m elevation at the summit
Col de la Madeleine
South from la Chambre
The Col de la Madeleine is one of the most beautiful climbs in the Alps but it’s also one of the toughest. A brutal 19.2km at an average of 8% with 40 hairpins offers no respite; the saving grace is that the gradient remains pretty constant throughout meaning you can get into a (painful) rhythm.
The climb regularly features in the Tour de France but was last used five years ago in 2013 on Stage 19 between Bourg d’Oisans and Le Grand-Bornand meaning it’s long overdue a visit!
Col de la Madeleine Stats:
- 8% average gradient
- 12% max gradient
- 1,529m elevation gain
- 1,999m elevation at the summit
South from Guillestre
Col d’Izoard is steeped in cycling history, the Tour de France has featured the climb on 35 occasions but surprisingly only one of those was a summit finish. That finish was in 2017 and was won by French rider and polka-dot jersey winner Warren Barguil. On that same day even more history was made as the women’s pro peloton also raced to the summit with Dutch rider Annemiek Van Vleuten taking the win and posting a faster time than all but two male riders that day…
The climb itself has a deceptively low average gradient of 4.3% which is due to the gradual lower slopes, but the climb proper begins after around 15 kilometres whereafter the gradient pushes up to between 7 and 11%. The scenery alone is worth summiting the Izoard for, from the dramatic Casse Déserte to the panoramic Alpine views that can be seen from the top.
Col d’Izoard Climb Stats:
- 4.3% average gradient
- 11.5% max gradient
- 1,538m elevation gain
- 2,361m elevation at the summit
Alps Cycling Tour Guides
To set up our Alps tours we enlisted the knowledge of two people who know the Alps like we know Girona – inside out – meet our Alps Tour Leaders.
Two years living in the Alps honing his climbing skills while racing means Ed knows the area like the back of his hand. With racing now behind him he frequents France more for the boulangeries than the climbs and cafè and Croissant are now the most frequently used words in his extensive French vocabulary.
Christian feels very at home in the Alps and considers it his second home. He loves the variation of the small and massive climbs that reward with those fantastic ‘top of the world’ views. Top that off with the fabulous descents and there is no better way to spend a day on the bike. Experience is key in the mountains to ensure that you get the best from the route and weather. High points—Col d’Izoard, Col de Sarenne, Col du Galibier. Christian also has extensive experience as an athlete, mechanic and coach.
Cycling Tour of the Classic Climbs of the Alps
If the these classic climbs of the Alps have peaked your interest then make sure to get in touch with us today! Take on all of these epic climbs and more guided by our expert leaders on our Classic Climbs of the Alps tour. Give us a call on +34 972 649 131 or contact us online for more info.
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