Riding French Alps - Advice/Tips

So I’m fortunate enough that i will be in Lyon, France, in a few weeks time for business and was planning to take m bike and a few extra days (3-4 days) to ride some of the French Alps.

Specifically I have 1x ride roughly planned out being the Alp De Huez and Col De La Croix (I will prob start in Le Bourg de Oisans, ride up the Croix, then back to Oisan’s and up Huez) but was hoping to get any advice on other climbs to target etc.

I will have a car and am contemplating staying in Lyon for the duration of my stay and then driving to towns/areas for rides, while i know they will be a good 1> 2hr drive I figured this gives me flexibility in the areas i ride?

any tips on where to ride, where not to ride, etc, road conditions, accommodation recommendations any tips appreciated

Thanks

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You are going to love it!!! Take every day you can.

I just started a new job for a company HQ’ed outside Grenoble last October (I’m based in US) and will be making 4th trip over in June and can’t wait! Instead of renting, I finally plan to fly bike over this time as well.

Bourg d’Oisans is a fantastic base to ride out of and I’d suggest just get a Air BnB in that general region on wkds. Traffic crossing through Grenoble can be soul crushing - I hear Lyon is worse. It’s not a round trip you’d want to do daily. Gite de la Lignarre in Ornon (a few mins from Bourg d’Oisans) was awesome inexpensive place to stay for a weekend and cyclist friendly. My first trip I stayed in Grenoble and on weekends, driving there to Bourg d’Oisans is reasonable - but still, unnecessary when there is ample cheap accommodation in Oisans. (SO many out-of-season ski apartments)

Alpe d’Huez is sort of compulsory, but it’ll be the least scenic climb of anything you ride there. I have a bunch of rides on my Strava with photos - pasted a few below from October. Was back in Dec for another day of riding - weather was crazy but still cool. Croix de Fer was fantastic; there is a balcony road (D211A) that runs up over the valley that was stunning (see Dec pics where I rode through and over the clouds), a much less traveled climb is up to the remote village Oulles that only got a road in the 1960s I think and hardly has any vehicles on it; Valle du Ferrand (sp?) which connects to Col de Sarenne was also great. I’d also recommend riding out to La Berarde - particularly low traffic and remote. There is a good free guide book for the region that lays out many of these rides and the major climbs all have cycling-specific markers every km.

Lots of photos and some ride ideas:

https://www.strava.com/activities/1916876684
https://www.strava.com/activities/1905192945
https://www.strava.com/activities/1902669156
https://www.strava.com/activities/1995007522

From Grenoble area, there are also many good options and it’s very easy to go between Grenoble-Lyon by bus or train. It’s really hard to go wrong from what I’ve seen so far - I haven’t been to Lyon to say for that area. The Chartreuse mountains north/NE of Grenoble were beautiful.

Another option you might consider is Vercors. There are some absolutely stunning roads that wind up the canyon walls - has a different feel from the Alps but still incredible. My only concern there is that cyclists were not as widespread in October and the roads had a bit more cars - but I’m guessing there are plenty of cyclists in season. I’d be interested to hear from any other locals or travelers on how it is riding those areas.

I also checked out Annecy one afternoon in February - it looked much more developed and the mountains were a bit “softer” than the Oisans region, so I’m planning to spend more time in Oisans again on my next trip - still much to explore. And I’d like to get up the Alpe < 1 hr just because… need to knock off 3 minutes. Every little village has public water springs too - I carried two bottles up the Alpe totally unnecessary - I’m hoping that gets me one of those minutes next time :slight_smile: Better training, having my bike + power meter to pace, and not doing it jet lagged < 24 hours after landing on my first ever trip in France should make it achievable! But seriously, it’s the least scenic ride of anything I did there - it’s just a nice test with minimum distraction on the way up.

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I based myself in St Jean de Maurienne last summer which has great access to The Galibier, Col du Madeleine, Croix de Fer, Glandon and more.

I would highly recommend Galibier and Madeleine. Both epic climbs and Galibier is in the tour again this year.

My only recommendation is that you can never have enough gears and be prepared for something completely different. Climbing for an hour at a time is hard to replicate where I am from.

Enjoy, I would go back in an instant!

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If you are starting at Bourg definitely get the Les Lacets de Montvernier climb in. Its amazing.
https://www.strava.com/activities/355907120

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Bourg is a great place to base yourself. I understand the desire to do Alpe d’Huez and whilst it’s got a lot of history it is by no means the best way up the mountain. It really is only an hour climb, so you could do it first thing, get a bite to eat, then start to descend, there is a fantastic mountain road that leads to the Chambon dam, think it is from bend five, take this, then once you reach the dam, head up the Col du Sarrenne. It is a wonderfully wild valley, we saw several Golden Eagles and Marmots, this will take you back up above Alpe du Huez, you can then drop into the town, get some refreshments then once again descend towards Bourg but look for the Pass De La Confession, another wonderful road that’ll take you back into the valley from where it is a lovely flat run back to Bourg, usually with a nice tailwind.

I’d do the Croix der Fer, drop over the top into the next valley , it is possible then to tackle the Lacets de Montvernier without much fuss, then you could head back up the Glandon and dropdown the way you came on a fantastic descent all the way back into the Oisans valley. Depending on how your legs are, if you want an easier third day I can’t recommend the ride up to La Berade enough, it is the most visually spectacular rode I’ve ever ridden, from Bourg it’s an easy twenty miles up and a lovely twenty miles back down.

If you want a really epic day, you could do the Marmot route, it takes in all the Hollywood climbs in one go, finishing up Alpe du Huez. If you do decide to tackle it, do not stop eating or drinking, I did this then the Berade ride the next day before heading out on something harder after that, worked well for me.

Marmotte
La Berade Elevation is out on this due to GPS drift in the mountains.

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+1 for Vercors - great loops around Col de la Machine, stunning scenery.

Staying in St Jean en Royans is good (“Velo Vercors” are awesome, love that place).

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Cool - I may try to get a ride or two up there in June - it is definitely a completely different feel from the alps, and also incredibly dramatic.

The one thing that worried me a bit is how tight some of those roads are in the gorges - we saw a logging truck taking one (which in itself was impressive already) - it was stacked so close to the limit that a rock overhang planed a bit of bark off the highest log right in front of us :open_mouth:

But if it’s a season where cyclists are all over, people are probably used to seeing them and everything is probably moving more slowly with tourist cars.

To the OP - this area might also be more practical for day trip from Lyon - you can take a motorway south to end up on west side of the massif before hitting the Grenoble traffic, go about 30 mins and then easily access amazing roads all through there.

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Gearing!

34 ring up front and a 32 in the rear at least!

Enjoy also, it is incredible there, might be icy still at this time of year though?

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Check out http://www.cyclingascents.com/index.html for somewhere to stay if needed and excellent advise on all climbs you can get to from Bourg.
Couple of things I’d add to all of the above, few points about the tunnels. Bring a front light, some of the routes like Notre Dame have tunnels cut through the mountain and there are no lights and its pitch black. Secondly watch out when your descending fast into a tunnel, with the temp change your glasses will mist up instantly and dim lighting mean you can see f*"k all. Scared the absolute be jaysus out of me first time it happened. Lastly bring a light jacket or an extra layer for the descent from Galibier or similar high peaks. Last time I was there early June it was 26 degrees in Bourg and -2 and snowing top of Galibier with 9 ft snow dirfts either side of road.

V

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thanks for the tips all

@hvvelo Huez is def a must due to being in the area (and i have been roadside to seen the tour go up it previously) so its a bit of a bucket list type ride. I like the look of the Vercors, had never really considered it but will look into it some more and might be suitable as a day trip. Looking at Annecy, this could also be a quick day trip as I will have 1 day prior to work (land on the Saturday so i cold rid eon the Sunday)

@ajford1, I have heard the Madeleine is an awesome climb so am considering a day or 2 on the Oisans side then driving over to do the Madeleine and some of the other Cols within the area. I def like the Galibier but am worried about the road between Bourg d’Oisans as i have heard it is a very busy arterial road and also the time of year (3rd week of May) and it may be closed due to snow still at the peak. That said, with the tour approaching it from Braicon this year I had though about doing a similar approach as it keeps me off the main road

@Greased_Flea, for the Croix der Fer > Lacets > Glandon, this maps out to be about 140k using Strava Route Builder, I am really keen but a little worried I might be over estimating my ability (although I would have all day to complete it)

@pjohalloran, yes gearing and replicating the climbs are hard for me also, I’m running compact up front (34) and 12-28 on the back so sounds like i might need to go broader on the back

@jonathanwaddell, thanks, re tunnels > are they safe to ride though? in Sydney (my hometown) you would never consider riding through a tunnel as its often prohibited but also really dangerous with a limited road shoulder and loads of cars

Thanks again for all the tips so far, can’t wait to get over there!

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@chappo are they safe to ride though?
Tunnels are fine to ride through alot have 4 lane road going through them but some can be very dimly lit . One other point I forgot to mention was always bring a few extra snacks/gels for emergencies. I wouldn’t rely on finding an open cafe or similar to get food on most routes, they close out of ski season.

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The tunnels are alright i’ve found - Takes a sec for your eyes to adjust though. I had DRL running on the back of my bike, so that kept me visable in the tunnels.

Like others have said, just keep eating and drinking as much as you can, and make use of the water fountains in the villages you pass through. I ran out of water 5k from the top of the Madeline and it was about 38c at the time. I stupidly forgot to fill up my bottles at the bottom of the climb!

Coming down the Galibier and then down the Lautaret on the way to Alp D’huez was by far the best descent i’ve ever done. It’s like being in tron when you’re flying through the tunnels with the lights flashing past!

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I’m about to head to the Southern Alps in a few days and I was recommended this website for checking if the Cols were open :slight_smile:

https://www.sport-passion.fr/parcours/etat-cols.php

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Thanks @jcorfield, What is the road like between Bourg d’Oisans and the Lautaret? I had read somewhere it was a
main road to Italy so is very busy. Assume it’s ok to ride or is there a better shoulder or balcony road?

We did Huez and then Col Sarrene to make a nice loop. I’ve seen Lacets mentioned here you have to do them to see that road! At the top there is a track off to the right where you can take great photos.

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It had traffic on, but it was generally okay. Road quality in general is good, and 99% of drivers respect your personal space.

There was enough of a buffer zone to ride in on that road - i wouldn’t have any second thoughts about riding it again :slight_smile:

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That’s the same gearing I used. It was fine , whilst the climbs are long, they tend not to be savage gradients. I never felt over geared, I was under lunged at higher elevations on the odd occasion though!

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This! Same experience, just amazing. 2 up flying down the descent from the top of the Galibier and just flashing through those tunnels. What a feeling!

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A couple of additional tips:

Boucle de l’Izoard, the circle of Col d’Izoard starting in Briancon Strava link

The Balcony, traversing on the same side of the valley as Alpe d’Huez – best ride ever Strava link

–Espen

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I highly recommend both of the above. I believe the balcony road is called Pas de la Confession and has some of the most spectacular views. Also a decent climb as it comes out not all that far from the top of Alpe d’huez, but this is a ride best taken at a sedate pace to really take it all in :blush:

Izoard is a fantastic climb, the first part of the route is a little boring getting out of Briancon, but once you start to work your way along the valley on a gentle drag, running alongside a river, it’s a real cracker, and the climb gets better and better the further up you get.

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