All things considered, France is the greatest cycling venue in the world.
Photos clockwise from upper left: (a) Champs-Élysées, (b) the Louvre,
(c) view of Champs-Élysées from top of Eiffel Tower, (d) and (e) Notre Dame Cathedral;
(f) Palace of Versailles (center).
Also visit our Top 10 Most Epic French Bike Climbs and France Top 10 Bike Climbs pages.
There is no place on this earth with as much cycling history and lore as the French Pyrenees and Alps. Three of the most famous bike climbs in the world are in France: Alpe d’Huez, Col du Tourmalet and Mont Ventoux. Two of the world’s greatest climbing areas, Argeles Gazost (Pyrenees) and Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne are in France. Climbing in the Alps and Pyrenees is a safe, fun, scenic and an overall must-do experience.
If you are interested in combining your cycling trip with an RV Adventure, here is the gold standard RV Guide for France: https://www.your-rv-lifestyle.com/rv-alps/
Our favorite French bike climbs -- other than “All of them,” which is truly how we feel about cycling in France -- are the following:
COL DU TOURMALET, LUZ SAINT SAUVEUR
FEATURED 86 TIMES IN THE TOUR DE FRANCE
Col du Tourmalet (Luz Saint Sauveur)
Why is Tourmalet our top pick out of all the magnificent cycling climbs in France?
- Stunning scenery,
- Steeped in history: Featured 83 times in the Tour de France as of 2019,
- Challenge: This is the #29 most difficult bike climb in France,
- Altitude: Col du Tourmalet is the highest pass in the Pyrenees,
- The neighborhood: Tourmalet is in the top World Bike Climbing Area Argeles Gazost,
- Fame: One of the four most famous bike climbs in the world (along with Alpe d’Huez, Mont Ventoux and Stelvio),
- Popularity: Cyclists crawl up the pass likes ants up an anthill -- together with Alpe d’Huez, Ventoux and Stelvio, you will have no more company on a bike climb than on this one.
Photos at the col.
Octave Lapize -- the first rider (or should we say hiker?) over Tourmalet, 1910.
Photo: Cycling Passion, Octave Lapize walks over the Col du Tourmalet.
Eugène Christophe repairing his bike in Campan, 1913 (Image from Jean Durry).
YouTube summary of Christophe’s 1913 bad luck.
In 1919, Eugène Christophe became the first man to wear the yellow jersey.
THE MOST FAMOUS BIKE CLIMB IN THE WORLD
Of the hundreds of climbs we have documented for PJAMM Cycling, Alpe d’Huez needs the least introduction -- everyone has heard of this most famous of all World Climbs! The finish is inauspicious (other than during the TdF of course), but it is the 21 well-known switchbacks and its rich TdF history that makes this ride “The One”!
Photo clockwise from top left:
Start; Turn 21 (first turn); Turn 1 (last turn); finish; Turn 1 (center).
Alpe d’Huez is ALL about the turns . . .
Bernard Hinault sealed his 5th Tour victory on Alpe d’Huez 1985
Alpe d’Huez has become “the summit of the modern era,” and no other stage of the Tour de France has such presence. With its 21 bends, steep ramps, and massive crowds, it has become the “Hollywood climb,” according to the ride’s official historian, Jacques Augendre. Each year that this climb is included in the TdF, thousands of spectators flock to the area. The massive crowds create what some participants in the ride have described as a feeling of both fear and exhilaration, and as French journalist Philippe Brunel described the look of the road during Marco Pantani’s victorious ascent in the 1995 race, “that thin ribbon of burning asphalt, covered in graffiti, between two deafening walls of spectators, which threaded between his wheels.” Alpe d’Huez has been included in the Tour de France 29 times between its first appearance in 1952 (including two appearances in 1979 and 2013). Each of the 21 hairpins of this climb has been named after one or more of the winners of the 29 Tour de France stages to finish here. Of note, the first stage up this exceptional climb was fittingly won by the incomparable climber Fausto Coppi. Only three cyclists have won the Alpe d’Huez stage more than once: Marco Pantani (1995, 1997), Gianni Bugno (1990, 1991), and Hennie Kuiper (1977, 1978).
Fausto Coppi became the first stage winner of Alpe d’Huez -- Stage 10 1952 TdF
YouTube video of Coppi win
Photo: dw.com - 10 most memorable moments on Alpe d’Huez.
The Look, Alpe d’Huez Stage 10, 2001 Tour de France
Photo from J Barber and F Ruggeri as published in Masculine Heart.
Representing PJAMM Cycling on this awesome climb.
THE MOST ICONIC BIKE CLIMB
One of the “Big Four,” in our estimation, Mont Ventoux is on the same world renowned footing as Alpe d’Huez (although no climbs can match the fame of Alpe d’Huez), Tourmalet and Stelvio. The traditional route up Mont Ventoux from Bédoin is extremely challenging (a Top 150 World Climb), scenic, and quite unique in the upper third of the climb with its barren limestone mountains looking more like desert than alps.
Iconic radio tower atop Venoux is visible as we ascend the mountain.
Speaking to the shear difficulty of this climb, an old provincial proverb says, “It is not necessary to be crazy to climb Mont Ventoux. But you have to be crazy to go back there.” Many cyclists have suffered terribly on Mt. Ventoux, perhaps more here than any other climb in the Tour. The greatest tragedy in TdF history occurred on Mont Ventoux July 13, 1967. Read more about this tragedy here.
Tom Simpson, Mont Ventoux, July 13, 1967
Photo: Sport Vintage.
Memorial for cyclist Tom Simpson -- radio tower in background.
Col de la Loze from Meribel
The most difficult road bike climb in France.
Cycling the hardest bike climb in France
Ride 22 kilometers gaining 1690 meters at 7.7% average grade.
#1 France / Top 100 World Road Bike Climb
This magnificent climb is located in the heart of French Ski Country, in the Graian Alps subrange of the French Alps, and was opened exclusively to cyclists in the summer of 2018. Col de la Loze is one of the best cycling experiences in Europe, since its last six kilometers are on a winter ski run, which, during the off season, is dedicated exclusively to cyclists. Col de la Loze is ranked the hardest bike climb in France.
On July 15, 2020, Stage 17 (Grenoble - Col de La Loze) the Tour de France will feature this mountain climb for the first time. Christian Prudhomme’s Comments:
“Only a great champion will be able to win at the Col de la Loze! The stage profile invites the favourites of the Tour to be audacious. They don’t yet know the road that will take them on that day to the Col de la Madeleine and have no idea of what to expect once in the resort of Méribel. They’ll still have an extra 7 irregular kilometres to climb with several passages at over 20%” (LeTour.fr)
COL DE PORTET
THE SECOND HARDEST CLIMB IN FRANCE
This climb is located in the Pyrenees Mountain Range which divides France from Spain. This bike climb is a World 150 top bike climb and rightly so. We ride 16.4 km gaining 1,599 m to an elevation of 2,209m at a challenging 8.6% average grade.
OUR FAVORITE CYCLING SEGMENT OF MOUNTAIN ROAD IN FRANCE
The Col d’Aubisque bike climb is one of the most famous of climbs in the French Pyrenees and France. Aubisque first appeared in the Tour de France in 1910 and has been included 92 times in all (as of 2019) and 48 times between 1947 and 2012 (it has been ignored for the past seven years as the publication of this page February 2019). The climb was included 12 years straight after its post-war inauguration in 1947 and has been a stage finish three times, which is fairly significant for a pass. For the 24 years between 1947-1970, the Aubisque was included in the Tour all but three years. The pass was also included once (2016) in the Vuelta a Espan֘a.
1.2 kilometers beginning at km 22.4 (6.8 km from finish) are alone worth a trip to France 🚴👍
The photos above capture the same cliff, same mountain, same tunnel 100 years apart (photo top right is 1911 TdF photo). Aubisque is our choice for Top TdF Nostalgic Climb. It was in the location shown in the photo collage above on Stage 13 of the 1951 TdF that race leader Wim van Est went over the cliff while descending from the western approach to the Col (riding towards Argelès-Gazost). Van Est survived and the photo of him being pulled up the cliff to the roadway by bike tires linked together is one of the most memorable of all Tour de France historic photographs.
Col d’Aubisque is all about cycling.
THE CENTER OF CYCLING IN THE FRENCH ALPS
The start of Cols Telegraphe and Galibier are within riding distance of Saint-Jean
If the genie in the bottle granted you one cycling wish, choose Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne because it HAS IT ALL! This area is abundant in fame, beauty and challenge. Hmmm, have you ever heard of Alpe d’Huez, Galibier,Télégraphe, The Iron Cross, Madeleine, I’Zoard, Glandon and Lacets de Montvernier?
ARGELES GAZOST - LUZ SAINT SAUVEUR
THE GREATEST CYCLING AREA IN THE PYRENEES
The Col de Tentes bike climb is at the crossroads of greatness -- the starting point
for this magnificent ride can also be used to climb Tourmalet and/or Luz Ardiden.
We have climbed by bike out of this area twice and it is a world class cycling area -- no doubt about it! Tourmalet, Aubisque, Col de Portet, Hautacam, Ardiden, Tentes, Soulor, Peyresourde, Spandalles, Marie Blanque, Aspin -- you CANNOT GO WRONG! And, double that number because each has two routes to the top (Aubisque actually has three), other than Hautacam and Aspin which end at ski resorts.