Cycle the Alps Traffic-Free: Here’s How (2013 Edition)

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A day without cars:

Many of the most famous climbs in the alps have days where they are closed to motor traffic, reserved for cyclists. Nice.

First, let’s be clear about these car-free days:

1) They are NOT cyclosportives or races.
2) There is no need to register, and they are free. Show up, start when you want.
3) There is a mix of cyclists of all levels, ages, sizes. Most riding leisurely.
4) The ambience is great. Everyone is in a good mood.
5) There is usually a free drink and snack stand or two.
6) Usually it’s surprisingly uncrowded (but then these are big roads).
7) Check details: Usually only the morning and sometimes only the top half of climbs.

Here is a 2013 list of “Cols reservés,” car-free days. I’d be grateful for any comments indicating other car-free days.

Savoie-Mont Blanc Region

6/16: Relais du Mont du Chat – Really, really, (really) hard. Ask Merckx, dropped here.
6/22: Cormet de Roselend (both sides) – Stunning Alpine Lake.
6/23: Col des Aravis (south side) – free cheese on last hairpin again?
6/29: Mont Salève – I live here. Steep. middle 4 kms avg 12.5%!
7/4: Col du Galibier – both sides. The grand-daddy of them all.
7/6: Col des Glières: (Thorens side) – Home of the French National Monument de la Resistance.
7/7: Col de l’Iseran (both sides) – highest paved pass in Europe.
7/12: Col de Pierre Carrée – highest pass in north alps open all winter.
7/28: Col de Joux Plane (both sides) – Armstrong bonked here, me too.
8/2: Col du Glandon – Last 3 kms are hairpin heaven.
8/16: Col de la Croix de Fer – East side. Obligatory Iron Cross photo here.
8/18: Col de la Ramaz – Featured in 2010 Tour de France
8/22: Col de la Madeleine (both sides) — Tough and tough.
8/24: Cols du Champlaurent et du Grand Cucheron: Cucheron is in 2013 TdF.

Hautes Alpes

Organized as two week long events, ride all five in week and get a free event cycling jersey. Nice. Perfect for a week long tranquil vacation in a beautiful region.

7/1: Col Agnel – French side. Huge and high climb.
7/2: Col d’Izoard – both sides. The land of Coppi and Bobet.
7/3: Col de l’Echelle – “Secret” entry into Italy.
7/4: Col du Galibier – Same as in Mont Blanc / Savoie list. Politicians work together?
7/5: Col du Granon – 2nd highest finish in TdF history

I have cycled none of the climbs in the second week. Trying to convince my wife that this is a better vacation option than all her (great) ideas.

8/12: Col de Pommerol / Fromagère
8/13: Montée de Chabre
8/14: Col d’Espréaux
8/15: Mont Colombis – Supposed to be superb.
8/16: Col du Noyer – On Le Cycle magazine’s list of top 50 most beautiful climbs.

Miscellaneous:

Allos Car-free Col d'AllosCol d'Allos

Col des Allos – south side – is closed every Friday morning throughout the summer.

If there, make sure you descend the – even better – north side.

Italy:

Passo SellaPasso SellaSelf Portrait

6/23 and 9/15: Sella Ronda Bike Day – Four high altitide Italian passes circle one of the most scenic places on earth.

Very cool event: the 55 kilometres loop is entirely closed to traffic as well as several of the top stretches of arterial roads leading up to the loop.

8/31: Stelvio – (west and east sides). Yes, Stelvio:

Stelvio


Switzerland

9/1: Albulapass – Beautiful, high climb in eastern Switzerland.

A Final Word

Motorized traffic isn’t that bad on most of the big alpine climbs. And there are plenty of near deserted, fantastic routes to the well informed cyclotourist. Please don’t avoid any of these climbs because you can’t make it on a traffic-free day. They are all perfectly awesome even with cars.

Still, many of these climbs are only open 4 or 5 months a year, and (especially in August) tourists and motorcyclists flock to the most famous of these roads. Cycling the most beautiful roads in Europe without the hassle is just a better.

A highlight of 2012: Descending the south side of Col de l’Iseran – the highest paved pass in Europe. I reach the bottom and see a barrier with perhaps 100 frustrated motorcyclists and cars behind it – cue my evil laughter. They would have to wait for another 2 hours, while I turned around and climbed back up one of my very favourites cols …. in perfect silence.

Having a beer at the top of Col de l’Iseran. No cars in sight:

Cheers

My wife chasing QOMs on 2012 Col des Glières car-free day:

Doreen

Free cheese during 2012 car-free day on last hairpin of Col des Aravis:

Cheese tasting
Thanks
2012 Favourite Photos
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About Author

Happiest while cycling uphill. More enthusiastic than talented, my 2014 Challenge is to cycle 50 great rides, slowly.

8 Comments

  1. Will,
    You note that Cucheron will be part of the TDF 2013.
    I’m planning to follow the tour for it’s last week & checked out some stage profiles, what stage is it part of.
    Cheers

  2. Pingback: 5 free deals for cycling in the French Alps this summer | sno notes

  3. Pingback: Col du Noyer and Superdévoluy : Cycling Challenge

  4. Hi Kevin,

    I would assume there will be similar programmes next year.
    Click on the title links above for Savoie /Mon Blanc and Haute Alpes for their official web sites.

    cheers

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