My Cycling Challenge Cycling in the Alps Thu, 04 Feb 2016 18:42:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Route des Grandes Alpes Stage 3 Thu, 04 Feb 2016 16:46:07 +0000 Doreen Conquers Col de l'Iseran

Doreen Conquers Col de l’Iseran

route des grandes alpes

This is the third article in a series detailing the 684 kilometre Route des Grandes Alpes. A great cyclo-tour through the French Alps, over 16 mountain passes, on a road linking Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to the Mediterranean Sea. The main goal of these articles is to highlight alternate route options and interesting detours.

Part 1 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 1
Part 2 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 2

Stage 3: Bourg-St-Maurice to Lanslebourg

Official Route (blue track on map):
Distance: 80 Kilometres
Ascent: 2250 metres
Descent: 1400 Metres

Below, I will explain the map in some detail (or click any point on map for additional info).

The Official Route
Voila_Capture 2016-02-04_04-54-21_pm

Unlike the previous two stages, I have no major detours to recommend. There is only one road possible for this stage. Instead, I’ll just suggest a few interesting climbs passed along the way.


This is a one-climb stage, but what a climb. At 2764 metres, Col de l’Iseran is the highest paved mountain pass in Europe. It’s also one of the longest. It’s 47.5 kilometres to the summit from Bourg St-Maurice – the start of this stage.

Also starting in Bourg-St-Maurice are two interesting climbs: Les Arcs ski station, and Col du Petit St. Bernard.

Remember to bring a flashing red light for the back of your bike. There are a series of dark, wet tunnels when you pass Lac/Dam du Chevril just before Val d’Isère.

In between these tunnels is a little turn-off up to the Barrage (dam) du Saut – the 13th highest paved road in France. A scenic little detour. More details.

Early slopes: Lac du Chevril below

Road to Barrage du Saut- Lac du Chevril below

It’s not until the last 15 kilometres – after Val d’Isère – that the north side of Col de l’Iseran gets interesting. But the top stretch of both sides are truly beautiful.

Sexy Hairpin

Sexy Hairpin

iseran600 nice hairpin 1co1600 Petit St. Bernard

I particularly like the south side of Iseran. Very remote. You’re bound to see some Marmottes if it’s a quiet day. As you near the end of this stage, the route passes another pass – Col de la Madeleine (1746 metres; not the famous Madeleine).

This stage ends at Lanslebourg. Here the main road splits. The Route des Grandes Alpes continues through the Maurienne valley towards the start of Col du Galibier. But another road heads up, into Italy, via Col du Mont Cenis. If you still have some energy, it’s only 10 kilometres to the Col (2181 metres), and just a little further to the beautiful Lac du Mont Cenis. Details here including the amazing little road even higher to Col du Petit Mont Cenis.

Mont Cenis

I’ve also added the climb to Plan du Lac to the map. Starting in Termignon, just beyond the end of this stage, it is the 7th highest paved road in France. Not well known, it is a superb climb. Details here.

Plan du Lac:
Plan du Lac

A Final Word

This is a day to enjoying being up high. And yes, the little store at the summit of Col de l’Iseran serves beer:

Col de l'Iseran bike only day - Grey Beard drinks beer

Col de l’Iseran bike only day – Grey Beard drinks beer

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Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 2 Wed, 03 Feb 2016 19:37:15 +0000 route des grandes alpes

This is the second article in a series detailing the 684 kilometre Route des Grandes Alpes. A great cyclo-tour through the French Alps, over 16 mountain passes, on a road linking Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to the Mediterranean Sea.

My main goal is to highlight alternate route options and interesting detours.

Part 1 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 1
Part 3 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 3

Stage 2: St-Jean-de-Sixt to Bourg-St-Maurice

Official Route (blue track on map):
Distance: 94 Kilometres
Ascent: 2650 metres
Descent: 2800 Metres

Below, I will explain the map in some detail (or click any point on map for additional info).

The Official Route
Voila_Capture 2016-02-03_08-04-15_pm
Col des Aravis

This is a nicer day than stage 1. Three climbs of increasing difficulty, finishing with the highlight of the day: the fabulous Cormet de Roselend.

The stage begins with Col des Aravis, not very difficult, but beautiful. Almost reminds me of the Dolomites.

col des Aravis

Next, Col des Saisies is a bit tougher, climbing to a small ski station. Keep an eye out for the French/American WW2 monument beside the col.


Finally, Cormet de Roselend is one of the more beautiful climbs in the north French Alps, with the route passing the dam and Lac de Roselend on the way up. One of my very favourite roads.

Detour 1 – Col des Saisies via Crest-Voland

The orange line on the top map. This is just an alternate way up Col des Saisies that is much quieter. If cycling on a summer weekend, this will be more peaceful.

Detour 2 – Signal de Bisanne

The green line on the top map. This 5 km detour adds about 350 metres of climb and offers superb views from the summit at 1934 metres. You’ll be hearing more about Signal de Bisanne as it makes its Tour de France debut in 2016. The Tour will climb from the far south side. But the Tour will skip the top, super steep, couple of kilometres. I’ve added them here.

More details on the complete climb to Signal de Bisanne here.

Detour 3 – Roselend via Col du Pré

The red line on the top map. This is the detour that you must do as it is the superior way to climb the north side of Cormet de Roselend. Starting from Beaufort, the route to Col du Pré splits off into another scenic valley from the main Route des Grandes Alpes. It’s at times a very challenging climb, but the pay-off is some of the best views of Lac de Roselend just after the summit. More details here.

Friends Xavier and Philippe. Breath-taking:

The detour adds perhaps only 100 metres extra ascent and has the added bonus of also riding over the dam itself before rejoining the main Route des Grandes Alpes at Col de Meraillet. Very fun.

Damn good dam views:

14472849332_fbebd6004a_b 3823606065_021de11001_b 7525322804_35e2c8fe16_b 7992735733_cd1458fc83_b

I love rides to high alpine dams/lakes. Here are 28 of my favourite dam rides.

Additional ideas

(all items below are marked on top map)

  1. If you want a warm-up climb near the start, the not-well-known but lovely (and) steep climb to Col des Annes is a good choice.
  2. From Beaufort, the quiet and scenic dead-end road up to Col du Joly (1991 metres) lead to up close views of Mont Blanc. One of the best “secret” climbs in the north French Alps.
  3. A quick detour on the road to Col du Pré leads to the dam and Lac du St. Guerin.
  4. While descending Cormet du Roselend there is a turn off to La Ville des Glaciers – more Mont Blanc up close views.
  5. There is lots of great up-high mountain biking along this route. If interested, drop me a line. For example.
  6. Below: Short detour to La Ville des Glaciers. Mont Blanc and my silly old pink back-pack:

Final Thoughts

Trust me: Take the Col du Pré detour. And more good news: There is usually a guy at the summit of Cormet de Roselend selling beer. Cheers.


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Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 1 Tue, 02 Feb 2016 21:36:16 +0000 Route des Grandes Alpes
route des grandes alpes
Col de l'Iseran

The Route des Grandes Alpes is a 684 kilometre tourist route starting on the shores of Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) that heads through the French Alps finishing at the Mediterranean Sea (French Riviera). On paved roads, it crosses 16 Alpine passes, many made famous in the Tour de France, including Col de l’Iseran – the highest paved pass in Europe. It’s an excellent cyclo-tourist route.

The goal of these articles

The goal is to provide details of this great route, but also provide you some route planning idea/options. Each post will feature a map that shows the official route, but also includes an option or two that I believe improves the route.

Part 2 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 2
Part 3 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 3

Stage 1 Thonon-Les Bains to St-Jean-de-Sixt

Official Route (blue track on map):
Distance: 91 Kilometres
Ascent: 2600 metres
Descent: 2100 Metres

A gentle enough start, the official route includes only one famous pass: Col de la Colombière, but more than any other stage, it is a no-brainer to add a detour that not only skips a slightly busy stretch but adds the legendary Col de Joux Plane. I’ll explain the map below.

The Official Route

The official route (blue on map) starts gently enough winding through the Gorges de la Dranse. Just two climbs this stage (profile at the bottom of below map). It is very gently uphill – but never steep – all the way to Morzine. Here the road turns up – but only slightly – to Col des Gets (1173 metres) – the first pass of the trip.

From here, it’s perhaps the least impressive stretch of the entire route-to-the-sea – from Morzine to Scionzier (to skip it see below). Then the first big climb: Col de la Colombière.

Route 3,393,233 – powered by

2009 Tour de France: Contador and the brothers Schleck climb Col de la Colombière:

Detour 1: Col de Joux Plane

You must do this detour. Far better than the official route:

The green track on the top map shows the detour to Col de Joux Plane. One of the more famous climbs in the north French Alps, it will appear in the 2016 Tour de France (but in opposite direction). This is the less famous side of Col de Joux Plane, but it’s still steep, challenging, and scenic. It’s also a quieter climb than the official route that heads through Les Gets. It probably adds 600 metres or so of additional ascent.

Enjoy the views of Mont Blanc while descending:

Detour 2: Col de Romme

The official route up Col de la Colombière is fine. Very nice. But if you want an extra challenge, there is an alternate, super steep, way via Col de Romme (orange route on map).

It was a feared “secret” route enjoyed by locals until it appeared in the 2009 Tour de France. It adds perhaps 300+ metres of additional ascent.

Additional ideas

I’ve included on the top map Col de la Ramaz (2016 Tour de France), and Col de la Joux Verte (Avoriaz). Both are lovely climbs and loops could easily be added by the very ambitious.

Also on the map, beyond Samöens, is Cirque Fer du Cheval. It’s a beautiful World Heritage Site – basically high mountains shaped like an amphitheatre. Not a tough ride, but worth a peek. Great hiking above. Finally, half way up Col de la Colombière, is the very well preserved Chartreuse de Reposier monastery.


Final Thoughts

I get quite a few emails asking me about touring the Route des Grandes Alpes, so this is an attempt to provide a more public response to questions. Feel free to leave feedback on any additional information that may be useful – I do know the north French Alps very well.

However, the very last post in this series, as the route approaches the Mediterranean, will also be for me, as I don’t know that region well. :)

Col de Joux Plane in winter:

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Fifteen of the Highest Unpaved Cycling “Roads” in the Alps Mon, 18 Jan 2016 21:43:22 +0000 This updates a December 2015 post with 5 more climbs.

The Alps are filled with super high, unpaved roads perfect for mountain biking. Usually they are either old military roads (especially along the French/Italian border) or, service roads for ski lifts. Either way: they are almost always stunning, and completely deserted.
Here is a list of many of the very highest. This is not a complete list, only roads that I have cycled. I will gladly take any recommendations:

If you are more interested in paved cycling climbs, see the following links for the highest paved roads in France, Italy, Switzerland, and the Jura Mountains.

#1 Col du Jandri – 3158 metres
Glacier de Mont-de-Lans

Glacier de Mont-de-Lans


It is very difficult to get above 3000 metres on a bike in the Alps, but Col du Jandri is completely ride-able on a ski-lift service road high above Les Deux Alpes ski station.

The good quality gravel road ends just beyond the col at the top of a cable car station, at the base of Glacier de Mont-de-Lans. One could start as low as Bourg d’Oisans at roughly 700 metres for a truly huge climb. But the gravel starts at Les Deux Alpes.

Full details here (map, profile, photos, etc).

roughly 2700 metres Les Deux Alpes ski slopes The goal high behind me Lac de Plan
#2 Mont Chaberton – 3131 metres
wooohooo !

wooohooo !


This old military road starts in Italy and ends in France atop a mountain at the highest Fort (now ruins) in the Alps. The fort was used by the Italians in WW2 but de Gaulle demanded the mountain be ceded into French territory as part of the WW2 peace settlement.

The summit is literally the very top of a mountain with commanding 360 degree views (hence the fort). The top was flattened and huge artillery towers built. Amazing place.

Full disclosure, this is the one road on this list where even the strongest cyclists will likely do some pushing. But this is an astonishing road – closed to motor vehicles. The photo at the top of article is me descending near the summit of Chaberton. Yikes!

Ride details here.

Cycling at the Summit Narrow Going to the top of that? view of old barracks  and Col du Chaberton far below
#3 Col de Rosaël – 3000 metres

The next two climbs actually meet at the summit, high above Val Thorens ski station, climbing opposite sides of the mountain. But they start perhaps a two hour drive from each other as there is no way to cross the Alps here (except on mountain bike).


This gigantic climb starts way down in Orelle, not far from the start of Col du Galibier/Télégraphe – but climbs the opposite eastern mountains. I’ve seen people call this Col de Caron, but that is just beside and without a road. The sign at the top of a ski lift says Col de Rosaël – 3000 metres, but it might be just lower: However, one can follow a short linking road through the mountain pass to the far side that links to climb #4 detailed below. This passes another cable car station which is at 3003 metres. Woohoo.

Ride details here.

#4 Above Col de la Montée du Fond – 3003 metres
Road to Col de la Montée du Fond

Road to Col de la Montée du Fond

The unpaved part of this climb starts at Val Thorens (highest ski station in the Alps), but one could begin 39 kilometres lower in Moutiers for a monster of a climb. Me, I compromised and started 10 kms below Val Thorens. I don’t have a profile for this climb. While it is occasionally very steep, it’s generally fully ride-able.

The road reaches Col de la Montée du Fond at 2974 metres and then heads a little higher to the same Cable Car station and linking road to Col de Rosaël discussed above.

Full details here.

Above 3000 metres Heading higher 3003m - woohoo Col Rosael 3000m
#5 Colle del Sommeiller – 2993 metres
only the top hairpins fit in the photo

only the top hairpins fit in the photo


Cycling author Daniel Friebe once told me this is the Holy Grail for cyclists. Yep. It’s a beast of a climb, but always ride-able.

It starts in Bardonecchia, in the Piemonte region of Italy. Originally built to service a tiny ski station, it is now completely deserted up high. Early on, one passes a nice Alpine dam/lake, and then the road climbs relentlessly into and through a couple of different valleys. A tiny lake and a savage stretch of French border provide a greeting at the summit.

Don’t forget to carry your bike up some rocks to get above 3000 metres. :)

Full details here.

Colle del Sommeiller Lago di Sommeiller Moo Above 3,000m
#6 Glacier du Varet – 2900 metres
End of the road: Glacier du Varet

End of the road: Glacier du Varet above

Above Les Arcs 2000 ski station in the Vanoise Alps is a cable car that goes above 3200 to l’Aguille Rouge. I’ve skied there and been terrified coming down the top stretch. From Les Arcs 2000 village one can cycle past Col de Chal (2460 metres) and then up towards Aguille Rouge. But a glacier prevented me from getting beyond 2900 metres.

Although I approached from Les Arcs, one could climb from the far side of Col du Chal, making a gigantic climb on beautiful deserted, unpaved roads.

Full details to the glacier here.


#7 Pic du Midi de Bigorre – 2877 metres

Wooohooooo, view from Pic du Midi

OK, this is the Pyrénées, not the Alps, but one of my very favourite rides ever. Exactly at the summit of the legendary Col du Tourmalet (2115 metres) begins an unpaved road that leads to the Observatory high above. It’s a superb route, even if the road ends a little below the observatory and a steep hiking trail requires a touch of pushing.

Ride your mountain bike to Tourmalet and then watch the road bikers drool as you keep going higher. Full details here.

the goal high above

the goal high above

Photo below: Half way up. Entire road in view is above Tourmalet.

Nice hairpin. Climbing to Pic du Midi.

Nice hairpin. Climbing to Pic du Midi.

#8 Col de la Bailletta – 2853 metres
Early slopes: Lac du Chevril below

Early slopes: Lac du Chevril below

I probably shouldn’t put this here as I found out afterwards that cyclists aren’t allowed on the highest stretches of this climb. Sorry! But you can at least climb to the beautiful Lac de la Sassière at 2460 metres.

The climb starts by turning off the main road beside Lac du Chevril, in between a couple of tunnels, just below Val d’Isere. It is paved until Lac/Barrage du Saut (the 13th highest paved road in France).

Full details here.

baby glacier Above Sassière Lac de la Sassière Col de la Bailletta
#9 Monte Jafferau – 2805 metres
Battling Vertigo

Battling Vertigo

Another Piemonte climb starting in Bardonecchia. The summit has the ruins of Fort du Jafferau, the second highest in the Alps. Built between 1896 and 1898. It was bombarded and largely destroyed as part of the peace treaty ending World War 2.

There are a couple of ways up, but the ride-able one goes via Col Basset (2596 metres). Full details here.

At the Fort heading higher nice hairpins Approaching Col Basset
#10 Strada Militare Colle delle Finestre – 2800 metres

IMG_0671 - Version 2

In 2015, The spectacular endurance cycling event The Transcontinental Race brought some publicity to the high altitude old Italian military road Strada dell’Assietta. This amazing gravel route of perhaps 50 kms rides along mountain ridges and is almost completely (well) above 2000 metres, passing perhaps 10 passes, the lowest being the famous and fearsome Colle delle Finestre. This is all above the 10 unpaved kilometres below/to Colle delle Finestre that Giro d’Italia fans may know.

But what most don’t know is there is side-road extension Strada Militare Colle delle Finestre that is even crazier/higher than Strada dell’Assietta and – I am not certain the exact high point – gets to roughly 2800 metres.

Top tip: Cycle Assietta on Wednesday or Saturday in summer as it’s closed to cars (it’s popular with Jeep-type trek companies), but ride the Militare Finestre extension anytime as it is closed/unpassable to motor vehicles.

2472 metres Woohoo view from Colle delle Finestre heading higher
#11 Col de Chassoure – 2739 metres
Cliff Road above Col des Mines

Cliff Road above Col des Mines

Finally, Switzerland is included on this list. Passo Umbrail (the 3rd, lesser known Swiss way, to Stelvio) is the highest paved climb in Switzerland at 2503 metres. But above Verbier ski station are some fabulous, much higher, unpaved roads.

I made it to Col de Chassoure, the highest I’ve ever been in Switzerland on bike. This route has it all: plenty of hairpins, a crazy tunnel, several other cols on the way up, a few super high alpine lakes, and …… a giant stork. Note, in the comments section of the link below, my friend Chris has ridden even higher there to Col des Gentianes at roughly 2900 metres.

Full details here.

Earl slopes Tunnel Nice lake My pal the stork
#12 Glacier de St-Sorlin – 2680 metres
Glacier de Saint-Sorlin

Glacier de Saint-Sorlin

Col de la Croix de Fer (2167 metres) is a favourite among road bikers. But most don’t know that exactly at the summit, behind the little parking lot at the Col sign, is a gravel road that climbs up to a couple of cols and two beautiful alpine lakes/dams. And beyond, on trails, one can reach the Glacier de Saint Sorlin. Beautiful. Full details here.

Lac Bramant Sheep Woohoo Riding on a dam
#13 Tunnel (Col) du Parpaillon 2643 metres

Once the highest road in France, with 1900 metres of ascent, it’s the biggest single un-interrupted climb I have done in France.

The route du Parpaillon was built between 1891 and 1911 by the French military to link the Ubaye and Embrun valleys. The high point of the road is the tunnel – 520 metres long – at 2643 metres. The geographic col is above at 2780 metres. Full details here.

#14 Monte Gran Costa – 2615 metres
Monte Gran Costa

Monte Gran Costa

I mentioned above, in ride #10, the amazing Strada dell’Assietta. Monte Gran Costa is a little mountain above the Strada with old fort ruins at the top. For this ride I approached Assietta from a different route, through the beautiful Parco Naturale Gran Bosco (big woods). Almost 2000 metres of climb in a deserted cycling paradise. Details here.

Parco Naturale Gran Bosco Monte Gran Costa above Fortification atop Monte Gran Costa 2615m Ruins atop Monte Gran Costa
#15 Col des Chavannes – 2592 metres
Col des Chavannes - 2592 metres

Col des Chavannes – 2592 metres

On the Italian side of the road up to Col du Petit St. Bernard is a side road into a long valley. Soon becoming unpaved, this road seems to go on forever, finally reaching Col des Chavannes and its majestic view of the Mont Blanc Massif. Details here. Note the link discusses another ride almost as high on the other side of Petit St. Bernard

Wooohoooo Col des Chavannes Col des Chavannes - far in  distance Dream Road
Final Thoughts

It’s no exaggeration to say that each of the above rides were truly memorable experiences. I love road biking the big paved cols but there is something extra special about being all alone, up high, on some of these slightly crazy “roads.”

When I get a chance I’ll probably lengthen this list to 20 climbs. And again, please use the comments to suggest any of your favourite, super high, Alpine roads.

Not yet convinced? The top of Col du Jandri – the highest I have ever been on a bike – serves beer.

Le Bar 3200 was open :)

Le Bar 3200 was open :)

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Twenty “Fun” Tunnels to Cycle in the Alps Sun, 10 Jan 2016 11:46:17 +0000 My friends know I am scared of tunnels. I am a coward. But the Alps are filled with hundreds and hundreds. So I have slowly learned to embrace my fears – often leading to some pretty fun experiences. :)

Here are 10 great rides, all with “special” tunnels.
This list excludes just plain miserable tunnels like several dark, wet, uphill, truck-filled, nightmares on Col du Lautaret, or the horrible galleries below Val d’Isère. Only tunnels truly worth braving allowed.

This is an update of a post from last year with a few more “fun” tunnels added.

#1 Tunnel du Parpaillon

7584397878_baef456095_bOver a century ago, for many years, this was the highest road in France. The route du Parpaillon was built between 1891 and 1911 by the French military to link the Ubaye and Embrun valleys.

The high point of the road is the tunnel – 520 metres long – at 2643 metres. The geographic col is above at 2780 metres. Ride details here.

1900 metres of ascent to reach the tunnel!

1900 metres of ascent to reach the tunnel!

#2 Tunnel des Ecouges

The Vercors Massif is filled will great natural rock bridges and fabulous galleries cut into cliffs, but the Tunnel des Ecouges (below Col de Romeyère) is a terrifying spider hole.

Cyclists are legally obligated to have a light – it is not straight so one can’t see the end! I was fortunate that a kind motorcyclists waited for me and escorted me through. Going up-hill and desperately trying to keep up, I hit my highest heart rate of my entire life. Ha, no joke. Ride details.



Some less scary tunnels in the Vercors:

45 parallel! Combe Laval Gorges du Nan Col de la Bataille
#3 Tunnel du Galibier

Actually, cyclists aren’t supposed to cycle through this. But the Tour de France did for decades.

The Galibier tunnel is only wide enough for one car, so direction is regulated by traffic lights

The Galibier tunnel is only wide enough for one car, so direction is regulated by traffic lights

Col du Galibier was first made crossable for military purposes in 1879 with the sexy name: “Routes des Grands Communication #14.” To simplify the crossing, a tunnel was finished in 1891, roughly 90 metres below the summit.

The Tour de France passed through the tunnel – at 2556 metres – until 1976 when it was closed due to disrepair. Instead, the road above the tunnel was improved on both sides – providing the most spectacular stretches and steepest cycling of each side – and a summit of 2642 metres. The tunnel was re-opened in 2002 – for cars only. But from 1976 onwards, suddenly the route to Galibier was higher and roughly a kilometre longer.

Read my “history” of Col du Galibier here.

The Galibier Tunnel

The Galibier Tunnel

#4 Col du Sanetsch Tunnel
The biggest of several tunnels to Col du Sanetsch.

The biggest of several tunnels to Col du Sanetsch.

Col du Sanetsch is one of the toughest and most beautiful “lesser known” climbs in the Alps. In the Swiss Valais, it is a dead end, up to a beautiful Dam/Lake.

The tunnel – high, in the middle of no-where – has automatic light sensors! I love Switzerland. It is long – 800metres – and wet. But has a few openings for views …. or to hide from cars. I had to be “rescued” once on Col du Sanetsch.

Sanetsch Tunnel:  Light sensors!

Sanetsch Tunnel: Light sensors!

#5 Susten Pass

The gigantic climb up the west side of the Susten pass in central Switzerland has a bunch of tunnels that even I like. Beautifully carved into the mountains. Ride details.

A tunnel with a view:
A tunnel with a view Some more Susten tunnels:
7406905582_d5a86b13e8_b 7406907182_229a6a109c_b

#6 Croix de la Coeur
Me and my stork pal

Me and my stork pal

Every time a pro bike race goes to Verbier (the Tour de Suisse will be there again in 2014), I complain that the route stops too low, in town, while the best climbing is well above.

At 2173 metres, La Croix de Cœur is one of my favourite climbs (both sides great). At the cross itself begins a horizontal ridge, cliff road deeper into the mountains. And to enjoy the amazing views – and visit a very fun giant stork statue – one must brave a quite scary tunnel. Ride details here.

Dark, and narrow.  Beware of marmottes.

Dark, and narrow. Beware of marmottes.

#7 Lac de l’Hongrin

I’ll let the video speak for itself (excuse my language in the video) 😉 . Ride details.

Remember, the top of this climb is often closed as it passes through a military zone. Check ahead of time.

#8 La Galleria Rosazza
Scary Tunnel!

Scary Tunnel!

High above the beautiful Santuario di Oropa (Oropa Sanctuary) in the Italian Alps is La Galleria Rosazza. It was dug/built by hand during the 1890’s to connect two sides of the bigger mountain. The was used to transport animals between sides as well as help bring down ice – in an age before refigerators.

The tunnel is the high point of the road and there are wonderful, tiny cliff roads on both sides that any cyclist would love.

I braved the dark, wet confines, only to find the exit blocked by four metres of snow.
Ride details here (Spoiler alert: I made it over the snow).

The light at the end of the tunnel ..... was snow.

The light at the end of the tunnel ….. was snow.

#9 The Secret Road to Col de la Charmette
Funny tunnel sign in Gorges du Guiers Mort

Funny tunnel sign in Gorges du Guiers Mort

In the Chartreuse Alps just south of Grenoble is a fantastic little road starting in the Gorges du Guiers Mort, closed to cars, and just about ride-able with a road bike.

The start is easy to miss, heading up to the Chartreuse de Curière monastery. But after the monastery things get fun. An old deserted cliff road, with several tunnels. Too much fun. Ride details.


#10 Annecy Bike Path Tunnel

Let’s end with one low-altitude tunnel that is nothing but fun. Even I am not scared here. The Annecy bike path is a flat, car-free, wonderful place to cycle. Perhaps 10 kms south of Annecy the path goes through an old train tunnel.

One can cycle 50 kilometres all the way to Albertville on the path. Details.

No cars, but popular with cyclists.

No cars, but popular with cyclists.

#11 Lac d’Emosson

One of the most beautiful Alpine dams/lakes I know. Just before the dam, off to the right is a very long tunnel that leads to a road on the high side of the lake. I was scared, but it was worth fighting my fears. Details here.

Long (700m)  tunnel to access far side of lake.

Long (700m) tunnel to access far side of lake.

#12 Col du Solude

An amazing ride above Bourg d’Oisans opposite Alpe d’Huez. This cliff route starts off by riding through four dark, dark tunnels. Bring a light. Details here.

Another tunnel
solude 4 Unlit Tunnels Entrance to 4 Tunnels

#13 Lac de Tsuezier

A big climb in the Valais region of Switzerland to another alpine dam/lake. Just before the lake are a series of long tunnels. Details here.

Several long, but lit, tunnels

Several long, but lit, tunnels

#14 Lac de Moiry

The fifth highest paved road in Switzerland. The final stretch to this large alpine lake/dam requires passing through a long tunnel. Details here.

lac de moiry

#15 Above Gemmipass

Not the longest tunnel, but yikes. Just beyond Gemmispass, I passed through this tunnel to get a better view of the Wildstrubel Alps. Details here.

Narrow, low, scary tunnel

Narrow, low, scary tunnel

#16 Col du Coq

This very challenging, quiet climb in the Chartreuse Alps, not far from Grenoble, has a nasty; wet tunnel on it’s tough eastern side. Details here or longer loop here.


#17 Cervinia

The climb to the Italian ski station below the Matterhorn has a few tunnels, but the most “fun” is above the best set of hairpins of the climb. Ride details via the superb Col Saint-Pantaléon here.


#18 Above Lac du Mauvoisin

Why is this 18th? This is perhaps the greatest “secret” tunnel on the list. The hors-categorie climb to the beautiful Valais lake/dam (climb starts below Verbier) is superb. But bring a mountain bike and travel 2 kms through this dark, wet tunnel above the dam at roughly 2000 metres altitude to unlock an amazing road beside, and then far above, the lake. Ride details here.

damn dam

The reward after the tunnel:

#19 Passo Falzarego

In the Dolomites, this lovely climb near Passo Giau has a not-too-long tunnel nearing the summit. Why did I include it? Because it has a signed hairpin (#14) inside the tunnel. Old school! Ride details here.

#20 Monte Grappa

This incredible Italian mountain, famous for its WW1 battles and the book by Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms), has 9 hors-categorie routes. It also has a tunnel museum at the summit (used in WW1).

For cyclists, there are also some non-scary, but very sexy tunnels to cycle through. Ride details here.

#21 Tunnel du Bois Clair

OK, near Cluny in Burgundy, this tunnel is not in the Alps. But, at 1.6 kms in length, it claims to be the longest bike-only tunnel in Europe, part of the superb burgundy network of green-ways. It is closed in winter to protect a colony of bats (yikes). Ride details when the tunnel was closed. I returned later with Doreen to cycle through but never blogged.

Final Thoughts

This is a very incomplete list. Please let me know your favourite “tunnel” experiences.

The above were all phobia-battling challenges for me. But what are my favourite tunnel rides? Very short and with a view.

Gorges de la Nesque with the boys from St.Etienne

Gorges de la Nesque with the boys from St.Etienne

The Mysterious Screaming Tunnel (Val Ferret):

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My 2016 Cycling Challenge Thu, 31 Dec 2015 23:01:37 +0000 Col du Galibier (1)
Happy 2016 !

This blog started eleven years ago today, when I challenged my non-cycling self to bike 10,000 kilometres in 2005. It almost killed me, but I succeeded on Christmas Day, without ever riding more than 80 kms, and usually just 30 or so per ride.

Success! Christmas 2005:

Luckily, I am still fully addicted to cycling, especially uphill. These days I don’t take my Challenge quite as seriously as I did a decade ago. It is now more just the beginning of a plan for the year. Still, I seem to get motivated by New Year Resolutions.

Here are my Ten Favourite Rides from 2015. And here is my assessment of last year versus my 2015 Cycling Challenge.

Anyway, here is my 2016 Cycling Challenge:

Cycle 100 Different Cols

New stuff, old stuff. Just enjoy the ride. I try never to forget to re-visit the great stuff – especially when it’s close to home. Of course, it counts if I reach a col on cross country skis.

A Few Big Rides in Austria

I began learning Italian exactly two years ago today, and am at a level where I can happily have conversations, read books, etc. It has hugely increased my enjoyment of cycling in Italy.

So now I have begun learning some German with an eye on cycling in Austria (and of course Switzerland). I have some Austrian ideas such as Kitzbühel, Großglockner, Timmelsjoch, etc. We’ll see.

I could certainly use some more Austria cow photos:

Find 20 “Good” New Climbs

I am always making lists and still have plenty of ideas – especially off the beaten track. But suggestions always welcome! :)

Below: Col de la Bâthie was a wonderful surprise in 2015.

Continue searching for high unpaved “roads.”

Without a doubt the highlight of my last couple of years has been the switch to more high alps mountain biking. I would especially like to focus on some of the official National Swiss Mountain Bike routes that include some very interesting looking passes in eastern Switzerland.

Also, I hope to continue exploring the old military roads all along the French / Italian Alps border. I will certainly have another look at the amazing Strada dell’Assietta, approaching it from a different direction.

Strada Militare Colle delle Finestre meets Strada dell'Assietta

Strada Militare Colle delle Finestre meets Strada dell’Assietta

A Few Adventures with Doreen

My wife is not quite the cycling fanatic that I am. But she has succeeded in climbing many of the most famous climbs in the Alps. I am certain we can think up a few good bike adventures for 2016.

Above Grosse Scheidegg:

A few more rides with friends

I like riding alone. I often dash off somewhere at the last second and like to ride at my own pace (slow). But riding with good friends is always fun.

Occasionally they even let me force them to pose for a tripod photo: :)

Final Thoughts

Anyone that knows me understands that I am not a racer. I cycle slowly, stop frequently for photos. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy some tough challenges. And I am addicted to trying to get high anywhere in the Alps. 2015 was a great year on the bike. I’m hoping for more of the same in 2016.

Happy New Year. Cheers, cin cin, santé, and of course prost!

A Galibier Beer

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My 2015 Cycling Challenge Wrap-Up Thu, 31 Dec 2015 18:53:00 +0000 The end of my 11th annual cycling challenge! I think I even still had hair when I began this.  However, the blog (and the surrounding Alps) continue to keep me motivated, cycling slowly as ever, but steadily upwards.

So how did I do against my 2015 Cycling Challenge goals?

#1  Cycle 25 New Cols/Climbs

Every year it gets more difficult to find new ideas, but I managed to get more than 30 new climbs and quite a few more cols (many of these rides were multi-col loops). At the same time, I was able to visit lots of old favourites like Madeleine, Galibier, Iseran, Croix de Fer, Glandon, Mont Cenis and all the stuff near Geneva.

Yesterday, I published a post with my Ten Favourite Rides of the Year and six of them, including the first five, were new.

Galibier never gets old

But Galibier never gets old

Here are five other excellent new rides not in that top ten list:

  1. Colle di Sampeyre via Strada dei Cannoni – another high Italian old military road.
  2. Cervinia via the terrific Col Saint-Pantaléon
  3. Monte Cervino (the Matterhorn)

    Monte Cervino (the Matterhorn)

  4. Pila Ski Station (Aosta Valley)
  5. Nice Road

    Nice Road to Pila

  6. Col de Rosaël (above 3000 metres)
  7. Road to Col de la Montée du Fond and Rosaël

    Road to Col de la Montée du Fond and Rosaël

  8. A new side of Col du Jovet
  9. Nice Road

    Nice Road

#2 Cycle above 2,000 metres at least 25 Times

(And above 2,500 metres at least 10 times).

By my count I exactly made it twenty-five times above 2000 metres, and fourteen times above 2500 metres. The majority of these rides were on a mountain bike, many in stunning scenery without a soul around.

Approaching Col de la Bailleta (2853 metres):


#3 Cycle to 3,000 metres at least once

Woohooo! I made it above 3000 metres three times in 2015. My highest ever: Col du Jandri (3158m), Mont Chaberton (3131m), and just above Col de Rosaël (3007m). See here for Ten of the highest paved roads in the Alps …. including details for the above three.

Heading higher

Heading higher

#4 Cycle in Austria

I finally made it to Austria, taking part in the Tour de Suisse cyclosportive up to the amazing Rettenbachgletscher. Unfortunately a couple of other rides were rained out. But I’ve been learning German and am determined to get back in 2016.



#5 Ride the Ventoux Night Session

Bah, awful weather. We decided not to go. The event is only held every second year, so I’ll try again in 2017. I did it in 2011 and 2013. Too much fun. Details here.

Ventoux Night Session 2011

Ventoux Night Session 2011


#6 At least 183 Very Active Days

I did well here. I’ve especially done well doing fun 90 minute / 2 hour rides on local trails near home throughout the fall, and climbing Mont Salève just above me fairly often:

Mont Salève, above the autumn clouds:

#7 Take Doreen Touring in Italy

Oops. we did get to Italy together, but not with our bikes. But I did take her touring a couple of times in Burgundy and we had an blast cycling around Paris for a couple of days. And finally, we cycled the highest paved pass in Europe, Col de l’Iseran, together on bike-only day,

Notre Dame and Ma Dame Doreen

Notre Dame and Ma Dame Doreen

Highest paved pass in Europe.  Bike-only day

#8 More Hay Surfing

This goal was easy. Wooohoooo! FYI, the Official Flickr Hay Surfing Group is here. We’re a small but welcoming group. :)

Final Thoughts

Thanks to everyone that has taken an interest in this blog. I appreciate the kind emails and comments. As I mentioned to someone the other day, most of the friends I have in Europe I met via this site.

Happy New Year!

FWIW, the most popular article here in 2015 was: 100 Cycling Climbs Better than Alpe d’Huez

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The Ten Best Rides of the Year Wed, 30 Dec 2015 19:45:20 +0000 I had the good fortune to do some great rides in 2015. As in 2014, I continued leaning towards more high Alps mountain biking than road biking. But this list has some of both.

I particularly enjoyed several super high, old, Italian military roads. There is something special about being completely alone in a beautiful environment without the need to worry about cars.

Anyway, here were my ten favourite rides this year:

#1 Strada dell’Assietta & Strada Militare Colle delle Finestre
OK, I am actually heading in other direction (down)

OK, I am actually heading in other direction (down)

La Strada dell’Assietta is a high mountain military road in the Piemonte Alps built in the late 1800’s linking various military emplacements. The middle 60 kilometres of my route are virtually always far above 2000 metres.

My route also included the slightly crazier, higher Strada Militare Colle delle Finestre (above Colle delle Finestre). All-in-all, something like 11 Cols, with the famous Finestre being the lowest! Ride details here (map, photos, route description, etc).

Note, I climbed to Assietta a second time this year, climbing via Parco Naturale Gran Bosco. That ride could easily have also made this list. Details here

Parco Naturale Gran Bosco

Parco Naturale Gran Bosco

#2 Mont Chaberton

I managed to get above 3000 metres three times in 2015. The climb up Mont Chaberton to the highest Fort in the Alps (perched at the summit @ 3131 metres) was probably the top “silly adventure” of the year. Full disclosure: I had to hike and push the bike for long stretches. But the experience of reaching the fort was worth the sweat.

Ride details here.



Not Easy

Not Easy – above 3000 metres!

Here are details of 10 of the highest unpaved roads in the Alps, including Col du Jandri (3158 metres) that I climbed for the 1st time in 2015.

Col du Jandri and the Glacier de Mont-de-Lans

Col du Jandri and the Glacier de Mont-de-Lans

#3 Rettenbachgletscher: The Tour de Suisse Challenge

I finally made it to Austria. The Tour de Suisse runs amateur cyclosportives before some of their stages, allowing amateurs to ride the route and then wait for the pros.

I signed up for this well run event, climbing the unbelievably steep road that ends at the foot of a glacier at 2675 metres. An amazing place. Ride details here.



Pinot and the glacier

Stage winner Thibault Pinot and the glacier

Me going very slowly:


#4 Monte and Forte Jafferau

At 2800 metres, Forte Jafferau, high above Bardonecchia, Italy, is the 2nd highest fort in the Alps. It’s also very fun to cycle.

Ride details here.

Battling Vertigo

Battling Vertigo

#5 Galibier via Col d’Albanne

There is a little known alternative route up the north side of Galibier that excludes Col du Télégraphe, going instead via Col d’Albanne. The first part of my adventure was climbing the challenging Albanne and traversing to Valloire via a slightly crazy cliff road.

Cliff "road"

Galibier itself was officially closed above the tunnel, but I almost made it before running into an avalanche with the sign in sight. So I had to go through the tunnel and climb the south side to reach the Col. All on a beautiful, quiet, sunny day in May.

Ride details here. And here is a complete look at all three of the more traditional routes up Galibier.

IMG_8550 - Version 2

north side - above tunnel

north side – above tunnel

#6 Col de l’Iseran (car-free day)

I am a huge fan of the many car-free, bike-only days held in the Alps. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to leisurely cycle both sides of the highest paved mountain pass in Europe with my wife.

Ride details here.

Highest paved pass in Europe. Bike-only day

#7 Col du Glandon – Tour du France

Col du Glandon has some of the sexiest hairpins in cycling. It’s also an amazing place to watch a Tour stage. While cycling up an old friend texted me that he and his wife were at the summit and guessed I might be around. A nice surprise. He bought me a beer as I arrived up top and we had a great day enjoying the stage and the festivities.

Details of the day here.

Obélisk !

Obelix !



#8 Lac de Mauvoisin and Above

I love climbs to Alpine dams. Always beautiful. And Lac de Mauvoisin is no exception. The climb to the dam is paved and challenging. But it’s worth leaving the road bike at home here as it’s possible with a mountain bike to ride along the length of the lake and then go much higher. Paradise.

Ride details here. And here is a post listing 28 great climbs to high Alpine dams/Lakes.

Hairpin Heaven

Hairpin Heaven

Lac de Mauvoisin (1)

#9 Col Hunting Above Petit St. Bernard

This ride on the Italian side of Petit St. Bernard first explores some super high cols at the top of the ski slopes of La Thuile.

Somewhere high above Col du Petit St. Bernard

Somewhere high above Col du Petit St. Bernard

Then while tired and descending I explored a side valley. The route was so good that I just couldn’t turn back – although tired and out of water. The road seemed to never end, finally reaching the stunning Col des Chavannes at 2592 metres and views of the Italian side of the Mont Blanc Massif. Woohoo.

I split the blog post into two rides. The ski slope Cols here, and Col des Chavannes here.

view from Col des Chavannes

view from Col des Chavannes

#10 Col de Joux Plane – Cycle Up and Rent Cross Country Skis

In recent years, I’ve done more cross-country skiing than cycling in the winter. It’s such a great work-out and I am lucky to be near many nice stations. It occurred to me that I could mix the sports and twice in 2015, early in the year, I cycled up famous climbs and then rented cross-country skis at the summit.

The famous Samoëns side of Joux-Plane is occasionally cleared in winter to allow XC skiing and a small hut at the Col sign rents skis. On a sunny day, it’s as good as it gets.



Impending Fall

Impending Fall

I also biked-up and XC skied at Le Semnoz, the highest paved climb near Annecy. Finally, here is a post with 14 great cycling climbs that have cross-country skiing at the summit.

Le Semnoz in Februray

Le Semnoz in Februray

A Final Word

I had the good fortune to do some great rides in 2015. I probably forgot some deserving entries, but above is a list of very good memories for me.

Happy New Year and happy pedalling in 2016.

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La Barillette (La Dôle) Sat, 26 Dec 2015 20:22:16 +0000 La Dôle

As you likely know, it’s currently crazy warm in the Alps/Juras. We had planned / hoped to cross-country/alpine ski this holiday week. But every melted cloud has a silver lining. There are plenty of high cycling climbs that are completely clear. :)

I met friends Mathias and Markus in Crassier at the base of the fabulous climb up to La Dôle / La Barillette, north of Geneva. I cheated, driving to near the bottom. Markus rode from his relatively nearby home, and Mathias from Genève. Chapeau.

It was so warm that neither Mathias or I brought hair.

IMG_2025 - Version 2

Here’s my standard rant: Why is nearby Col de la Faucille so popular with cyclists? Filled with tourist car traffic on weekends, loads of trucks on weekdays. While there are several well paved deserted climbs nearby?

The road goes to the air-traffic-radar-tower atop La Dôle, and a touch higher, to the Swisscom tower, at La Barillette. It is super quiet. And in fact, closed to cars today.


It’s a challenging, lovely climb – in the Swiss Jura mountains – with the reward at the summit of great views of the Alps, and Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) below. Today, we all brought wide tires, and took our time climbing, chatting away. Much fun.

Ich lerne Deutsch sprechen und Markus war ein Lehrer begeistern.

Approaching the summit at La Barillette, we first visited La Dôle – a very short detour off the main road. But nice views. Below is a photo of Markus from today, and then a photo of me from the spring (the white dome is the air-radar thing). I told you it is warm.

no snow

Spring 2015

La Barillette is the 3rd highest paved climb in the Jura mountains. See here for details of the ten highest.

Next we headed up to La Barillette, the end of the paved road. This was our simple goal for the day, so we acted like fools: taking a bunch of photos of the wonderful view of the distant Alps and the lake below. A very fun day.

Covered my belly for everyone's safety

I apologise for my belly reveal!


A simple plan, well executed. Very enjoyable.

Note, on the map below, we descended on the “UP” road to avoid the possibly slippery, uncleared, leafy, descent road. But if using my gpx route from the map, instead follow this one.

Route 3,361,215 – powered by

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Merry Christmas Thu, 24 Dec 2015 16:52:17 +0000 Merry Christmas. It’s a heat-wave here, so no white Christmas but plenty of good cycling.

I took advantage of the warm weather to do my annual Santa ride to the top of my home mountain: Mont Salève. I do a version of this loop from home often, usually in the opposite direction, but I decided to take the steep route via Le Coin. Much of this route (above Croisette) is usually closed due to snow by November. But today I could have worn short sleeves. Wow.


For details of all five road bike routes up Mont Salève, see here.

This steep side has a bunch of brilliant hairpins, the last being my favourite:

Sexy Hairpin

Here’s an old photo showing 6 of the sexiest hairpins on this super steep climb:

The Salève has two high points. At Col de la Croisette I turned left to visit the first, the well named Panorama des Alpes:

After enjoying the views of Mont Blanc and the north edge of the Alps, I doubled back to Croisette, and headed up to the second high point (both labeled on map below), Col des Pitons.

I love this mountain, especially how the road rides along the top for several kilometres giving views of the ALps on one side and Geneva and the Jura on the other.

The “King of the Santas” wanted a Col photo for Christmas:

For the locals, note that they have recently added another Col sign, Col du Plan, further along the road – see map.

I didn’t take any more photos, but here is a gallery of some recent one’s all on or around this great mountain:

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, bonne année, and safe pedalling. :)

Route 3,359,516 – powered by

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