I’ve done a lot more mountain biking than road biking this year. And most of my first-time rides in 2017 were with wider tires. But I still enjoyed some fun days with the road bike.
See here for the ten best unpaved rides of the year.
The Ten Best Road Bike Rides of the Year:
#1 Passo dello Stelvio
In late May, I dashed down to Bormio to climb Stelvio the day before the Giro. I climbed the Bormio side, quickly visited Umbrailpass (the highest paved road in Switzerland), and descended most of the famous side to climb the almost unbelievable hairpins.
Yes, of course, I wore pink. Such an amazing place. Details here.
#2 Colle del Nivolet
In July, my great friend Jens visited from Sweden. We headed to Barcelonnette to visit some of the best climbs in the south French Alps: Col d’Allos, Col de la Cayolle, Cime de la Bonette, and Col d’Izoard. All great days. But I couldn’t resist making a detour into Italy to show Jens my favourite paved climb anywhere.
The last 15 kilometres of Colle del Nivolet are just insanely fun. Hairpins, mountains, dams/lake, all in abundance. Details here.
#3 Oberaarsee (above Grimselpass) and Furkapass
Central Switzerland has some of the highest, most beautiful paved passes I know. The most famous are big roads, well surfaced. One can make brilliant loops with combinations of Nufenen Pass (2478m), Grimsel Pass (2165m), Furka Pass (2436m), Susten Pass (2224m), Gotthard Pass (2108m), and others.
But less known is a little 6 kilometre extension (closed to cars when I was there) above Grimsel pass to the Oberaarsee. It’s the 5th highest paved road in Switzerland (2390m). And the views of the Grimselpass and Furkapass hairpins are as good as it gets. Details here.
#4 Col du Sanetsch
High in the Valais canton of Switzerland, Col du Sanetsch should be on anyone’s list of the toughest, most beautiful climbs in the Alps. Many of my favourite rides are up to high Alpine dams/lakes and this region is full of lesser known, hors-categorie climbs like this. Details here.
Yes, by this point of the season I had a new toy: A drone camera:
See here for 28 great rides to high alpine dams/lakes.
#5 Lac d’Emosson
Another brilliant Swiss climb to a high alpine lake. But the secret for this ride: after being closed for several years it was again possible to ride over the dam, around the lake, and up a super steep cliff road up to a smaller dam/lake. Truly amazing. Details here.
#6 Grand Colombier at Dawn
Part of my 2017 annual challenge was to cycle something interesting at dawn, to see the sunrise from the summit. The key is choosing something that has good views towards the east. Previously, I’ve ridden Ventoux and Galibier to see the sunrise.
I finally decided on Grand Colombier and my Steel Wheeler buddy Tim joined me. The weather was absolutely perfect, the climb was a great choice, and the sunrise an ever-changing sea of colours. Details here.
There are four challenging sides up Grand Colombier – details here. And here is another 2017 ride that includes the quite crazy steepest side – as well as Col de la Biche. Both as ridden by the 2017 TdF.
#7 Tour of Flanders Sportive
In early April I spent a week in Flanders with a bunch of Podium Cafe friends. The trip began with the 145 km version of the Tour of Flanders route. Lots of famous, bumpy, little cobbled climbs. Details here.
We had a great week of rides and I summarised a series of routes here. Including a visit to Kapelmuur, and a super day riding the Ypres Peace route visiting many WW1 memorials and cemeteries.
Finally, a bunch of us rode the Paris-Roubaix sportive. I am so glad I rode this cobbled monstrosity but I would NEVER ride it again. 🙂
#8 Col de la Madeleine and Le Logis des Fées
I’ve cycled Col de la Madeleine quite a few times. But this time I would explore a little side road part way up the north side. A 5 kilometre climb to Le Logis des Fées (Home of the Fairies). Details here.
#9 Vercors: Five Cols, Two Gorges
The Vercors Massif to the west of Grenoble has some of the most interesting roads in the Alps. The peaks aren’t the highest (the cols are all well below 2000m), but it is full of crazy roads through gorges and built into cliffs.
This loop climbed five cols and rides through the Les Gorges de la Bourne and Les Gorges du Nan. So interesting and a completely different feel than all the other climbs on this list. Details here.
#10 Mont du Chat via Col du Chat
Mont du Chat is one of the toughest climbs in France. It was announced as part of the 2017 Tour de France, so I excitedly visited it early in the season. Note, this loop is also great for the super scenic stretches climbing above Lac du Bourget (largest lake in France). Details here.
A Few Honourable Mentions
- Cycle Col de Joux Plane and rent XC Skis at the summit
- Col du Galibier – having fun with new drone
- Col du Glandon/Croix de Fer – more drone photos
- Plateau des Glières – the steep side and gravel traverse that will appear in the 2018 Tour de France.
- Mont Salève – My home mountain. I probably cycled it at least 50 times. Always fun.
- Col de l’Iseran – The highest paved pass in Europe with my wife. Both sides on bike-only day.
- Les Lacets de Montvernier – great hairpins then on to Col du Chaussy and Madeleine (last stretch unpaved). Includes a video.
Happy New Year!
Thanks for sharing and inspiring. I can imagine the delights of these rides. I’ve never considered a dawn ride…I’ll pop that on my 2018 to do experience list. Happy new year and keep spinning those legs.
Love your site Will, keep on posting and pedalling.
If you could pick one single base in the Alps to do a week of quite demanding road cycling from (in June) , where would you stay?
South French Alps = Barcelonnette (Bonette, Allos, Vars, Cayolle, Parpaillon,etc)
North Alps: Somewhere in Maurienne Valley (St.Jean de Maurienne perhaps) …. access to half the top road climbs in France … Galibier, Croix de Fer, Madeleine, Glandon, further south in valley: Mont Cenis, Iseran, Plan du Lac. etc,)
If you need to keep a family entertained while you ride: Annecy
In Italy? Probably the Dolomites. Corvara is great … on the Sella Ronda.
Or Bormio. Exact base of Stelvio and Gavia and interesting enough little town.
Switzerland? Somewhere in the centre like Andermatt (Furka, Gotthard, Nufenen, Grimsel, Susten, etc.), or in the Valais like Sion (endless HC climbs to Dams/Lakes and more sunny than elsewhere).
These are just a few ideas, lots of other great bases too.