Seven Must Ride French Mountain Climbs
Given that we’re a brand named after some of the greatest mountain climbs in the world, we thought it only fair that we offer up a guide to the must ride mountain passes in France. Here’s our top picks for stunning scenary, ribbon esque roads and gradients that get just a little bit the wrong side of cheeky. We’ve even included a dash of Tour de France History too…
1. COL DE L'ISERAN
The highest paved road in the alps – need we say more on why-oh-why it simply must be pedaled. With the option to pass through the famous skiing towns of Tignes and Val-d-isère, you’ll not be short of places to stop and enjoy the view. You can opt to take a slightly longer 48km more gradual road from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to the North, or take on the shorter 33km southerly route from Lanslebourg-Mont Cenis – although be warned, this one comes with a sting in its tail and a steeper section at the end.
General area: The Graiain Alps, near the Italian border
Peak altitude: 2,700m
Average Gradient: 5% if taking the Northern 48km climb from Bourg-Saint-Maurice, 5.5% of heading from Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis.
Max Gradient: 12%
Tour de France History: First used in the Tour in 1938
2. COL DE PEYRESOURDE
Rumour has it they sell crêpes at the summit of Col du Peyresourde, and it’d be rude not to ride all the way up the 1,500 metre pass to find out. With two ways to get there, you have a choice between a slightly less gradient-heavy (albeit undulating) climb from the east, or a shorter, sharper and more exposed ride up from the west. Beware of the summer heat if climbing from Armenteule in the west and stay hydrated – there is little in the way of tree coverage, and so little respite from the sun. And you'll want to make sure you’re hydrated enough to enjoy that long awaited crêpe at the top.
General area: Haute-Garonne region of the Pyrénées
Peak altitude: 1,569m
Average Gradient: 6% if taking the eastern 15km climb from Bagnères-de-Luchon, 7.6% if heading from Armenteule.
Max Gradient: 9.8%
Tour de France History: Featured over 50 times in the Tour de Franc
3. COL DE IZOARD
On the way up to Col de Izoard you’re guaranteed a stunning ride through lush alpine forests. There’s not much to choose between the two options of riding 16km from Guillestre in the south, or 19km from Briançon in the north – although the latter offers a longer ride, more of a chance to take in the views and slightly more gentle gradients.
General area: Haute Alpes
Peak altitude: 2,361m
Average Gradient: 6.9% if climbing from Guillestre, or 5.7% if riding from Briançon.
Max Gradient: 11%
Tour de France History: There’s a small cycling museum at the summit, paying homage to legends Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet.
Image credit: Plint
4. COL DU TOURMALET
Known more affectionately as ‘the terrible mountain’ the Col du Tourmalet is the most used ascent in the Tour de France, and the highest road pass in the Hautes-Pyrénées. Founder Yanto took on this beast of a mountain just last week, and managed to sneak in the top 100 with the 98th fastest ascent on Strava. It took him a little over 1 hour, but it'll likely take the amateur rider closer to two.
There are two ways to reach the top of the pass, where you’ll be greeted by a memorial to Jacques Goddet, (director of the Tour de France from 1936 to 1987) and a large statue of winner of the 1910 tour de France, Octabe Lapize.
Both routes offer up twists, turns and stunning mountain, but the latter route kicks up to steeper gradients and will place your legs firmly in the pain-cave at certain points en route. What a treat.
General area: Hautes-Pyrénées
Peak altitude: 2,115m
Average Gradient: 7.4% for both routes from Luz-Saint-Sauveur or Sainte-Marie-de-Campan
Max Gradient: 12% (via the eastern Sainte-Marie-de-Campan route)
Tour de France History: Featured in the the Tour de de France 82 times so far.
5. COL DU GALIBIER
The cool thing about the Col du Galibier is that the route options to the top are distinctly different. The first route is a shorter, but sharper 8.5km climb from Col de Lauteret to the south. For the more hardy among you, take the road from St Michel-de-Maurienne. This 35km ride climbs 1,924 metres, reaching maximum gradients of 12%, and taking in the bonus climb of the Col du Télégraphe along the way. Everyone loves a bonus climb.
General area: Rhone-Alps
Peak altitude: 2,645m
Average Gradient: 5.5% if coming from St Michel-de-Maurienne in the north
Max Gradient: 12%
Tour de France History: Andy Schleck took victory at the first ever summit finish of the Tour here in 2011, after a 60km breakaway.
6. COL DE LA BONETTE
The Col de La Bonnette is almost the highest paved road in the alps. We say ‘almost’ because the col itself is actually lower than the tourist sightseeing road the ‘Cime de la Bonette’, which skirts around it and reaches a slightly higher altitude of 2,802 metres. There are two ways to reach the top – a 26km climb from the south, starting at Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée featuring a steep section of 15%, or the slightly shorter 24km route from Jausiers in the south.
General area: French Alps (near the Italian border)
Peak altitude: 2,715m
Average Gradient: 6.4% from Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée / 6.6% from Jausiers
Max Gradient: 15%
Tour de France History: The Pass has featured in the Tour four times so far. When it was last featured John-Lee Augustyn was the first man over the top – receiving a tidy 5,000 euros as part of the Henri Desgrange trophy (awarded each year to whoever reaches the race’s highest point first). Unfortunately Augustyn crashed rather spectacularly on the descent the other side and didn’t claim the stage win.
7. MONT VENTOUX
What better way to finish a list of the top French climbs than with the Daddy of them all, Ventoux. This mythical mountain became famous when it claimed the life of the great English cyclist Tom Simpson, who died just shy of the summit on July 13th 1967 - collapsing from a combination of heat exhaustion, alcohol and amphetamines. There are three route options to take on Ventoux. The routes from Bedoin (21.5km) and Malaucene (21.8km) are just as exciting and steep as one another, but there is also the longer 26km and slightly less taxing way to the top, starting at the town of Sault.
General area: Provence
Peak altitude: 1,912m
Average Gradient: 7.5% from Bedoin / 7.2% from Malaucene / 4.4% from Sault
Max Gradient: 10.9%
Tour de France History: In 1970 Eddy Merckx famously rode himself to the brink of collapse as he rode to victory on a stage taking in the Col. He recovered and went on to win the tour that year.