As I do most certainly not object to an opportunity to destroy myself in other areas than the Dolomites, I have no problem with organizing my own versions of the ‘Tour de France’.
Although my cycling heart belongs to the Dolomites, Paula is more charmed with the French part of the Alps, so sometimes you have to compromise 🙂
We planned a first trip there for the summer of 2010, but Paula ended up in the hospital on our day of departure, so those plans were put on ice until 2014.
In September 2017, July/August 2021 and July 2022, we went back for more of my ‘Tour de France’ adventures…
Certainly one of the areas popular among cyclists, more specifically the (Haute-)Savoie and Isère regions.
If you’re looking for famous climbs like Alpe d’Huez, La Plagne, Croix de Fer or Madeleine to name a few, as well as Europe’s highest natural pass the Iseran, this region is for you.
The Lautaret (Isère) and Télégraphe/Galibier (Savoie) are also waiting for you here and they both connect to the neighbouring Haute-Alpes.
South of the Rhône-Alpes, this region is most known for the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Haute-Alpes, although the Vaucluse is home to the infamous Ventoux.
In the Haute-Alpes you’ll find a score of well known climbs, like the Lautaret/Galibier (the other end, from Briançon) the Izoard and Risoul. The Agnel is leading into Italy and the Vars is connecting to the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
There, you will find the Allos, Bonette and Cayolle, both of which, like the Col des Champs, connect to the southern Alpes-Maritimes.
Where to stay?
I really enjoyed our stay in Jausiers, close to Barcelonnette. I guess Barcelonnette can be compared to a village like Cortina d’Ampezzo or Val Gardena.
And there are plenty of cycling adventures to undertake from there.
You can even get a ‘Brevet des 7 Cols d’Ubaye’, for which you need to climb the Bonette, Vars, Cayolle and the Allos. Plus three lesser known and shorter climbs: Saint-Jean, Pontis and the Montée de Sainte-Anne. The last two are short but quite steep by the way…
Other than those, the area offers some climbs to other ski resorts, like Pra Loup and le (Super) Sauze and the Col de Larche. A little further out, on the south side of the Bonette, you can go from Isola to Isola 2000 and the Col de la Lombarde.
While we were there, I was able to squeeze in a stage involving the Agnel (French side) and the Izoard, so those are not too far out either, though you have to get over the Vars first…
Looking at the map of the area, either Guillestre or Briançon looks like the place to start your cycling adventures and the two cities are ‘connected’ by the Izoard.
Guillestre is also at the base of the Vars and Risoul. Getting over the Vars brings you to the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence…
Briançon is located at the base of the Lautaret and the climb up Montgenèvre and Col de l’Échelle are leading into Italy.
Near Briançon, a few kilometers up the Lautaret, you can find the Col du Granon.
And as it is close to Italy, Sestriere and the Finestre are within reach, as I experienced during the Tour de France 2017.
Both during our training stage and our first week in the Tour de France of 2014, I discovered that the area around Bourg-Saint-Maurice is not so bad either.
In 2014 we were based close to it, with three major cols starting from there: Petit Saint-Bernard, Cormet de Roselend and the highest ‘natural’ pass of Europe, the Iseran.
Actually, there are five cols to be had, if you count the dead end climbs to the ski resorts of les Arcs and the more famous La Plagne.
From Moutiers you can eat your heart out on the 35+ kilometer long climb to Val Thorens, near the summit of which we stayed during our training in 2012.
North(-west) of Moutiers, you can find the Madeleine.
And speaking of the latter: near the start of the climb up the other end, from La Chambre, I found my new favorite spot, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, which was the location of our base camp for my Tour de France of 2021.
Probably the obvious choice for this area, would be Le Bourg-d’Oisans, although Allemond or Vaujany offer good alternatives.
Or, up the Lautaret a bit, in Le Freney-d’Oisans, at the base of the climb up Les Deux Alpes and the Alpe d’Huez alternative, Col de Sarenne.
We stayed in Villard-Reymond during our 2012 Alpe d’HuZes and although that village turned out to be rather remote, the climb up there is fantastic…
Tour de France 2022
From July 16 through July 23, I had another shot at missed opportunities from 2021’s Tour de France.
Once again, we stayed in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne (not in the same apartment, but close to it) and I except for the ones I missed last year, I added some – if not most – of the lesser known climbs in the area.
I also wanted to venture into the area of the Critérium du Dauphiné’s stage 8 of this year, but in the end I didn’t for pratical reasons.
As I had “only” one week, I wanted as less (long) car transfers as possible and I only had one during my “revenge” of last year’s cluster fuck stage 12.
More on this trip here – it was definitely the most scorching hot Tour of my career ever.
Tour de France 2021
On July 30, I started where my Tour de France history began in 2014: the Savoie.
Well, I started in Isère, with a prologue up the Croix de Fer and then over the Mollard to get to our apartment..
For that Tour de France 2021, we also picked just one location: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, at the base of the other – Savoie – end of the Croix de Fer.
To the north, you will find the Glandon and Madeleine, with the Lacets du Montvernier in between, to the south you’ll find the Télégraphe/Galibier.
There’s a score of other cols nearby and a bit further out, some of those requiring a transfer by car first, for instance close to Modane.
And while the officiaI Marmotte Alpes starts in Le Bourg-d’Oisans, I finally cycled my own Marmotte Alpes, starting at my doorstep.
More on this trip here.
Tour de France 2017
In September of 2017, I paid another visit to the French Alps for my very own Tour de France 2017, concentrated in/on the Haute-Alpes.
Other than during my previous Tour in 2014, when we switched locations four times, I picked a single location for our base camp that year: Briançon.
Like Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Jausiers in 2014, the city of Briançon is strategically located at the base of several mountain passes, and close to the Italian border.
Which meant I had the opportunity to destroy myself on the Finestre (from Susa) and cycle all three sides up to Sestriere.
More on this trip here.
Tour de France 2014
After I had a taste of the French Alps during our 2012 training for Alpe d’HuZes, I eventually organized my first Tour de France in 2014.
We were located close to Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Barcelonnette respectively.
During that tour, that was originally planned for 2010, the ‘Brevet des 7 Cols d’Ubaye’ was on the to-do list.
I also engineered a ‘little detour’ to pay a visit to Bédoin, with the objective of obtaining the Cinglé du Mont Ventoux.
In the end – and after the fact – I can tell you that I will never organize any Tour de France of my own as stupid as I did in 2014…
You can find everything you never wanted to know about that trip here.
What about the Pyrenees?
Until now, I have not yet gathered a lot of ‘intel’ on the Pyrenees. I very nearly organized another Tour de France located in the area, but that plan didn’t make it, in favor of another Giro.
The Tour de France of 2021 was another (missed) opportunity, but Covid-19 didn’t make things easier and we found a dream apartment in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
However, I most likely will get there eventually…
But in 2023, my Tour de France will finally be concentrated on “Les Pyrénées” where we will stay in Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
After all, my (cycling) life will never be complete if I have not cycled up legendary cols like the Aubisque, Peyresourde, Tourmalet or Luz-Ardiden 😎