Our favourite French Alps cycling cols are not because they are famous from TV coverage of the Tour de France, although they have all been in an edition or two! In fact there are over 20 fantastic TDF cols from Lake Annecy it’s why we call it ‘Cycling Paradise’. This choice of French Alps cycling cols are not favorites because they are the steepest or longest or with the greatest average gradient. In fact it has nothing to do with facts and figures which can tend to distract from an amazing ride route, they are favorites and in no particular order because after over 20 years of riding in the French Alps they are all just great cycling in one way or another…
Col de Leschaux (897m) cat3 11.9km @ 3.7%
There can’t be many cols like Leschaux that allows all bike riders to enjoy climbing, just off the side of Lake Annecy, it’s gentle slopes make for the perfect ride, passing through deep forests before finally arriving at the gateway to the Bauges National Park. Include this alps col for a warm-up or enjoy it like a local, we get great pleasure sharing this climb and the joy on the faces with riders of all abilities and evidence that everyone can ride in the French Alps with Practice Bicycle.
Col de la Forclaz – Montmin (1150m) catHC – 8.2km @ 8% Max 13%
The joke is if we have to climb the Forclaz it’s a bad year..and we often take on this climb 2 or 3 times a year….but seriously we discovered this very difficult ascent mid 2000 when we watched Cadel Evans attack during the Dauphine Libere at the point that it goes vertical! This hidden road cuts through the Alps like a knife eventually allowing you to breath with an unbelievable panoramic views from what seems to be vertically above Lake Annecy. Don’t worry though you can still enjoy this very special look out with the north side route which is not such a leg breaker and a good alps challenge in itself.
Col du Frene (950m) 9.6km @ 6.9%
We really enjoy this epic ride route that takes in the Col du Frene and not only because it’s a great 125 km loop. It has a little bit of everything, not crazily difficult, although a solid day in the saddle. First half of the bike ride traces the valley past Albertville and amongst the Savoie vineyards, interesting sights make the time fly by so quickly and not an alpine col has passed under our wheels. It’s sometimes as pleasurable riding past them and not always up them (today anyway). The second half is where the Col du Frene kicks in, twisting up and away with great views of the alpine peaks in the distance before tipping over the top into the Bauges. If it’s getting tough our local cafe comes just in time before it’s all down hill to Annecy…perfect endurance day
Col des Aravis (1486m) cat2 – 18.9km @ 5% Max 8%
The Grand Alps and the Aravis Mountain Range or as the French call it ‘Chaîne des Aravis’ is a great selection of French Alps Cols. In fact it was where we were based back in 1996 for ‘Serious Training’ with great memories. It’s been in 22 editions of the Tour de France with roads that allowing options of climbing one or several alps cols as the route zig zags through the French Alps. The route from Annecy is ideal preparation, before it’s time to pick the correct gear, relax, find your rhythm and take in the views as you pedal to the top of the world! Depending on how much of a challenge you are looking for this can easily become an epic alpine ride.
Grand Colombier (1505m) HC – 18.3km @ 6.9% Max 14%
Okay this pre-alps Col is here because the first time you climb this one, it’s never forgotten! Officially part of the Jura Mountain Range this Col sits high above the Rhone River and can be included in the Lac du Bourget loop. I guess you would have to be a serious lover of climbing to include this one in your itinerary. This neighboring valley has a marvelous net work of flat roads with options to pass up or down the Rhone before taking on this monster, look out for it in this years Tour de France. There are several choices when climbing the Grand Colombier, we always recommend the southern option because it has an emergency slip road, which is always tempting on any cycling day!