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We start with an 8km warm-up, riding along the valley to Bonneval-sur-Arc, with stunning views ahead of the mountain, the mighty Col de l'Iseran (2770m), the highest point on the official route. From here it's a 13km climb averaging 7.3%, and towards the top you go over 12% for short stretches. Again, it's bleak but beautiful at the top, with a very isolated and stark chapel, and a café where we can stop for coffee before we start the 16km descent to Val d'Isère. There are lots of hairpins on the descent, and absolutely incredible panoramas of the mountains. You ride through the busy ski resort of Val d'Isère, and then continue, past Lac du Chevril, and through a number of avalanche tunnels. You finally reach Bourg-Saint-Maurice at the bottom of the climb. It's probably better not to stop for lunch here, because we go straight into another climb, the Cormet de Roselend (1968m). The route is much greener here, and less exposed, and the climb is in three parts - a moderate start, a steeper section in the middle, with quite a few hairpins, and then a gentler finish. There's nothing except the col sign at the top, but if you descend about 6km there are a couple of cafés, with an amazing view of Lac de Roselend, where we can have lunch, and then you have a 12km descent into Beaufort, which gives you some time to digest it. Our last climb of the day is the Col de Saisies (1650m), a 15.7m climb averaging 5.7%, with a maximum of 9%. Last coffee stop in the ski resort of Les Saisies, and then we descend to Flumet, where we turn right towards our hotel, a few kilometres along the valley.
682KM, 16 COLS, AROUND 17,800 METRES OF CLIMBING
We'll be at Nice airport to meet you and then we'll take you to our hotel in Menton, on the Mediterranean, where there will be tools and track pumps available so you can assemble your bike. Later we'll get to know each other and discuss the trip in detail over dinner.
DAY 1 - MENTON TO RIMPLAS - 92KM, CLIMBING 3,000 METRES
DAY 2 - RIMPLAS TO BARCELONETTE - 118KM, CLIMBING 3,300 METRES
DAY 3 - BARCELONETTE TO BRIANCON - 101KM, CLIMBING 2,700 METRES (+ BONETTE)
DAY 4 - BRIANCON TO BESSANS - 122KM, CLIMBING 2,800 METRES
DAY 5 - BESSANS TO PRAZ-SUR-ARLY - 144KM, CLIMBING 3,500 METRES
DAY 6 - PRAZ-SUR-ARLY TO LAKE GENEVA - 122KM, CLIMBING 2,300 METRES
We transfer you to Geneva airport, which is well connected to many European transport hubs.
Ensuite accommodation in 2* or 3* hotels, in shared rooms. Single rooms are available and a supplement of £275 applies.
Continental or buffet-style breakfasts every morning, supplemented with muesli if needed.
3-course evening meals every night with wine, a beer or a soft drink.
Snacks to keep you going during the day, such as bananas, chocolate, and quality energy gels and bars.
Bottled water and carbohydrate powder for your bottles, as well as High5 Zero electrolyte tablets.
Maps of the route for you to refer to as you ride and GPS files for you to upload to your device.
Souvenir full-zip Owayo Reverse Route des Grandes Alpes jersey.
As many photos of you as we can take during your trip - usually a few hundred pictures - so you can relive your journey from start to finish when you get home.
We'll never be more than a few kilometres from you at all times, so you don't need to carry loads of kit with you "just in case". We'll try to be at the bottom of every climb so you can shed unwanted clothing, top up your water bottles and grab a snack or energy bar, and at the top of every col so you can add a windproof layer before you start your descent.
We don't make our prices look cheaper by leaving out evening meals, alcohol, or even airport transfers, so if you're looking at prices, it pays to make sure you're comparing like for like.
The Route des Grandes Alpes stretches from the shores of beautiful Lake Geneva, the largest lake in Western Europe, to the bustling resort of Menton on the Côte d'Azur, taking in many of the highest, and most well-known alpine cols along the way. There's no offical direction, although most people ride it from north to south, but we were asked to re-organise it to offer it in the opposite direction, and this is the result. The road across the mountains was constructed a hundred years ago, allowing easy access to isolated villages for the first time, many of which have since become ski resorts. If you've been here skiing, you'll be amazed at how different it looks without its winter coat. The offical route runs straight past the foot of the climb to the Cime de la Bonette (2802m), the second highest paved route in the Alps and the highest point ever reached by the Tour de France, and we couldn't see how you could be so close and not give everyone the option to ride it, so we've included it, which makes this fully-supported cycling tour a little longer, a little more demanding, but also a little more interesting than the official route.
For those who've already ridden it from north to south, this "reverse route" gives you the option to ride these epic cols in the opposite direction, and see how different they are.
When you ride this route from north to south, it's always a pleasure on the last day to make the long descent into Menton. Unfortunately, that means that when you ride it from south to north, you go straight into a climb! We set off from our hotel on the seafront, and after a couple of kilometres we turn left, away from the sea and towards the mountains, and from there, it's onwards and upwards for about 12km in a steady climb to the Col de Castillon (728km). We descend to the town of Sospel, where we follow the river for a while, and then start the climb to the Col de Turini (1607m), a major route in the Monte Carlo Rally, and the site of a momument to 12 people who were shot by the Germans in 1944. It's a 15km descent to the Vésubie Valley, starting quite gently, but getting steeper in the middle, before evening out towards the bottom. We're straight into the next col, following the river Vésubie for about ten kilometres, climbing steadily, until we get to Saint-Martin-Vésubie, where it suddenly becomes a bit steeper for the next 15km. Finally, we're at the Col de Saint Martin (1503m) and the ski resort of Valdeblore La Comiane. From here it's a 12km descent to our overnight stop.
We leave the hotel and we're descending for about 8km into the Tinée valley, where we follow the river for about 5km, until we arrive at Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée. Here we start the 16km climb to the Col de la Couillole (1678m). There's nothing at the top, so we continue on the short, shallow descent to Beuil, a good place to stop for a coffee. From here we climb again, a gentle 7km to the ski resort of Valberg (1672m), taking in the insignificant Col de Sainte-Anne en route. Down again, 14km, to Guillaumes, which has some nice cafés for lunch. Then we set off again on our longest climb to date, the Col de la Cayolle (2327m). The first 17km are easy, riding through a green/grey, fairly open landscape, but then after Entraunes it ramps up to 7 or 8% for the rest of the climb, with bits touching nearly 11%. Again, there's nothing much at the top, except a monument that gives us a great photo opportunity, and then we have the long, winding descent, down into the amazing Bachelard Gorge, one of the most dramatic and interesting parts of the entire trip. The road here is narrow, and the road surface is a bit rough in parts, but the scenery is absolutely stunning, and if it's a hot day, the shade is very welcome. Finally, we arrive in Barcelonette, where we're staying.
Our route leaves Barcelonette and goes straight past the foot of the climb to the Cime de la Bonette (2802m), the highest paved road in Europe, and the highest point ever ridden by the Tour de France, and we wanted to give you the opportunity to ride it. We've tried to keep today a reasonable distance, because for those who choose to take this extra option, it adds significantly to the day - 45km, of which half is obviously uphill, with 1600 metres of additional climbing.
From Barcelonette we follow the river Ubaye along the valley for about 9km to Jausiers, where you turn right if you're including the Cime de la Bonette. As as you ascend, the landscape goes from green fields to barren and rugged mountainsides, and you'll see the ruins of old gun emplacements and barracks. These were originally part of the old Maginot line, which the French built to repel the German invaders during the war. Unfortunately, the line didn't extend to the border in the north and the Germans just went around it. It's now become a metaphor for spending a lot of money on something that was completely pointless. Time to admire the view at the top and take a photo with the monument, and then it's down again, back to Jausiers on the official route, where we catch up with the rest of the group, who probably had a lie-in and a lazy breakfast.
We continue 11km along the Ubaye valley, before we start our second climb of the day, the Col de Vars (2109m). This is quite a shallow climb at the bottom, but the last 4.5km averages 9%, and touches 11.5% at one point! There's a café at the top, and usually a souvenir stall, in case you need any ballast. It's quite a nice descent - good road surface, sweeping bends .... We pass through the ski resort of Les Claux, and then the pace slows as we tackle a number of sharp hairpins coming into Guillestre. This is good place to stop for coffee if you need a break before we start our last climb of the day, the Col d'Izoard (2360m).
We ride along the Guil valley this time, an undulating road, climbing gradually for 15km, before we turn left, and the real climb begins: you gain 1,000 metres in the next 15km, and the gradient touches 11.5% at one point. It's quite open and exposed at the bottom, but as you climb, you get into the shelter of the pine forest. If you have the energy, you can salute the monument to Coppi and Bobet as you go past. There's a short respite, where you're actually doing downhill, and then it's up for the last couple of kilometres to the top. The landscape here is very barren, but the scenery is starkly beatiful. Finally, we have a 20km descent into Briançon. Here's the profile if you just want to ride the day without the extra Col.
And this is the profile, if you choose to add the Cime de la Bonette, which gives you a total distance for the day of 147km with about 4,200m of climbing.
From Briançon we climb, gently at first, along the Guisane valley towards the Col du Galibier (2642m). You'll be pleased to know that it's much easier from this direction than the other side. For the first 18km it's between 1-5%. only ramping up to about 7% after the Col du Lauteret (2058m) about 8km from the top. The final kilometre is 9%. It's very bleak at the top and unless the sun is shining, it will be cold, and probably windy, so you probably won't want to hang around for long, although the view from both sides is stunning. The col sign is quite iconic, and always worth a photo, and then it's on down the other side, avoiding the tunnel (the route goes around, rather than through), and being careful of the traffic lights where the roads meet again afterwards. The descent is quite steep at the top, but less so as you pass through the ski resort of Valloire, approaching the Col du Télégraphe (1566m). We then continue the descent into Saint-Michel-du-Maurienne, where we'll stop for lunch. That's all our serious climbing over for the day, and we ride for about 50km along the Arc valley, through several small towns and villages, and alongside the motorway for about 5km, the worst part of the whole route.
Our last day of riding, and the terrain is noticeably greener and less harsh at the lower altitude that we now find ourselves in. We head back along the valley for about 5km to Flumet, where we turn right, and go straight into the first of our three climbs, the Col D'Aravis (1486m), quite an open road, with lovely views. There's a short section of 9-10% in the middle, but apart from that it's a manageable climb. A photo at the top, and then we descend to La Grand Bornand, where we can stop for a quick coffee. You won't want to get cold, because we're going straight into our second climb, the Col de la Colombière (1618m), which is a fairly steady climb for much of the 12km length, through beautiful scenery, just ramping up a bit towards the top (7-9%). We have an 18km descent into Cluses, where we'll have lunch. From here there's a little "bump" in the road, and we're in Taninges, the foot of our last climb, the Col des Gêts (1172m). This 12km climb starts quite moderately, then at about 3km you have about one kilometre of 9%, and then it gradually gets easier as it goes up. Last coffee stop in Les Gêts, and then it's downhill virtually all the way to Lake Geneva, 20km. We'll have a beer, pack up the bikes, and then have a slap-up dinner on the banks of the lake.