Route des Grand Alps in France and Italy

The Alps can be biked dozens of ways, new passes each time. This summer I felt bold. Once again I flew to Nice, but I intended to bike as close as possible to the Italian border, along the Route des Grandes Alpes. Weather was warm, blue skies, and I biked with all my belongings in just the front bag, so I was fast and nimble. This trip is a dream if you’re lucky with the weather.

The road up to Col du Galibier
Close to the top of Col de l’Iseran

I did Tour de France legends like Col de la Cayolle, Col de Vars, Col d’Izoard, Col du Galibier, Col du Télégraphe, Col de l’Iseran and finally Little St Bernard Pass into Italy. From there it would appear to be smooth sailing to the Aosta valley, but the final pass, Colle San Carlo in Italy was perhaps the toughest ever in my life. 10 km at a constant 10% with short stretches at 15%! I was forever slaloming up to reduce the steepness of the road, and almost gave up.

The last stretch was grueling in a completely different way. It was hard head wind, and really hot, so I had to fight myself down (!) the valley to the city of Aosta. When I arrived my thighs were covered in wet blisters. There’s photographic evidence of the grimy mess, but trust me, you don’t want to see it.

Tour details (grading from 1 to 5)

  • Time of year: June to September
  • Difficulty: 5 (I did almost all the hardest passes in the French Alps)
  • Duration: 7 days
  • Scenery: 5
  • Comments: Make sure your trip doesn’t collide with the Tour de France, and check in advance if the passes are open.
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