Routes, trails and cols – what’s new for cyclists in the French Alps
Summer holidays in the French Alps offer a wealth of cycling opportunities. Discover the latest about e-bikes, mountain-biking, long-distance trails, easy rides and challenging cols, plus a run-down of the best summer cycling events.
Summer Mountain Biking
A wealth of dedicated trails, bike parks and specially adapted bike-carrying chairlifts have made the fun and excitement of cycling in the mountains accessible to just about everyone. Hardcore downhill fans, for example, can now pack in more adrenaline-pumping descents against the clock than ever before, testing both their skills and reactions on trails graded according to their technical demands, much like ski pistes. Since full-on riding like this is also a testing time for their bikes, technical support services are usually on hand to deal with any equipment issues, including supplying and fitting replacement components.
Not that all on-mountain rides need be quite so tough. Fit mountain bikers can clock up as much mileage as they wish on the trails of pioneering areas like the Portes du Soleil, where day-long circuits will take them seamlessly into neighbouring Switzerland and back again, with plenty of time for a relaxed lunch-break along the way. At the other end of the scale, though, are shorter family trails like those we tried at Les Saisies, which enable less-advanced riders and even beginners to get a reassuring feel for the sport in unpressured safety.
The annual Tour de France has countless followers across the globe, many of whom come to France to see the action on the epic mountain stages from the roadside. Increasing numbers of cyclists attempt their own personal goal on one of the legendary Alpine or Pyrenean climbs. If this is you, look out for car-free days which happen on most of the cols during the summer. These are days when traffic is excluded from part or all of the climb enabling anyone to ride to the top at their own pace in the relaxed atmosphere of a car-free road. For a full list of dates see the website Cycling Challenge but we’ve listed a few here.
Electric bikes have really taken off at Alpine resorts over the past few summers. E-bikes are the same as ordinary bikes except on the handlebars, aswell as brakes and gears, there’s a throttle. Squeeze or twist the throttle and the bike is propelled forward by an electric hub motor mounted at the front, mid or rear, and is powered by a rechargeable battery.
In the same way that ordinary bikes are adapted to different terrain, you will find various models of e-bike. You might see VTTAE (velo tout terrain assistance electrique) or VTTE (Vélo tout terrain electrique) for all terrain or off-road cycling but you can also get a hybrid version known as a VTCAE (vélo tout chemin à assistance electrique) and a road bike version VAE or vélo route electrique.
If you want to ride long distance, what about trying the Route des Grandes Alpes? We drove the route some while ago, but doing the 720km between Lake Geneva and Nice by bike would be an amazing adventure. If that sounds like too much of a challenge to start with, check out some of the other dedicated cycle routes in the Alps and the Pyrénées.
Follow one of the long distance Eurovelo routes and you’ll be joining thousands of like-minded European cyclists taking advantage of these dedicated routes. Check out websites like FreewheelingFrance which offers practical advice, details of guided and self-guided holidays and information about travelling with your bike or hiring equipment.
Voie Vertes are cycle trails of varying length on relatively easy terrain, usually a surfaced path or quiet road. They are ideal for leisure cyclists who want to take it easy and admire the scenery, occasionally passing through villages and small towns – ideal for a lunch break or a visit to a local attraction.
See our account of the Sentier des Bords des Dranse – an easy cycle route which follows the course of the river for about 11km from Châtel to Abondance. In summer, you can dine at one of the village restaurants then load your bike onto the shuttle bus for a free ride back to Châtel. Information www.chatel.com
New Routes for Summer 2019
Col de la Loze mountain pass connects Courchevel to Méribel. From this summer it will become a mountain cycle track – the highest in Europe. Traffic will be banned so cyclists will have the road to themselves to enjoy the panoramic views in peace.
Véloroute 63 is a new cycle touring itinerary starting from Chanaz at the end of Lac Bourget. The track follows the shores of the lake then crosses the centre of Chambéry before taking you through the hilly vineyards of Savoie. The route heads for Grenoble before arriving in Valence.
The Geneva Voie Verte (Green Way) is a 12km cycle track that passes through six small towns between the city and Bonne. The route will shortly be extended to Chamonix.
Summer Events 2019
14-16 JUNE ALPS BIKE FESTIVAL, LA CLUSAZ
The must-see festival for mountain bikers. Participants can take part in the Enduro and cross-country races. There are also events for children, various forms of entertainment, concerts and local food tastings. www.alpsbikefestival.com
6-28 JULY TOUR DE FRANCE
The Tour will arrive at Valloire on the 25 July. The following day it goes from St Jean de Maurienne to Tignes. On the 27 July, cyclists will complete the route from Albertville to Val Thorens before the final stage on the Champs d’Elysées. www.letour.fr
21-26 JULY THE TRANSMAURIENNE VANOISE
Six-day mountain-biking challenge. The 31st edition will start in Val Cenis and finish in Aussois after passing through the amazing landscapes of the Haute Maurienne Vanoise including Mont Cenis and the historic Fort d’Essaillon. www.transmaurienne-vanoise.com
19-23 August LA ROSIERE BIKE WEEK
A week of events dedicated to cycling, mountain biking and e-bikes. www.larosiere.net
24-25 AUGUST CYCLOSPORTIVE THOMAS VOECKLER BY MATRA
The Portes du Soleil is launching the first Cyclosportve with champion Thomas Voeckler. Cyclists will have a choice of four itineraries. E-bikes can also take part but won’t be timed. en.portesdusoleil.com
31 AUG – 1 SEPT MEGAWATT, SAMOENS
The first festival dedicated to the electric bike. Beginners and experts will be able to test e-bikes and go on tours with instructors. www.samoens.com