I haven’t posted a ride in a few weeks, but I’ve been doing lot of local cycling. In particular, I’ve been enjoying my home mountain, Mont Salève, overlooking Geneva and its lake. Late Autumn is always extra fun here as lower down is constantly covered in depressing fog/clouds, but if one cycles higher, often it’s gloriously sunny above the clouds.
Mont Blanc View
I’ve written a lot over the years about Mont Salève:
Col de la Croix Fry is one of my favourite winter road bike climbs (it was in the 2018 Tour de France). Above the col is Plateau Beauregard. My simple plan: Skip the main road, and mountain bike to the plateau via small farm roads/trails.
I started in Thônes, the same place where I usually start for Croix Fry but immediately headed in a different direction than usual.
Nice autumn day
After a kilometre I was on small roads (see map). It was paved until 1163 metres. Here begins a very steep rocky “road.” For the next 1.5 kms or so, I would pedal, slip off the bike, push, repeat.
Steeper than it looks. Start of the gravel.
The road gets a touch less steep as I approached the plateau.
With a name like Beauregard it’s not surprising that the views higher up are incredible. Across the valley is the Aravis Alps (La Clusaz ski domain) and in the distance I could see the edge of the mont Blanc massif:
I continued across the plateau, finally reaching the Pointe de Beauregard at 1644 metres. It’s the top of a ski-lift
View from Pointe de Beauregard, high point of ride.
I’ve been on the plateau a few times as it’s great cross-country skiing in winter. The XC-ski trail head is exactly at Col de la Croix Fry (1477 metres), my next destination.
Plateau Beauregard – old photo cross-country skiing
After descending to Col de la Croix Fry, I next headed along the side road towards Col de Merdassier to visit an artificial lake that was almost empty (it has barely rained in months). I had a few other ideas, but lacked a little motivation so I decided to keep the ride simple and short: descending the main Croix Fry road back to the start.
I am not used to seeing this road outside of winter but of course took a photo at my favourite hairpin, a tradition going back more than a decade (see the bottom of post for a bunch of old photos here). This might be my only photo here without lots of snow on the L’Etale peak in distance.
A favourite photo spot
A fun, short, occasionally challenge loop. The views atop Plateau Beauregard are the highlight.
Sept 2016: This updates a December 2015 post with five now ten more climbs. summer 2017: 5 more climbs added. Early 2018: 5 more climbs added. Late 2018: 10 more climbs added.
The Alps are filled with super high, unpaved roads perfect for mountain biking. Usually, they are either old military roads (especially along the French/Italian border) or, service roads for ski lifts. Either way: they are almost always stunning, and completely deserted.
Here is a list of many of the very highest. This is not a complete list, only roads that I have cycled. I will gladly take any recommendations:
It is very difficult to get above 3000 metres on a bike in the Alps, but Col du Jandri is completely ride-able on a ski-lift service road high above Les Deux Alpes ski station.
The good quality gravel road ends just beyond the col at the top of a cable car station, at the base of Glacier de Mont-de-Lans. One could start as low as Bourg d’Oisans at roughly 700 metres for a truly huge climb. But the gravel starts at Les Deux Alpes.
Gornergrat is a high rocky ridge in central Switzerland high above Zermatt. It has dominating views of nearby Monte Rosa (the highest mountain in Switzerland) and of the Matterhorn. There is a tourist train to the summit, and skiing here in winter. To call the surroundings beautiful is an understatement.
This old military road starts in Italy and ends in France atop a mountain at the highest Fort (now ruins) in the Alps. The fort was used by the Italians in WW2 but de Gaulle demanded the mountain be ceded into French territory as part of the WW2 peace settlement.
The summit is literally the very top of a mountain with commanding 360 degree views (hence the fort). The top was flattened and huge artillery towers built. Amazing place.
Full disclosure, this is the one road on this list where even the strongest cyclists will likely do some pushing. But this is an astonishing road – closed to motor vehicles. The photo at the top of article is me descending near the summit of Chaberton. Yikes!
Excuse my snarky title, but I believe many cyclo-tourists do themselves a huge disservice by prioritising Alpe d’Huez above many far, far more interesting roads. So in an effort to convince people to consider cycling somewhere else —– here is my list of 100 better options.
EDIT October 2018: I have added several additional climbs since this post was first published in 2016. In particular, I’ve added quite a few Austrian climbs.
Only paved roads.
Only roads that I have cycled – ie. My list only has French, Swiss, Italian, and Austrian mountains.
A summit counts only once. Although clearly, for example, all three sides of Stelvio, both sides of Gavia, at least two sides of Ventoux, etc. are much more fun than Alpe d’Huez. So this list is really far more than 100 climbs.
For me a good climb is a combination of challenging, high, quiet, and beautiful (eg. mountains, hairpins, cliffs, alpine lakes, etc).
Feel free to disagree with some climbs on my list, but yes, I excluded a bunch of other roads that should have, at least arguably, made the cut. For maps, photos and trip reports for any of the below climbs, click on the links below or put the name into the search bar at top right of page.
100 Climbs Better than Alpe d’Huez
Colle del Nivolet – Super high, killer hairpins, and a bunch of stunning alpine lakes. The best.
Kaunertal – In Tyrol Austria, the Kaunertaler Gletscherpanoramastraße is the 5th highest paved road in the Alps (2750 metres)! It was built in 1980 as a ski station road. Amazingly, it’s kept open 12 months a year.
Monte Grappa – 9(!) Hors Categorie routes up this legendary Italian mountain.
Monte Grappa Bike Day
Grossglockner – Probably the most beautiful climb in Austria. Remember to climb the cobbled extension: the Edelweissspritze, up to 2571 metres.
Mont Ventoux – Three ways up to this unique lunar experience.
Lago di Narèt – Hidden in the Italian part of the Swiss Alps, this tough, quiet, long climb has several beautiful dams/lakes. I called this the best climb NOT in either of Daniel Friebe’s great Mountain Higher(er) series.