If you’re a keen road cyclist and a fan of the Tour de France, the scenic roads of The French Alps are likely to be high on your bucket list of places to ride. If planned well, a cycling trip in this stunning region offers total escapism with breathtaking natural beauty, quiet roads and exciting climbs to test your stamina. But where do you start when planning your trip?
To answer all our questions we sought the advice of James Wakelin, an avid cyclist and the manager of bike friendly hotel The Farmhouse, located in Morzine, in the beautiful Portes du Soleil mountain range. Here are James’ top considerations for planning a road cycling holiday in the Alps.
1) Should you take your own bike or hire one locally when you arrive?
If you own a road bike it will no doubt be one of your prized possessions and your preferred bike to ride on any day of the week. It is understandable that travelling with your cherished bike could make you nervous. But with a carefully packaged bike in a good bike box, your bike will be absolutely fine. Plus many airlines will accept bikes at a low fee. You then have the benefit of riding your own bike and can tackle the hills without any worries.
On the flip side, if you want to rock up at a bike shop and hire a bike that you can hand back at the end of your holiday with no travel hassle, it’s relatively simple to do so. It also gives you the opportunity to try a different bike if you are thinking of upgrading your own. It’s best to organise this in advance of your trip and to send your measurements from your most recent bike fit. Find a bike shop in your holiday location and forward your details to reserve a high quality bike that has been fitted to your exact measurements. It’s a good idea to do a little research to find a shop with bikes you like, Morzine’s bike shops feature a wide range of well known brands.
2) Should you base yourself in one place, or plan a multiday tour arriving in different locations each evening?
There are many fabulous multiday tours in France. One of the most well known is the Routes des Grandes Alpes. This starts from Thonon-Les-Bains and arrives in Nice 720 kilometres later. A multiday tour is all about the cycling and you will be fully focused on riding.
If you are looking for a more relaxed break with cycling being one of your interests, then basing yourself in one place will give you more flexibility. When it comes to choosing accommodation with plenty to ride nearby, cycling guests who stay at The Farmhouse Hotel are spoilt for choice with cols such as the Joux Plane, Col de la Ramaz and the famous Avoriaz climb among the long list of routes accessible from the hotel. Cyclists also benefit from comfy beds, hot meals, early breakfasts (when requested), a bike workshop and secure bike storage.
3) Hire a guide or go it alone?
This very much depends on you! Are you looking to completely switch off and be shown around the local area by a knowledgeable guide, or would you prefer to plot your route on Strava and head off solo? If you are on a multiday trip you need to decide if you will be bike packing (carrying all your own supplies) or using a tour company. The tour company will usually provide cycle guides and a support vehicle.
4) Are you fit enough?
Cycling in the French Alps certainly takes some getting used to. More often than not you are cycling uphill. However, whilst it is true that cycling in the Alps is not for someone just starting out and certainly requires a good level of base fitness, neither should it be reserved solely as a training ground for the pros.
In this corner of the Haute Savoie, we have access to a huge variety of road cycling terrain, so it is possible to choose your own itinerary and make it as easy or as tough on yourself as you wish.
5) When to go
The winter season in the Alps runs from mid December to mid April. So, these months should definitely be avoided, unless you are a keen skier! The best time of year for road cycling is from June to mid September, with the quietest, and coolest weeks, found at the beginning and end of this stretched summer season.
6) Cycling in the heat
It is very easy to underestimate how much the heat can affect you when riding in the French Alps. Two points here: Firstly, always use sun cream even if the sun is not shining. Do not underestimate the intensity of the sun at altitude. Secondly, make sure you stay well hydrated. This will fend off cramps, a loss in performance and heat exhaustion.
7) Pace yourself
It is day one in the saddle, and you are super excited about racing up your first col, as you should be! You will find the mountain climbs are significantly longer than those you are used to. So, remember to pace yourself, keep a close eye on your heart rate and enjoy the spectacular views.
Discover the amazing road cycling in Morzine and the surrounding mountains
Photos by StoryCrafters