Outdoor shots from French Alps and one from Glacier National Park

Bike Links

I hope that this information might be useful for non-European cyclists who are planning a cycling trip the mountains of France and Italy. A few miscellaneous items:

  • If you find a stale web pointer, typo, mistake, etc. please email me
  • Yes. I know that Europe has more than two countries but I'm only trying to deal with France and Italy so, at least for now, when you see "European" pronounce it "French and Italian" :^)
Table of contents
Website Pointer Description
Bicycle Touring Companies Companies who run tours for "riders"
Cycling Camps/Inns Lodgings where the cycling lodger is the raison d'être
European Climbs (Miscellany) Miscellaneous sites with trip reports, advice and information about mountain riding in Europe
European Maps and Guides Information on the best maps for riding through France and Italy and places to get them
Randonées/Gran Fondos Organized one day rides in France and Italy
Travel Links Links with lodging and travel planning information
New England Climbs (Miscellany) Well so far it's only Mt. Washington listed here but there are lots of notable climbs in New England

Bicycle Touring Companies

This is not a comprehensive list of bicycle touring companies . It's biased towards my own preferences which some might call those of a "serious cyclist" and other less generous folks might call elitist. Oh well. I'm not saying there's a right or wrong way to take a bike vacation - only what I am looking for personally. If your desires for a bike vacation are similar to mine then you will find these companies of interest. (If you happen to know of other companies that meet these criteria please email me.)

What I'm looking for in a bicycle touring company:

  • Tours in Italy and France
  • Road riding tours (as opposed to mountain biking) although some of these companies offer both
  • Spending as much time in the mountains as possible rather than avoiding them
  • Routes of 50 to 100 miles per day

List of bicycle touring companies:

Cycling Camps/Inns...

An organized tour with a company is only one way to go. Another option is to spend a single block of time at one place and take loop rides out of that locale every day. The places in this list specialize in providing this kind of bike vacation. The criteria are the same as for the list of bicycle touring companies so the same caveats apply. (If you happen to know of other places that meet these criteria please email me.)

  • Pyreneen Pursuits: A small guest house in the Ariège department of the central Pyrénées in France. Located in the town of Massat (well actually Biert but Massat is easier to find on the map) about halfway between the small cities of St. Girons and Tarascon-sur-Ariège on the D618. The proprietors are Nick and Jan Flanagan, expatriots from the UK. What can I say. I have never been happier with a choice of a place to stay while cycling than I was with Pyreneen Pursuits. I couldn't recommend it enough.
  • Italian Cycling Center: A cycling camp located in a small town called Borso del Grappa which is just east of Bassano del Grappa. The ICC is situated where the flats meet the mountains affording riding of all levels and on all terrain. Borso del Grappa sits at the base of the monster 27 km. climb of the Monte Grappa yet the riding to the south is pan flat. The proprietor, George Pohl, is knowledgable about Italian history, art, music and culture in general.
  • Velo Veneto Literally 7 km. down the road from the ICC in Castelcucco. I can't comment further since I've never stayed there.
  • VéloSport Vacations They offer a spring training camp in addition to their guided tours. I can't comment further since I've never stayed there.

European Climbs (Miscellany)

This is a list of miscellaneous sites with trip reports, advice, information about cols, etc. Again it's mostly France and Italy. If you happen to know of other sites that would fit into this list please email me.)

  • Gerry Soto's Cycling Web Page At this site Gerry Soto writes up his numerous cycling trips many of which are to France and Italy. Among other things there's a switchback-by-switchback account of his ride up l'Alpe d'Huez.
  • Carlos Nates' Cycling Page This sight has pointers to climb profiles some of the classic climbs of the TdF. A few in Spain (including the Angirlu) and Italy too.
  • Cols in Frankrijk This site (in Dutch) has tabular information on many cols in France, the Netherlands and Belgium.
  • Eurocols This site (in English) has writeups with photos, links and tabular information on many cols in Europe.
  • Trento Bike Pages Lots of info about European bike touring in English. Tour write ups. Articles. Links.
  • Bruce Hildenbrand's Guide to Bicycle Touring in Europe Pointed to by the Trento bike pages but worth calling out on its own for American cyclists planning a bike vacation to Europe.
  • l'Alpe d'Huez Home Page In English and French. The site includes a clickable, very detailed map of the village. For those interested in seeing the exact route that the Tour de France stage finish takes through the village. Click here.
  • Bike Pyrenees From their mission statement, "Our policy is to be a bank of information for anyone interested in the Pyrenees and Cycling.".
  • KOM Cycling Home Page Tabular info in English on paved road climbs all around the world (not just western Europe). If you're interested in riding the mountains of France and Italy I recommend that you subscribe to the KOM Cycling discussion group. See the "Discussion Group" tab for more information.
  • Claudio Montefusco's Home Page In Spanish. Tons of cycling links. For tabular info on climbs in Spain, Italy, France, Austria and Switzerland click here.
  • The Mountain Site Click on a region (eg. Northern Alps) or a country and see elevation profiles and road maps for climbs therein. Very useful! Check out the link for La Marmotte. (La Marmotte is one of the most popular French Randonées riding over the Croix de Fer, Télégraphe/Galibier and ending with the climb to l'Alpe d'Huez.)
  • Francis & Sheila's Virtual Alps The definitive picture guide of cycle touring in the Alps. Consisting mainly of photos (not a lot of text) from trips taken by the Francis and Sheila on their numerous trips to the Alps. It seems they've been just about everywhere.

European Maps and Guides...

OK. I admit it. I'm a nut for maps. The maps that I'm familiar with for France and Italy that are of use to cyclists (and hikers in some cases) follow. I list them in increasing order of scale. The maps with the higher scale have the advantage of being more detailed but the disadvantage of not covering as large areas. In general maps of 1:100,000 or 1:200,000 seem to be best for cycling. They cover large enough areas so that they will almost always allow you to travel with only one map in your pocket where the more detailed maps might require two or even three maps. Who wants to ride with three maps taking up valuable pocket real estate? The more detailed maps do help with advance trip planning. You can use them to scope out possible back roads that aren't on the less detailed maps or to help you get through a city without having the full city map. They are also good for hiking. I have at least one of each of the map types listed here and they've all been useful.

  • Michelin Regional Road Maps (1:200,000, France) The Michelin 1:200,000 maps of France, commonly refered to as the Michelin yellow maps, are the single most useful maps for cycle touring in France. They have sufficient detail for cycling and yet cover a wide enough area so that you only need to travel with one map. Their most uniquely useful feature for cyclists are the gradient indicators which appear on prolonged grades. To indicate the grade one to three angle brackets (>) are used. The bracket(s) point in the uphill direction. One bracket indicates a gradient of 5 - 9 %, two a gradient of 9 - 13% and 3 a gradient in excess of 13%. Cols are indicated with >.< and the elevation. Additionally elevation points are given plentifully at various points. There are also the usual tourist map nicities like icons for ruins, castles, scenic vistas, etc. All in all if you had to only buy from one set of maps for your trip to France the Michelin yellow maps are the way to go.
  • Kümmerly+Frey Italian Regional Maps (1:200,000, Touring Club Italiano) These are the functional equivalent of the Michelin yellow maps. They are at the same scale and also have the angle bracket percent gradient indicators. They are a must for cycle touring in Italy.
  • IGN Serie Verte (1:100,000, France) These are road/topo maps with contour lines. They don't have as many distance indicators as the Michelin yellows and don't have the gradient indicators but they are nice for a little more detail in a particular area.
  • Didier Richard Maps (1:50,000, France) These are mostly for hikers but again the increased scale might be of use for route planning.
  • IGN Serie Bleu (1:25,000, France) Same comments as for the Didier Richard maps.

Les Atlas de Cols...

The Atlas de Cols guides are a series of books which give information of interest to cyclists about climbs in France. Each guide covers all the climbs in a particular area. There are three for the Alps and four for the Pyrénées and other areas like the Massif Central are also covered in other books. The books are in French but as much of the information is in graphic form they are still useful for non-French speakers. For each climb the following information is provided:

  • Text information:
    • Altitude
    • State of the road
    • Time period in which the climb is typically open, that is, free of snow
    • Scenic beauty rating from one to three stars
    • A brief text description of the climb
    • A detailed itinerary of the climb from the base to the top. Except for one-way climbs this includes a separate itinerary for each approach to the climb. Many climbs have three itineraries like the Col du Mollard.
  • Profile
  • Map The maps seem to be black and white copies of the yellow Michelin maps with dark blue highlighter on the route(s).

You can buy the Atlas de Cols guides through the Altigraph site or from Au Vieux Campeur.

Sites where you can find maps and guides of use in bicycle touring in Europe (er um, France and Italy):

  • Altigraph At this site (in French) you can find information on many publications about cycling (road and off-road) in the mountains of France including information on Les Atlas de Cols. There are also articles with titles like, "Pédalier à 2 ou 3 plateaux ?" or "Riding with 2 or 3 chain rings?".
  • Au Vieux Campeur sells Les Atlas de Cols and they accept credit card orders which is nice for foreigners. This is where I bought mine. I emailed them (See their web page for the email address) with the order.
  • The Globe Corner Bookstore has a very well layed out web site. Search and / or browse to Road Maps. For each map series they have:
    • a map sample to view
    • a list of maps in the series
    • an index that shows the patchwork of maps superimposed over the entire mapped region so you know which map(s) you need
    • prices and all the info you need to buy on line.
  • Elstead Maps sells a variety of maps of potential interest to the cycle tourist. They have, among other things, the Didier Richard maps.

Randonées/Gran Fondos...

In France there are many organized, supported group rides called "randonées". As a rule they are open to anyone providing you have either of the following:

  • a racing license in your home country
  • a signed certificate from your doctor stating that you are fit to ride a bike for long distances over strenuous terrain.

Miscellaneous points about randonées:

  • These events vary in levels of support and the number of riders as with similar rides in the states.
  • Many of the rides provide timing services and awards and the results are put into the big cycling magazines. One common practice is to award riders with either a gold, silver or bronze medal based on their age, sex and finishing time.
  • Many of the rides offer short and long courses. Some offer short, medium and long.
  • The events aren't offically races but the more popular ones are treated as such by many folks. Evidently there is becoming a sub-class of quasi-professional racers who dominate these events causing some rightful resentment on the part of joe-blow-riders-with-day-jobs-and-families. I have even heard rumors of doping among these quasi-professional riders. This being said, these events are still by and for cycle tourists so don't be afraid to enter one just because you aren't a racer. It's mostly non-racers that do these (I think).
  • In Italy these rides are called Gran Fondos (Gran Fondi ? ;^) ). As far as I know the same general rules apply.

List of pointers for randonée/gran fondo information...

  • Calendari Granfondo At this site (in Italian) you can find information on various Italian Granfondos.
  • SportPro At this site (in Italian) you can find information on various Italian Granfondos.
  • Gran Fondo Campagnolo At this site (in Italian and English) you can find information on the Gran Fondo Campagnolo which is one of the biggies. The "percorso Gran Fondo" (long course) hits the Passo Manghen, Passo Rolle and the Passo Croce D'Aune for a total of just over 200km. Passo Croce D'Aune is where Tulio Campagnolo had difficulties with a wheel change in a race in cold weather and had the revelation for the invention of the quick release skewer.
  • Maratona dles Dolomites A very popular Gran Fondo in the Dolomites of Northern Italy the Maratona dles Dolomites long course for 2000 took in the Passo Campolongo, Passo Pordoi, Passo Sella, Passo Gardena, Passo Campolongo, Passo Giau and Passo Falzarego/Valparola over a total distance of 147 km. and 4345 m. of climbing. The ride starts and ends in Corvara. Although I've never ridden this event I've been over many of these roads and can say this one must be absolutely gorgeous. This site gives you the choice of Italian, French, German or English.

Travel Links...

List of pointers to sites I have found useful for researching travel and booking...

  • Mappy.fr This site (in seven languages the last time I looked) has a really neat tool that lets you enter a starting and ending city and gives you a driving route between the two comprised of an intinerary in text and a pointer to a map. It allows you to enter the type of car you're driving and estimated fuel cost. For France it will also give you the tolls you'll pay on the freeways.
  • Logis-de-France Hotels List The Logis-de-France is an association of French hotels. I've found the ones I've stayed at to be nice places and most are inexpensive.

New England Climbs (Miscellany)...

Miscellaneous information about some New England climbs. Not at all comprehensive, mostly just from my own knowledge. If you happen to know of other sites that would fit into this list please email me.

  • Mt. Washington Information for anyone interested in climbing this incredibly difficult climb.

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