Thursday, July 16, 2020

Top 10 best roads for cycling in France

The scary Parpaillon Tunnel! Long, unlit, wet, it has it all!

We cyclists are always dreaming of the best roads for cycling. Usually big mountains but not only them. Also other kind of roads with personality, with something special that makes most of us be willing to ride them and get another road ticked in our personal list.

The following is my personal list of best 10 roads in France. Did not ride all of them but I did most. And of course I am open to include other roads if they are proven to be better!


  1. Combe de Laval. When there is a list of the best gorges in France, this road in Combe du Laval comes always to the top. Please visit https://www.cycling-challenge.com/combe-laval-col-de-la-bataille-loop-vercors/
  2. Col de la Loze : This is the brand new road only for cyclists linking the high ski resorts of Meribel and Courchevel. Opened in May 2019, and is the seventh-highest mountain pass in France. The ascent featured in the 2019 Tour de l'Avenir, and will also feature in the 2020 Tour de France. See video on top of the list.
  3. Gorges du Verdon. One of the nicest Gorges in France, amazing place for cycling close to the mediterranean coast. A couple of amazing cycling loops to discover the region: https://claudi.blogspot.com/2020/03/gorges-du-verdon-un-paraiso-y-no-solo.html
  4. Voie Fignon (Tourmalet). Tourmalet is the most important climb in cycling history, linked to Tour de France. And a part of it is dedicated just to cyclists. Can you imagine that amazing spot without any car and amazing views? Voie Fignon, that's it.
  5. Ventoux/Gorges de la Nesque. That's the best and the most classic loop when you visit the big mountain in the Provence. The right thing to do would be climbing from Bedoin side (the steepest), then Simpson monument and the top. Back same way to Chalet Reynard and then direction to Sault and Gorge de la Nesque to Bedoin again.
  6. Lacets de Montvernier. Included in the Tour de France for the first time in 2015 (and also later in 2018), there are very few roads as scenic as the Lacets de Montvernier, stunning. The Lacets are in the Alps, close to the famous Col de la Madeleine.
  7. Cirque de Navacelles. Little unknown place southern France, but fantastic spot.
  8. Cirque du Litor. One of the key places in the Pyrenees on the way to Col d'Aubisque from Col de Soulor. You are lucky if you get it on claer day witout mist, with amazing views.
  9. Passage de Gois. Another little road discovered by the Tour de France in 1999. This road is covered with mud as it is under the sea 12 hours a day (high tide). And then, when the low tide you can ride it. Weird feeling riding there.
  10. Tunel de Parpaillon. This a scary no lit tunnel over 1 km long at 2300 mts height, one of the highest in the Alps. Very special place. Last half of the ascent is not asphalted, then MTB or gravel bike needed. https://claudi.blogspot.com/2011/08/el-tunel-du-parpaillon-en-busca-de-un.html
France has plenty of amazing roads, a dream for every cyclist. But this top 10 list is hard to beat. Do you agree? Any other road that should be on the list. Comment below!




Saturday, June 13, 2020

10 Hardest stages ever in Grand Tours

Coppi in Cuneo Pinerolo
Coppi in Cuneo Pinerolo
It is difficult to make a list of the hardest stages in Grand Tours ever. After doing some research, you can read this list of 10 stages showing some of the most epic stages in history. Distance and elevation make those stages very special, and some of them will be, no doubt, in cycling History forever.

I've chosen 4 for Tour de France, 4 for Giro d'Italia and 2 from La Vuelta a España.

- Stage Luchon-Bayonne in Tour de France. Classic stage 326 km long including Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque and the much smaller Osquich. This stage was in the Tour de france route years1910, 1911 and 1912, and opposite direction Bayonne-Luchon (possibly harder as the big climbs are at the end of the stage) was in the years 1913, 1914 and 191 to 1929.
One of the most famous Tour de France stages, if not the most
- Tour de France 1983 stage Bourg d'Oisans-Morzine with 247 km and 7200 mts elevation including Col du Glandon, La Madeleine, Aravis, Colombiere, Chatillon and Joux Plane. The winner was Jacques Michaud in an amazing stage with 7 hours 45' 25". In this stage Laurent Fignon gave a big step to the final overall win.
Bourg d'Oisans Morzine, epic stage Tour de France 1983

- Tour de France 1992, stage Saint Gervais-Sestriere, 254 km long and 6500 mts elevation, including Col de Saisies, Cormet de Roselend, Iseran, Mont Cenis and Sestriere. Claudio Chiappucci was the winner in an amazing breakaway from km 28, wearing the polka dot jersey. It took 7 hours 44 minutes 51 seconds. Miguel Indurain bonked a few km to the finish line.
Epic stage ending in Sestriere, Tour de France 1992
- Tour de France 1996. Stage Argeles Gazost-Pamplona, 262 km including  Aubisque, Marie Blanque Soudet and Larrau (and still 100 km to go to Pamplona). The winner was the swiss Laurent Dufaux in 7 hours 7 minutes. Indurain said to be the hardest stage in his carrer. No need to say any more.
The stage should have been a tribute to Indurain.
- Giro d'Italia 1914. It is said to be the hardest big tour ever with 5 stages over 400 km long. Stage 1 Milano-Cuneo was 420 km long including the climb to Sestriere (this was the hardest stage ever in Giro d'Italia history as per La Gazzetta dello Sport), but according to other souces, stage 6 Bari-L'Acquila was the hardest, with many riders forced to retire.

- Giro d'Italia 1949. The epic stage Cuneo-Pinerolo won by Fausto Coppi is one of the most dramatic wins in cycling history, including the climbs to Maddalena, Vars, Izoard, Mongenevre and Sestriere. Coppi won in 9 hours, 19 min 55 sec.

One of the most famous stages ever. Cuneo-Pinerolo
- Giro d'Italia 2011 Conegliano-Gardeccia Val di Fassa, 229 km with the climbs to Piancavallo, Forcella Cibiana, Passo Giau, Passo Fedaia and Gardeccia. The winner was the basque Mikel Nieve in 7 hours 27 minutes.
Conegliano-Gardeccia Val di Fassa, Giro d'Italia 2011
- Giro d'Italia 2012: Caldes-Passo dello Stelvio: 218 km and total elevation 5900 mts, including Passo del Tonale, Aprica, Mortirolo and Stelvio. The winner was Thomas de Gendt in 6hr 54 min 51 sec.
Queen stage ending at Passo dello Stelvio
- Vuelta a España 1992 Viella - Luz Ardiden, a stage 144 km long including Portillon, Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden. Total elevation 4500 mts. The winner was Laudelino Cubino in 4 h 52' 36". It is said to be one of the hardes stages in La Vuelta history.

- Vuelta a España 2015, Andorra la Vella-Cortals d'Encamp 145 km with Collada de Beixalis, Ordino, La Rabassa, Collada de la Gallina, and finish at Cortals d'Encamp at 2005 mts height. About 5000 mts elevation. Stage winner was Mikel Landa in 4hours 34 min 54 sec.
Stage in Andorra, not a single flat kilometer

This is my list of hardest stages ever in Grand Tours.
Do you agree? Feel free to share and comment below.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Top 10 best cycling climbs in the Pyrenees

Col du Tourmalet, the king of Pyrenees passes
It is always a hard job to choose the best climbs in a mountain range. Specially a very big one as the Pyrenees, with over 600 km of mountains, being the border between France and Spain..

There are many different criteria to keep in mind to make a list like this one. I chose 2 main criteria: landscape beauty and steepness. I also had in mind other points as traffic conditions. These are my favourite climbs in the Pyrenees:
  1. Port de Bales: This solitaire pass was asphalted recently and first included in Tour de France year 2007. Often into the rain and mist, if you get to the top in a clear sunny day you will have one of your best experiences upon a bike. And also challenging: on the Mauleon side they are 20 km and over 1200 mts elevation.
  2. Port de Pailheres: This climb has been included several times in Tour de France since 2003. Not one of the historical passes, but no doubt one of the most beautiful. The right side to climb is from Mijanes. There are a couple of very nice loops including Pailheres: With Col de Chioula and Col de Pradel. Both about 80 km and 3000 mts elevation the whole loop.
  3. Col du Tourmalet: The king of all the climbs in the Pyrenees. Possibly the most famous in the Pyrenees. Not the steepest, not the longest, but full of cycling history, first climbed in Tour de france 1910. The Geant at the top, the souvenir shop, the restaurant with the bikes hanging from the ceiling... A must for every cyclist to get up there!
  4. Col d'Aubisque. The second most important climb in the Pyrenees. Only being neighbors with Tourmalet makes it a little less important. The Laruns side (Gourette ski station) is the steepest, but the Soulor side is simply beautiful with the iconic Cirque du Litor. Aubisque was first included in Tour de France in 1910 as well.
  5. Hourquette d'Ancizan. This is an alternative climb to the classic Col d'Aspin. First used in Tour de France in 2011, Hourquette d'Ancizan is a tiny narrow road with spectacular landscape. Not a hidden gem since it was already included in TdF, but definitely not one of the most famous.
  6. Coll d'Ordino (Also known as Collet de Montaup). In Andorra, it is not specially high nor steep, but it is a beautiful one. Worth to mention a spectacular viewpoint called Mirador del Roc del Quer on the Canillo side. Nearby you can find the climb to Ordino-Arcalís, which is also beautiful, and the iconic big O at the top.
  7. Amazing views at La Creueta.
  8. Collada de la Gallina. Also in Andorra, which has become recently a kind of cycling paradise. Recently (2015) asphalted the side from Fontaneda. Terribly steep climb which has already some cycling history as Vuelta a España included Collada de la Gallina in 2012, 2013 and 2018. The Godfather of this climb is the former professional cyclist Joaquim "Purito" Rodríguez, who lives in Andorra.
  9. La Creueta. Not very known pass in the spanish (catalan) Pyrenees, close to La Molina ski station. The right side to climb is from La Pobla de Lillet (also from Gombren). Scenic climb with amazing views. Solitaire one, which makes it an additional reason to be included in the list.
  10. Port de Larrau. Border pass in the basque Pyrenees, one of the steepest all over the Pyrenees on the french side. It was discovered to the world of cycling on Tour de France 1996, in a monster stage which was the end of Miguel Indurain era, the day thet the Tour de France ended at his doorstep.
  11. Cirque du Troumouse/Col des Tentes/Boucharo. In fact they are 2 different roads starting at Gedre, a little south Luz St Sauveur (starting point of west side of Col du Tourmalet). At Gedre there are 2 roads, one heading to the beautiful Cirque de Gavarnie (the road follows to Col des Tentes/Boucharo already in Spain) and the second one is a toll road to Cirque du Trumouse, fantastic solitaire road. Both are dead end roads. A must.
Recently, the Cyclist Magazine from UK released a top 100 cycling climbs all over the world, and there were 13 climbs from the Pyrenees: 7 of them are in the list here (missing the spanish and Andorra ones) and the nice climbs missing in our list are Soulor (which makes part of Aubisque), Lac de Cap de Long, Aspin, Peyresourde, Superbagneres and Hautacam. 

Sure there are many other nice roads in the Pyrenees, I specially want to mention the small basque mountains (Izpegi is one of my favourites), but it is always hard to make a top 10 ranking. I hope you agree with me! If not, comment below!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Cycling the Pyrenees border passes

Cycling Coll de Banyuls
Col de Banyuls, close to the mediterranean coast
The Pyrenees is the natural border between France and Spain. There are a lot of asphalted passes in the Pyrenees, some in the french side, some in the spanish side, but only some of them are exactly with the border at the top, having one side from France and one side from Spain.

Usually the french side is longer, steeper and colder, being on the north face. Worth to know this information when planning a cycling tour in the Pyrenees.

Let's have a quick list of all of them, starting from east to west, from the catalan Pyrenees to the Basque Pyrenees.
  1. Coll de Banyuls (355 M) This is the most eastern proper mountain pass in the Pyrenees linking the coastal french Banyuls sur Mer with the little known village in Girona called Espolla. Very steep french side, longer, milder and nicer the catalan side.
  2. Col de Pertus (290 mts). This is a historical pass, the lowest point to cross the Pyrenees. The main road is filled with cars and traffic, totally avoidable. Nevertheless in the Pirinexus route goes through this easy pass avoiding the road in a gravel path.
  3. Costoja (830 mts) Little unknown pass in Girona province, even if it is a wide nice road. The starting point in Spain is the village called Tapis, and on the french side there is a village close to the top called Costoja, (Coustouge in french).
  4. Coll de Manrella (637 m) Even smaller and less known pass than the previous Costoja. There is a monument dedicated to the people who exiliated to France through this tiny pass after the Civil war in Spain. Solitaire road, in fact there is about 1 km gravel path on the french side.
  5. Coll d'Ares (1513 mts). Possibly the most known border pass in Girona province. Again, the french side is much more demanding. 32 km long from Arles sur Tech, or 14 km from Prats de Molló. On the way to Coll d'Ares you can collect other cols as Col de la Seille (1185 m) and Col de la Guille (1194). Interesting for the climbs collectors, type Club des cent Cols.
  6. Monument at Portillon (spanish side)
  7. Col de Portillon (1293 mts). As usual, the french side from Bagneres de Luchon is much steeper than the spanish one from Bossost. The spanish side has some milestones remembering the spanish winners in the Tour de France, and there is a monument dedicated to them at a viewpoint half climb.
  8. Tunnel de Bielsa (1820 mts). This tunnel was opened in 1976 and is 3 km long. The tunnel connects the Lleida spanish province with St Lary Soulan and Fabian, on the french side, starting points of big climbs as Lac d'Aumar, St Lary Soulan or Pla d'Adet.
  9. Puerto de Somport (1650 mts) This pass has a couple of remarkable characteristics: 1) It is a very old historical pass and there was a train line crossing Spain-France, the Canfranc train station is huge and now with no use, just the touristic visits 2) there is a tunnel to get through the mountain which we cyclists should avoid to reach to the top. 3) There is a very known ski station on the spanish side called Candanchú.
  10. Portalet (1794 mts) Same as Somport, bot climbs are included in the "Quebrantahuesos", the most famous sportive (Granfondo) in all of Spain. The starting point of Portalet on the french side is the same as the almighty Aubisque, in a crossroad a little after Laruns.
  11. Larrau (1573 mts) This climb was included in Tour de France 1996 for the first time. Such a discovery and such a climb especially, again, from the french side. Terribly steep.
  12. Pierre St Martin (1760 mts) Pierre St Martin is the highest road in Basque Pyrenees. In fact there are 7 sides of this monster climb, just one from Nafarroa and other six in France. Included in Tour de France 2015 with big show and victory of Chris Froome. Click on link to learn more about the seven sides. 
    Cycling Izpegi
    Col d'Izpegi, beautiful
  13. Izpegi (690 mts). Simply beautiful. An amazing pass specially the side from Saint Etienne de Baigorry in France. This pass is often included in the Transpyrenees trips, and also makes part of the famous "Route des Cols" in the Pyrenees.
  14. Ibardin (316 mts) This little climb has been included in Itzulia (Vuelta al Pais Vasco) several years ago. 
  15. Lizuniaga (219 m) Little pass from Bera de Bidasoa with a Hotel on top.
 Now there is no police control on every border pass, but there was a time when it was, not so long ago...

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Luchon-Bayonne the most classic stage in the Pyrenees

Luchon Bayonne, this is a Tour de France stage, come on.
Luchon-Bayonne is one of the classical stages in Tour de France history.

326 km including Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque. Also the small Osquich closer to the end. This is real cycling, this is cycling from the old times. This stage was first included in the Tour de France in 1910. Can you imagine the bikes and the roads in 1910? They were HEROES.

The first winner was Octave Lapize in 1910. When he arrived to the finish he said the famous sentence to organizers “Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!", “You are murderers!”.

These are the Tours in which this stage was included (either Luchon-Bayonne, either Bayonne Luchon). Opposite direction (west to east) is even a more demanding stage, as the climbs are closer to the end of the stage. Here is the list of the Tours and the stage winners:

1910 Luchon-Bayonne 326 km Octave Lapize
1911 Luchon-Bayonne 326 km Maurice Brocco
1912 Luchon-Bayonne 326 km Louis Mottiat
1913 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Philippe Thijs
1914 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Firmin Lambot
 (World War 1)
1919 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Honoré Barthelemy
1920 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Firmin Lambot
1921 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Hector Heusghem
1922 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Jean Alavoine
1923 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Jean Alavoine
1924 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Ottavio Bottecchia
1925 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Adeline Benoit
1926 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Lucien Buysse
1927 Bayonne-Luchon 326 km Nicolas Frantz
1929 Bayonne-Luchon 363 km Salvador Cardona

In the old times the Tour de France (or La Grand Boucle-the big loop) was really a route around France following the pentagone shape of France. The route was very similar for many years then some stages were always the same: Brest-Les Sables d'Olonne 412 km, Les Sables d'Olonne-Bayonne 482 km, Bayonne-Luchon 326 km , Luchon-Perpignan 323 km.

There is a Granfondo organized by the Federation Françoise de Cycloturisme, that follows exactly this stage, from Bayonne to Luchon. There are 2 choices: doing in just one stage the 326 km, and the second option is doing it in 2 stages. Next 2020 the dates are June 20th and 21st.

In our Transpyrenees trip we climb all these famous mountains in different stages: Stage 1 Hondarribia-St Jean de Pied de Port, Stage 2 St Jean de Pied de Port-Bielle (including Osquich), Stage 3 Bielle-Luz St Sauveur (including Aubisque), Stage 4 Luz St Sauveur-Luchon (including Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde). Join us!!

Col d'Aubisque

Col de Peyresourde

Col d'Osquich

Le Tourmalet, le roi

Monday, March 23, 2020

Sant Hilari Sacalm, 4 different sides to climb

Girona cycling climbs
Amazing climb to Sant Hilari from Osor
When in Girona for Cycling, Sant Hilari Sacalm is one of our favourite rides.
Sant Hilari Sacalm is also called the town of 100 fountains and it is obviously a town linked to water, as there are also several water bottling plants.
It is located at 786 mts height.

Girona cycling climbs
In this map you can see all 4 sides suggested
There are several sides:

- 1) From Girona the most popular starting point is Anglès. Amazing 25 km long climb crossing the small village Osor. A little variation is climbing from Pantà de Susqueda and getting the same road at Osor. The original 25 km climb from Anglès is one of the highlights of cycling in Girona, no doubt, both for the beauty of the road into the forest and also the totally lack of any traffic. Amazing.+
Girona cycling climbs
Big brigdes crssing road C-25
- 2) Also from Girona you could start the climb at Santa Coloma de Farners. This solitaire road is a very usual way to close the gap to Girona when you have climbed from Anglès. The loop is around 100 km long.
Girona cycling climbs
Coll de Revell, interesting solitaire road
- 3) Third side is a little different, as it starts at Arbucies and goes along Coll de Revell. Once at the top of Coll de Revell (821 mts) the road goes on on a mild 5 km climb to Els Cortals, and then you get Sant Hilari Sacalm

- 4) Fourth side from Arbúcies is possibly the least charming, as it is a busier and wider road wich goes close to the main C-25 road. Busier, wider and also a little steeper, it is a good option to take on the way down as it is a faster way to descend.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Port Ainé, stage ending in Volta a Catalunya 2020

Volta a Catalunya 2020
Elevation profile for Port Ainé
It has been unveiled the route of Volta a Catalunya professional cycling race for 2020.

It is a very special edition as it is the 100th edition of the oldest cycling race in Spain.
3/23 Calella-Calella
3/24 TT Banyoles (Girona)
3/25 Canal Olimpic-Vallter 2000
3/26 Ripoll-Port Ainé
3/27 La Pobla de Segur-Manresa
3/28 Tarragona-Mataró
3/29 Barcelona-Barcelona

There will be 2 mountain stage endings. First one will be in Vallter 2000 (a classic finish, included several times in Volta a Catalunya route), and the second one is at Port Ainé.

Port Ainé has been included three times in the route of Volta a Catalunya. But only twice the race arrived to the top of the climb... How can that be? In 2012 the route included the climbs to Port del Cantó and Port Ainé as stage ending. Nevertheless, the weather was extremely cold with snow vat the mountains and the climb to Port Ainé was cancelled (Stage winner Brajkovič described the stage and its conditions as the "hardest day of his life"). See details here.

The second time that the Volta arrived to Port Ainé was in 2016 edition, and the winner was Thomas de Gendt.See whole stage video here:

 

And the third time was in 2013 edition with Dan Martin winning at the top of the climb.

The climb itself is a long climb in the Pyrenees, and the bottom is located very close to a village called Rialp. The elevation profile showed in the article is a little shorter than it is nowadays, as the road gets to 2000 mts.

A true monster climb with almost 20 km of climbing, with over 6% average gradient!
Here we have the Strava segment for the climb:

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Steep climbs in La Cerdanya (Catalonia)

Cycling map Cerdanya
Map including the main climbs in La Cerdanya
La Cerdanya is a catalan region, close to the border with France, which main city is Puigcerdà.
This is a fantastic ski region, but not so known for the cycling, which is also great.
La Cerdanya is a big valley reaching to Andorra on the main road N260. There are a lot of climbs on both north (french) and south (spanish) sides.

The most popular climb around Puigcerdà is probably Collada de Tosas, the natural link with the rest of Catalonia. This is an amazing 25 km long climb (on both sides) . Volta a Catalunya has included several stage endings at La Molina ski Station (very close to Collada de Tosas and in fact on the way to it), another famous climb in La Cerdanya.

Also starting in Puigcerdà is Col de Puymorens (1915 m), on the way to Col d'Envalira and Andorra. Puymorens is a high road in the Pyrenees, a little busy though, specially on the way to Ax les Thermes!

Cycling Cerdanya
Talltendre, a climb for die-hard cyclists
cycling La Cerdanya
Cap de Rec, very interesting (and long) climb

Being in the border with France, it is worth mentioning some nice climbs on the french side, such as Osseja, Puigmal Ski Station or Lac de Builloses.

But let's present a couple of nice (and steep) climbsin La Cerdanya, not-so-known. First one is Talltendre, a true killer-climb with some passes over 18%. No exit road, you have to come back same way you climbed. Total distance of the climb is 7,8 km and the height at the top is 1575 m. See elevation profile attached.

The second interesting climb I want to introduce is Cap de Rec. This is a much longer an higher climb, not so steep though. The road leading to this shelter is the same that the one leading to Aranser Ski station, and then half the climb there is a deviation to Cap de Rec. They are 16,4 km, and the elevation at the top is 1986 meters, very close to 2000.

You noticed that there are plenty of interesting climbs in La Cerdanya valley in Catalonia. Worth a visit!