Maëlle lives in Passy in the French Alps, close to Chamonix, Annecy, with that big mountain called “Mont-Blanc” as a landscape from her bedroom window.
She is a part-time physiotherapist student, getting her diploma doing 50% of the lessons a year. This is a good balance while being a pro cyclist and studying physiotherapist, a job that she will for sure enjoy when her cycling career will be over. Maëlle’s home is her training base between races.
The roads here are my favourite roads in the world
They offer a balanced and challenging terrain, fit for pro training, but equally enjoyed by all cyclists.
One of my favourite loops is “Tour des Aravis”
Leaving from Passy Lake, you can find good car parking to start from.
This ride is in my absolute top 3, with two famous climbs: Col des Aravis and Col de la Colombière. There are spectacular views and good downhills too if you like to feel some high speed.
Start the day with a small flat warm-up to Sallanches. It starts to go up to Megève, a 10k steady climb and opens up the legs and lungs. Don’t forget to breathe here and enjoy the Mont-Blanc’s view on your left side.
After some up and down gentle roads, you will start one of the bigger climb with Col des Aravis from Flumet: 11,5k at 5% gradient. The first part is mostly flat, the gradient goes up when you cross the small village of La Giettaz. This village is a good place where you can fill your water bottles from the fountain. Then comes the second part of the climb, approximately 6k at 7%, a nice part to either push yourself or take it easy if you want to have a smile on your face at “the photographer’s corner” 1k to the top.
At the top, you will be rewarded with some friendly local cows roaming the fields, green alpine pastures and coffee places for an espresso or a Coca-Cola. Take a rest here and prepare for the second big climb of the day! It can be a bit chilly and cold at the summit of Col des Aravis, take a vest for the downhill to Le Grand-Bornand, the bottom of the second and last big climb.
Now it’s time to start Col de la Colombière: the famous one. The Tour de France used this climb in 2018 from the other side when Alaphilippe won the stage, and Van Vleuten could celebrate her win on La Course by La Tour. It’s a steady 10k climb, average 6/7% gradient with a maximum of 10/11% in the last few km’s.
One of the best things about being in the playground of the Tour de France is they always take good care of the tarmac.
This surface is a smooth new road with magical views of the mountains. At the top, you can stop at the restaurant for some food and drinks, before going down for 15k to Cluses. It’s a technical downhill in the first part, with corners and speed. You can find a good feeling on your bike, dreaming of the races that came before.
Rolling back in the last 20/25kms are completely flat with a new bike path from Cluses to Passy’s Lake. It’s way better to use it for an easy finish to your ride, avoiding the main road as it always has a lot of traffic. When you get back to the lake, go for a small swim on summer days, or just sit down and look at the Mont-Blanc view. There is everything to enjoy in this 100k loop with 2,000 elevation meters. It’s a perfect introduction to the French Alps and my home roads.
Of course, Cycling and coffee go hand in hand
Yes I know, France isn’t known for their highbrow coffee culture. To be honest, there are no café places that can compete with Australian café’s – I have to say that Aussies are on another level when it comes to coffee!
I really like to include a stop on Passy’s Lake at a small coffee place Les Criques, because it is only 5k from home. It’s a quiet place, you can find both sun and shade, and the view is just amazing! My favourite is a double espresso with one sugar crepe, another French tradition everyone should adopt while cycling in the Alps.
If I do a long day on the bike, Pause Coffee & Kürtös in Annecy is a good spot to stop. You will find a large choice of coffees, smoothies, cakes and delicious sandwiches!
The last place I like to stop is in Plaine-Joux, at the top of a 14k climb, just above my home in Passy. Honestly most of the time I arrive at the top of this climb, I am fully sweating and just want to drink something fresh! You will find 3 restaurants with plenty of choices, both drinks or foods, but the best is La Bergerie. You can also try some cheese speciality from the area if your stomach can handle it! All the way back to Passy is downhill though sort shouldn’t be a problem for heavy foods.
On your own or with a group, it is always good to have a good bike shop in the area
You never know when you need a last-minute fix or gear supply. My favourite bike shop is based in Sallanches, it is called Roue-Libre. They are always welcoming and ready to help you, even if you come at the last minute because your DI2 battery is dead. They also sell really nice bikes (road, mountain bike, gravel, electric…) and a wide variety of accessories in general such as cleaning supplies, shoes, clothes and nutrition products. Perhaps most important, the mechanics are top-level professionals. As a pro cyclist, I 100% trust them with my bikes. If you are in the area, you should definitely visit this young team, with the boss Jérémy, Dimitri and Nicolas!
Of course, it is possible to do easy rides in the Alpine area as well
We all need a rest day sometimes. As Passy is surrounded by mountains, it’s best to stay in the valley for the recovery ride to do some flat roads. From home I head to “lac des Ilettes” in Sallanches, and back by Passy Lake, with a cafe stop there, and lots of magical views on the mountains. This route could be started anywhere on this point depending on where you are staying. Of course, again if it’s summer, take advantage of the Lake for a natural recovery. The cold waters a perfect to have a swim and revive tired muscles, ready to hit the mountains the next morning.
This is just one small pocket of the Alps, the ones I call home.I think this is a great base for a mountain adventure, with Grenoble, Aix le Bains and many other great cities close by.
Thanks for reading, now all you have to do is come to discover this nice area of cycling. And sometimes I think, if you stop and close your eyes you can hear the sounds of the Tour de France Caravan in the distance…
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Visit the Alps from April to October if you want to avoid snow on the mountaintop! Fly to Lyon, or Geneva, or take the TGV to Chambery or Grenoble. Don’t miss the fantastic Lac du Bourget in the summer and take a trip to Aix-les-Bains whilst you are there. Venture a bit further and stay in magical Annecy to extend your trip if you want.
Unsurprisingly, the language is French, and the currency is Euros. All major credit cards are accepted, and bike resources are aplenty!
By Maëlle Grossetête
French Alps Grand Traverse 🇫🇷
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