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From Thonon to Menton — the great crossing of the French Alps

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From Thonon to Menton — the great crossing of the French Alps

Bike Touring Collection by Vincent Reboul

7-14

days

3-6 h

/ day

432 mi

60,725 ft

62,100 ft

The Grande Traversée des Alpes françaises (the great crossing of the French Alps) from Thonon-les-Bains to Menton runs north–south along the border between Italy and France. It’s a superb adventure that starts from Lake Geneva and goes all the way to ‘la grande Bleue’ – the Mediterranean ocean.

This Collection includes around 700 kilometres (435 mi) of beautiful mountain roads and crosses 17 of the most prestigious passes in the French Alps, such as the Galibier, Saisies, Iseran, Télégraphe, Lautaret or the Izoard and the famous lunar land of the Casse Déserte.

The itinerary also leads you to other lesser known passes that offer some lovely, unexpected surprises. All this is served to you on a platter in nine stages with a recovery stage on day four.

You can do this route in a week if you’re particularly fit, but I advise you to take your time for this crossing in order to best appreciate the marvel that this mountain range represents.

This Collection is primarily aimed at fit, experienced cyclists who want to experience a challenging adventure. The best way to cover this distance, and above all to tackle the steep climbs that go with it (almost 19,000 metres/62,330 ft of elevation gain), is to travel light in bikepacking mode on a road or gravel bike.

Work on the Great Alps Road began in 1909 and was completed almost three decades later in 1937. Its aim was, and still is, to promote the mountain landscapes and to encourage tourism, first by bicycle and then by car.

This route passes through seven departments. As you cycle from north to south, the landscapes gradually change and the mountain ecosystems evolve. The nine stages are well-calibrated and are an average of 75 kilometres (47 mi) per day. Each Tour length takes into account the elevation gain, too.

The stages all end in either a village or a small town, ensuring that you can easily find accommodation and food. This adventure shows you the natural heritage of the French Alps as well as their historical and architectural heritage. You stay in La Clusaz, Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Briançon, Barcelonnette, and Saint-Martin-Vésubie among others.

The arrival in Menton is fantastic; it's wonderful to descend from the mountains and reach the sea. The contrast is always striking and the pleasure renewed each time. Menton, the lemon capital, is worth exploring. Don’t rule out an extra day of rest – in fact, it’s highly recommended.

The routes can only be ridden between early spring and autumn and the ideal time is between late April and late September. Travelling outside of these periods can be hazardous and even dangerous, as the weather changes quickly in the mountains. No matter when you ride, bring rain gear and warm clothing.

To get to the beginning of the route, the ideal way is by train. Thonon-les-Bain and Menton are well served by rail.

Enjoy your trip!

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La grande traversée des Alpes françaises

429 mi

60,600 ft

61,975 ft

Last updated: May 31, 2022

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Thonon-les-Bains to La Clusaz — the great crossing of the French Alps

    Difficult
    06:19
    63.7 mi
    10.1 mph
    8,900 ft
    6,975 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    You start this adventure on the shores of Lake Geneva in the charming town of Thonon-les-Bains. Although the departure is from the SNCF station of the small town, and immediately leaves due south to attack the first passes and mountains, I recommend that you go and greet the lake before embarking on

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    by Vincent Reboul

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  • Difficult
    05:51
    54.8 mi
    9.4 mph
    9,375 ft
    10,075 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    For the second stage of this journey which leaves due south through the Alps, you will really get a kick out of it, and your body will also be full of endorphins!

    

    A lot of elevation awaits you: almost 3,000 meters of climb, over a total distance of about 90 kilometers. It's a lot, but you will pass this

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  • Difficult
    05:16
    48.4 mi
    9.2 mph
    8,025 ft
    5,875 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    This day can be summed up quite easily in a long ascent over the first twenty-five kilometers to arrive at a false flat which lasts 5 kilometers before the attack on the Col de l'Iseran, the high point and ultimate reward of this stage. You are there at this mythical pass after almost 50 kilometers of

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  • Intermediate
    01:37
    26.7 mi
    16.4 mph
    1,025 ft
    3,500 ft
    Intermediate road ride. Good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    This stage is really easy and is designed as a recovery day with very little elevation gain and maximum descents. It is ideally located in the middle of the adventure of this crossing of the Alps and will allow you to recover from your efforts of the past days, in order to approach those to come in the

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  • Difficult
    04:39
    44.0 mi
    9.5 mph
    7,275 ft
    5,325 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Here is one of the most legendary stages of your long week of adventure.

    

    Today, you are part of the legend of the Tour de France, on the program and in order: the Telegraph pass, the Galibier pass and the Lautaret pass.

    

    So many prestigious names to put to your credit!

    

    The day unfolds in a similar way to

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  • Difficult
    05:54
    62.3 mi
    10.6 mph
    8,275 ft
    8,850 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    This day is one of my favorites of the whole trip. It is extremely diverse and presents many of the most spectacular landscapes of this trip. In particular Casse Déserte after crossing the Col d'Izoard.

    

    Technically, however, it is difficult. It is not like the previous days of a single and simple climb

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  • Difficult
    04:48
    46.8 mi
    9.7 mph
    7,125 ft
    5,375 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    It is undoubtedly during this seventh day that you will evolve in the wildest and least frequented part of this whole journey. It will be a little more difficult to find something to eat along the road because most of the time, you will evolve on a really deserted route.

    

    Also, plan a refueling in the

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  • Difficult
    03:29
    36.5 mi
    10.5 mph
    5,025 ft
    7,400 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    This eighth day of the journey of this crossing of the Alps, will see you evolving on the edge of the Mercantour national park. The roads will always be as quiet to travel. You first pass at the very beginning of the route by two small passes (that of Sainte-Anne, and that of Couillole) which do not

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  • Difficult
    04:20
    48.3 mi
    11.1 mph
    5,700 ft
    8,725 ft
    Expert road ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly well-paved surfaces and easy to ride.

    Your last and real ascent for the final stage of this route is called Col de Turini. You can already feel the proximity of Italy just by pronouncing the name of this pass.

    

    Before arriving in Sospel for lunch, stop if you wish at the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de la Ménour. This 12th century chapel has a

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    9
  • Distance
    432 mi
  • Duration
    42:13 h
  • Elevation
    60,725 ft62,100 ft

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