The Alps vs the Pyrenees
The Alps vs Pyrenees by HC Bike Tours May, 2015.
Are you preparing to come to France to see Tour de France and ride in the mountains? We are glad to share our experience and give you some tips. Read our blog and Share it with your friends. 

Col du Lautaret
The French Alps (1)

What’s special:
•Alpe d’Huez, Col du Telegraphe + Col du Galibier, Col d’Izoard – few of the most famous and well known climbs. Riding those climbs, it’s not only about spectacular views, it’s about feeling the world’s Nr.1 Pro Race - Tour de France.
•Usually, most cycling fans go to the Alps to watch the Tour LIVE. A lot of them reserve their spot at the climb around one week before the race and the final climb of the Tour is full of spectators from all over the world. It’s a must to see and to live this event once in a lifetime.
•Most of the climbs are long – from 5 miles up to as many as 16 miles (Col de la Bonette), but with an even gradient of 6-8% on average, so you can keep a steady pace. Be ready for 1-3 hours uphill riding followed by a long and sometimes really fast descent.
•The Alps themselves are high, up to 15,774 ft / 4,808 m (Mont Blanc), and chilly. The views are simply incredible – we call them the dramatic Alps. Because of the high altitude, the mountains are rocky and craggy, and you will see snow up there all year round. Pine trees are very common in the lower Alps and up in the mountains you will see only rocks and some bushes. 
•The views change when you go south to the French Riviera - the Alpes-Maritimes. The hills are covered with umbrella pines, thyme shrubs, flowering laurel trees, giant cactuses and olive groves, all accompanied by the constant singing of the cicadas.
•HC Bike Tours team’s TOP 3 climbs: Col du Galibier, Col d’Izoard and Col de la Madeleine.
•Say cheese! Possibly the most well-known of the Alpine dishes is fondue, a sturdy pot full of melted cheese into which you dip chunks of crusty bread. Other traditional dishes are the raclette and the tartiflette – special cheeses served with potatoes. Crêpes - French pancakes - are very popular too.

The French Alps (2)

Pay attention to:
•Roads in the valleys could be very busy with quite heavy traffic, however it’s usually not as busy on the climbs. The French Riviera is the busiest part of the Alps.
•The tourist traffic can be a little heavy in terms of the number of people in towns.
•Accommodation and meals are relatively costly.
•The high passes like Col du Galibier, Col de l'Iseran, and many others above 6500 ft altitude, are open July till September. You have to check the condition of the roads a short time before your arrival if going there in June or October.
•The French Alps are huge and the distances between the climbs are quite long. To climb more than a few climbs, you have to ride long distances, or better, drive to another valley.
•It’s chilly up in the mountains. It’s around 50°F or even less at the top of the high climbs over 6500 ft / 2000 m even in mid-July. For example, you can ski all year round at the ski resort Les Deux Alpes. But it’s all about wearing appropriate gear to feel comfortable.
You definitely have to bring an extra layer of warm clothes on a ride

On the way to Col d'Izoard

The French Pyrenees (1)

What’s special:
•In 1910, the Tour de France entered the real mountains for the first time. Col de Peyresourde, Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, and Col du Soulor + Col d’Aubisque – are the first grand Cols the Tour hit.  Only one year later, the Tour entered the Alps and climbed Col du Galibier.
Lapize, that year’s Tour winner, came across the race organizer's car and one word was enough to convey what he thought of the new climbs: "Assassins!"
•Watching the Tour in the Pyrenees is different to watching in the Alps. The feeling is better and not as commercialized. And thanks to a lot of Basque and Spanish fans, you feel the real spirit of cycling more.
•However, riding in the Pyrenees is even more fun. The climbs are long too, but not steady. Each climb has ramps with over 10% gradient. We found the riding a little bit harder.
•But what makes riding there absolutely stunning is the green grass-covered mountains. The Pyrenees are absolutely green and there are fewer rocks and cliffs. You will also see herds of cows and sheep all over the mountains, and most likely meet them on the roads too. Each small house in the mountains is actually a small farm. You can even smell the aroma of cheese while climbing many of the spectacular climbs. The climbs are much shorter and quite gentle if you ride in the lower Pyrenees.
•The highest mountain in the Pyrenees is Aneto at 11,168 ft / 3,404 m and that’s in Spain. The highest paved road is Envalira Pass at 7900 ft / 2408 m, which is the only road from France to Andorra.
•The Pyrenees are HC Bike Tours team’s favorite mountains. Our TOP 3 climbs: Port de Bales (from Mauléon Barousse), Cirque Troumouse and Col d’Aubisque.
•You should taste: Garbure - a mountain speciality, a nourishing vegetable and bean soup with confit and the famous “camayou” (boned leg of ham) cooked in it. Confits - these are the Hauts-Pyrénées classic - made from duck or goose and preserved in their fat, usually served along with cep mushrooms or “Tarbais” beans. And of course cheese made from cows, goats, ewes, or a mixture of these, they are all equally tasty.

Col d'Aspin, the Pyrenees

The French Pyrenees (2)

Pay attention to:
•The riding is perfect. The roads are almost free of traffic, just a few tourists driving around.
•The weather is much warmer. It rains less. All the main climbs are open from June till the end of October. Usually Tourmalet and Aubisque are the last climbs cleared of snow and sometimes they are already open in mid-May.  Anyway, you have to carry extra warm clothing with you, because it could be chilly up in the mountains in spring and late autumn.
•The life there is really tranquil and easy. People are more open and easy going. And besides, accommodation and meals are cheaper. It’s the perfect place to go on vacation if you are looking for a week to escape from a busy daily schedule.
•The distances are much closer so you can climb as many as 3-4 climbs a day if you wish. For example, this summer HC Bike Tours did a real hard-core ride – we climbed 8 of the most famous climbs in one day – 160 miles and over 30 000 ft of climbing! 
Have a great trip and amazing ride!

We still have left some spots on our Tour de France tours or we can make a Private Custom tour for you any time. Contact me directly in case you are interested in traveling with HC Bike Tours.

Your host and ride leader,
Aigars Paegle
CEO / Founder
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