Cycling in the Alps is amazing. The quiet roads, epic climbs, and views that take your breath away. We have spent the last five summers at 44South in Morzine, looking after our guests on their road cycling holidays and we’ve learnt a few things; actually we’ve learnt a lot, and most of it the hard way.
With hundreds of UK cyclists heading to Europe each year for mountainous sportives like the Etape du Tour and La Marmotte, we thought it would be useful to compile what we’ve learnt into a single article, to help you get the most from cycling in the mountains.
1. HILLS VS MOUNTAINS
Riding in the mountains, specifically around Morzine and the Haute-Savoie and Savoie regions of the Alps, is very different to riding most places in the UK. That might sound like a glaringly obvious statement to make, but you’d be surprised how many people measure their ability to climb a mountain against their performance climbing hills in the UK and are subsequently put off.
The two experiences are very different. Highway engineers in the UK took the ‘straight up and over’ approach; clearly geography dictates road layout; either that, or the road engineers were paid by the job and not the hour!
This has resulted in some very short, sharp hills, often with gradients much steeper than you’ll generally encounter in Alps – certainly in the Haute-Savoie and Savoie regions. Generally speaking, climbs in these regions will average between 6% – 8%, compared to the 12% – 20%+ gradients you might find on Leith Hill, Dunkery Beacon, Ditchling Beacon or Hardknott Pass for example. Riding a lower gradient for longer means you can find a comfortable rhythm and pace, and in this respect riding mountains is strangely easier.