It’s ‘Tour de France’ time and seemingly the whole world and its dog are in Lycra and cycling. But while the Tour still inspires, for lovers of the rougher stuff it’s a wasted opportunity. How could you cross France and ignore the off-road sections? Why make all that effort to get to the Pyrenees and not take a mountain bike? And how do you cycle for six hours and not go to the toilet?
Here’s a few prime spots for mountainbiking holidays in France that will help you take off your aero helmet, get out of the peloton and get onto the really challenging routes.
Isn’t it about time you stopped dreaming of a maillot jaune and got your maillot muddy?
Fantastic scenery and miles of tracks to explore, Chamonix is a top skiing destination also favoured by mountaineers. Dominated by Mont Blanc, it’s a glacial valley of 17 km within just 15 km of both the Swiss and Italian borders. The peak of Mont Blanc’s not on the cycle route of any mountainbiking holiday. Even so, the ascents here will lock your thighs and burn your lungs within minutes. The Chamonix Valley is more suited to experienced riders as tracks here are often very technical.
Always great when you find out there’s a region that supports mountain biking. It’s the ‘Garden of France’ and has well-cultivated paths and tracks suited to most levels. While your eyes may be drawn to the Chateaux’s and the vineyards, your heart will find its fuel in the forests. Try Blois and Chitenay for some dedicated routes, but look elsewhere for the downhill shock stoppers.
Loire in Rhone Alpes
Not to be confused with the Loire Valley, Loire in Rhone Alpes is real mountain country – (Alpes, is a bit of a hint). To the south, there’s 650 km of mountain bike routes and up north you’ll get into the Madeleine Mountains – the Forez Mountains to the west peak at Pierre sur Haute (1,634m), and to the east are the Matin Mountains host to more than 1,000km of marked tracks – if you can’t get your kicks somewhere here, you really should just get a road bike and follow the signs.
One of the best served spots in Rhone-Alpes, it’s a favourite for mountain biking holidays and top end competitions. Great XC and Singletrack, and as it’s littered with ski lifts you can get up into routes that otherwise would be hard to reach. Coming down you’ll pick up man-made banks and berms – and some jumps for the brave.
It’s here the road riders meet their match in the high mountain passes. The stages up the Col du Tourmalet and Mont Ventoux are legendary, but there’s no need to follow the peloton, when you can get out and discover your own routes. Starting at La Pierre St Martin you’ll be crossing into Spain and back. Take plenty of supplies as the morning croissant and coffee won’t sustain you. There’s no team car to shepherd you along, just clouds to chase around the cols, and great views down onto Le Tour riders stuck on the tarmac.
Know any great routes for mountain biking in France? Had a few scrapes to share? Let’s hear from you!
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