Situated in the northern part of the French Alps, the Savoie department is nestled up against the Italian border, with Switzerland and the departments of Haute-Savoie to the north and the Haute Alpes to the south.
The Savoie is home to iconic cols that feature on every ambitious cyclists' bucket list: the Galibier, the Madeleine, the Glandon, Iseran and the Croix de la Fer, to name but a few. Yet for each of these famous climbs there are many other lesser known mountain passes connected by a fascinating network of quiet roads that have the potential to deliver some truly epic days out on a bike.
It's fair to say that the Savoie lives and breathes cycling! The area is visited virtually every year by the Tour de France and offers some of the most challenging cycling terrain to be found anywhere in Europe. For the amateur cyclist, the allure of the Savoie is twofold: where better to discover one's mental and physical capabilities and thresholds than on the very slopes where the likes of Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx and Hinault rode themselves into cycling lore!
Never pass on a photo opportunity at the top of the iconic Galibier! Rob Hawkins/Col Conquerors
The town of St Jean de Maurienne publicises itself as the 'Le Plus Grand Domaine Cyclable du Monde' - 'the Biggest Cycling Area in the World'. That is quite a boast, but when you factor in the number of major climbs within reach of the Maureinne Valley, then it’s not too far from the truth. Its central location makes St Jean de Maurienne a perfect place to base oneself and all the famous climbs can be easily accessed from the town. This brochure, published by the St Jean de Maurienne Tourist Office, details some of the better known.
Cyclists descend on the Savoie for a variety of reasons. Some undertake personal challenges or interrupt a family holiday to conquer a few famous cols. Many take part in organised events, most notably the brutal Marmotte, which takes place every July and entails 5,000m of climbing over the 174km parcours.
The spectacular Maurienne Valley is the epicentre of cycling in the Savoie. Erwan Le Touche/Flickr
Some cyclo-tourists travel independently, but not surprisingly there are many specialist tour companies operating in the Savoie, who will take care of every aspect of your trip, allowing you to focus purely on riding the famous climbs. The high mountains of France can be a lonely place when riding alone, especially when things don’t go quite to plan, so consider using a local tour company if you are cycling in the area for the first time or alone. Tour companies are invariably staffed by passionate cyclists with an intimate knowledge of the area who will be on hand to deal with any problems or issues that may arise.
Main image: Cyclists climbing the south side of the Galibier. cycling-challenge.com
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