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Cycling in the Alps; Don't get hung up on the distance, focus on the height gain

"We are use to riding 100 miles a day, however you recommend only 60 miles or less........"

 

A question I've been asked many times over.

 

Many visiting riders from the UK, USA and Australia quite rightly look at their 'volume' of weekly or daily riding by distance and when they start to look at trip itineraries for cycling in the French Alps , they often interpret that the daily rides are shorter than they would like hence the tendancy to look around for cycling trips with higher ride distance. There is a mistaken belief that they will be able to cover the same daily distance in the Alps as they do at home.

 

In answering this regular question my stock reply is....

 

Don't worry about the distance, focus on the amount of climbing we do each day

 

Unless you have ridden in the Alps or the Pyrennees before its unlikely that you have experienced climbs where you will be heading uphill for more than an hour per Col. Multiply that by 2 or 3 Cols in a ride and you definately won't be worrying about the distance. Add some altitude over 2000M and compare that air to what you breathe at sea level.

 

Typically I will recommend daily rides that cover between 1700M and 2500M per day (5500ft to 8500ft) however on the tougher days it can be well in excess of 3000M (10,000ft). I would normally suggest at least 2 Cols in one ride, and up to 4 Cols on some of the tougher days - all dependant on group mean ability.

 

For example, I often ride the climb of the Colle San Carlos in the Aosta Valley which has been used in the Giro D'Italia. The San Carlos takes me an hour to cover 11km at an average gradient around 10%, after descending down into La Thuile for a quick Italian coffee, I will carry on to another 10KM to the summit of the Petit St Bernard Pass which summits at 2030M - please trust me when I say don't worry about the distance covered

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