Cycling’s toughest competitors will line up their bikes in the Corsican town of Porto-Vecchio on 29 June for the centenary edition of the Tour de France. Three weeks of extreme climbs and lightning-fast time trials await. So if their exploits leave you feeling inspired, why not try one of these extreme rides? Hefty thighs, iron will and a capacity for saddle sore required.
A mountain biker riding down a narrow trail, Altiplano, Bolivia. Image by Olivier Renck / Aurora / Getty Images.
Col du Tourmalet, France
This extreme climb on the Pyrenees’ highest road is a Tour classic. First included in 1910 and visited more than any other climb on the famous three-week race, the ride to the Col du Tourmalet can be approached from two directions. The classic route from the west covers 19km, climbing a massive 1404m. The gradient is a crippling 7.4%.
L’Alpe d’Huez, France
If Tourmalet is a Pyrenean epic, then this is its Alpine equivalent. A lung-busting schlep around a seemingly never-ending series of 21 hairpins, the 13.8km climb up L’Alpe d’Huez is about as far from a trundle through central Paris as it’s possible to get.
El Camino de la Muerte, Bolivia
Let’s face it, ‘Death Road’ sounds less terrifying in Spanish. Organised mountain bike trips descend this precipitous mountain pass, an hour outside La Paz, starting at 4700m and winding up at just 1200m. Console yourself with the fact that most deaths involve cars rather than bikes.
'Flinders Vietnam Cycle 2011' by Kyle Taylor. CC BY 2.0.
Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi, Vietnam
A 16-day jaunt run by the ace Grasshopper Adventures (grasshopperadventures.com), from the lush lowlands of the Mekong Delta, winding through the mountains around Dalat and with a hefty climb through the Hai Van Pass. The relatively short days shouldn’t be a problem, but the searing tropical heat means you’ll be dropping back to the supplied support vehicle for endless water refills.
Passo di Gavia, Italy
The Giro d’Italia might be over, with the Tour de France taking the limelight. But with summer here, now’s the perfect time to attempt one of the classic race’s hardest climbs. Passo di Gavia, in the gorgeous Italian Alps, takes in a 26km ride, climbing a massive 2621m. The road is shut in winter due to snow, but extreme weather can also blow through during the warmer months.
Manali to Leh, India
Billed as an extreme ride through the Indian Himalaya, this ride, organised by Red Spokes (www.redspokes.co.uk), is one for proper bike fiends only. Starting in Manali, the route climbs through pine forests and up foothills along dirt tracks and sealed roads, before hitting the switchbacks nearer Leh. Rest days, thankfully, included.
Lake Louise to Whistler, Canada
Traversing the Rockies is one thing. Heading straight into Canada’s Coast Mountains towards the resort of Whistler after doing so is another. This week-long ride (www.rockymountaincycle.com) involves climbs totalling 11,000m, covering a distance of just north of 1000km. It makes your backside ache just thinking about it.
Cycling with a lake view in Banff National Park. Image by Reinhard Pantka / Flickr / Getty Images.
Cape Epic, South Africa
This annual off-road classic changes its route yearly, but the theme is always the same. Eight days of leg-pounding mountain biking through some of South Africa’s most beautiful and tough terrain. Next year’s ride takes place from 23-30 March. To get a taster, this year’s event covered 698km, with combined climbs of 15,650m. Makes La Tourmalet look like a ride through the park (see www.cape-epic.com).
Alto de L'Angliru, Spain
The Vuelta d’Espana has earned a reputation in recent years for matching the toughest stages of both the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. Alto de L'Angliru, in the northern Asturias region, is arguably its toughest climb. It might only be a 12.5km ride, but the average gradient is a knee-trembling 10.13 per cent.
Three Peaks Challenge, Australia
Not one to try on your own. Victoria, Australia’s Three Peaks challenge runs annually and covers 235km in just 13 hours. It includes climbs up Tawonga Gap, Mount Hotham and Falls Creek, all with the chance to tackle the route alongside professional riders. It next takes place on 9 March 2014 (learn more on www.bicyclenetwork.com.au).
How to do your own Tour de France
Cycling the entire 3403km of this year’s Tour is for the super-fit only. But if you fancy yourself as the next Chris Froome, trying out a single stage isn’t as far fetched as you might think.
The Tour’s own website, letour.fr, has full details on every stage, including distance and elevation.
Google has also recently launched its turn-by-turn cycling navigation app in France, so you can plot your start and finish points on an Android device. Seeing as the Tour itself takes in some major highways, you can tweak the app’s settings to avoid traffic and opt for the more sedate pace of country lanes.
Thirsting for a two-wheeled adventure? Book an epic cycling holiday on LonelyPlanet.com:
- Cycle the perilous Leh to Manali route
- Pedal through rural villages in Vietnam
- Embark on a cycling adventure through Rajasthan
Once you're all tired out, rest your weary legs in one of Lonely Planet's expert-recommended hostels and hotels.