After having crossed the Swiss Alps on bicycles in 1998, we decided in summer 2000 to repeat this project. In 1998 we took the Gotthard route passing the Klausenpass and the old Gotthard pass route from Andermatt to Airolo. This time we wanted to ride our bicycles over the entire French Alps to join our friends, who had rented a little hut at the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Routes des Grandes Alpes offered nearly the exact route we were aiming at. It stretches from the Lake of Geneva southwards to the Mediterranean coast near Nice, passing a chain of high alpine passes in Savoie, Hautes-Alpes and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. In the past, some of them were regular destinations for the Tour de France, for example the Col d'Izoard (2361m a.s.l.) and the Col du Galibier (2645m a.s.l.).

The yellow line marks the offical 'Route des Grandes Alpes' and the red line marks our modified route from Bienne/Biel (Switzerland) to St. Tropez (France). The red dots point to the traverses we passed on the way South.

We decided to take a slightly modified route on our way from Bienne in Switzerland to St. Tropez at the Côte d'Azur in France. To capture some traverses of our own choice, from time to time we left the main route and accepted some optional detours. One of them was the Col de Madeleine, a challenging ascent South of Albertville that is not part of the proposed route.

The whole tour turned out to be around 780 kilometers in distance including 11,255 meters difference in altitude. We divided the tour in 8 stages around 100 km or less. Most stages included at least one mountain pass of which 5 reached an altitude of >2000 meters a.s.l.


Stage Start End Distance Diff in altitude Average speed Duration
Biel (427m) Yverdon (435m) 73 km 480 hm
24.05 km/h
03:00 h
Yverdon (435m) Genève (383m) 113 km 450 hm
23.1 km/h
04:50 h
Genève (383m) Albertville (340m) 123 km 2025 hm
19.08 km/h
06:25 h
Albertville (340m) St. Michel (715m) 94 km 1960 hm
17.09 km/h
03:30 h
St. Michel (715m) La Salle (1380m) 67 km 2050 hm
14.14 km/h
04:45 h
La Salle (1380m) Jausiers (1220m) 106 km 2260 hm
17.46 km/h
06:05 h
Jausiers (1220m) Castellan (730m) 105 km 1240 hm
21.86 km/h
04:45 h
Castellan (730m) St. Tropez (3m) 102 km 760 hm
25.41 km/h
04:00 h
Total 783 km 11,225 hm
20.44 km/h

Elevation Profile Routes Grandes Alpes

The cycling was smooth. After the first two stages rolling in the Swiss flatlands we got used to the pedaling and were desperate to reach the first mountain stages. We both used normal trecking bikes that had rear panniers mounted to carry clothing and camping gear. The luggage of ~15 kg was a burden on the ascents, but on the other hand it was quite relieving to be temporarily flexible with accommodation.

Once reached the Alpine stages the route was a permament up and down. Flat stretches in between the mountain passes were often limited to a few kilometers before the route again turned up towards the next traverses that were awaiting to become defeated. The two toughest climbs were certainly the Col de Madeleine with the longest ascent in one stretch (1590m) and the peak of the tour: the Col du Galibier being enthroned at 2645 meters a.s.l. With this practice the remaining three traverses, all of which required some 1100 meters ascent, felt like a breeze with the destination in mind, that approached with each kilometer. Finally, we left the Alpes-des-Provence behind and rolled towards the sea for the deserved bath in the Mediterranean surges.

Galibier Panorama     Galibier Sign

northern ascent to the Galibier and proof of success


Name of Col

Peak elevation

Diff in altitude

Col des Aravis



Col des Saisies



Col de Madeleine



Col du Télégraphe



Col du Galibier



Col d'Izoard



Col de Vars



Col d'Allos




Here is the .kmz file of the routes for googleEarth applications.

Finally, a link to the Route des Grandes Alpes.