Five incredible bike climbs to conquer in France this year

All taken from the route of St-Malo to Nice, all offer stunning scenery, savage inclines and exhilarating descents down the other side

Five of the best bike climbs in France

Are you planning a two-wheeled road trip this year and needing inspiration? John Walsh and Hannah Reynolds name five fave climbs on the route of St-Malo to Nice, the ultimate cycle journey from Channel to the Med, taken from their new book ‘France en Velo’.

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View to Rocamadour clinging to the cliff side

Stage: Souillac to Gramat (45km)
Region: Dordogne

The climb up to the viewpoint above Rocamadour may only be a category 4 climb but it is full of drama with plenty of switchback turns to test your climbing legs. For those riding the full route it is the first proper climb you get to and a great introduction to what is to come later on in the trip. Starting at the same level as the Dordogne River you get a greater sensation of height gain than you would expect from this fairly modest 300 metre ascent as you wind your way through a rugged and wild landscape. 

Col de Tribes

The ruins of Chateau du Tournel guard the entrance to the steeper upper valley

At 1130m the climb out of Mende to the top of the Col des Tribes will satisfy anyone looking for a challenge. Although Mende has been used as a stage town many times by the Tour de France, the Col des Tribes doesn’t feature in the action. However this little-known spot is a favourite training and test climb of pro-riders based in the region. For 30km out of Mende to the summit it is almost continuous climbing with only short sections of easier gradient to offer respite. You are rewarded by 25km of incredibly exhilarating descent and an almost pedalling-free ride, chock full of fast, twisting bends.

Col du Mas de l’Ayre

Stage: Villefort to Pont d’Arc (64km)
Region: Cévennes

The wooded summit of the climb

From Villefort the first 1km is a cruel start as the road ramps up very steeply – it is by far the steepest section of the entire 9.5km climb. Once you reach the roundabout to turn into the pine-clad narrow road that takes you to the summit, the toughest section is already behind you. You’ll be tempted to click through the gears and really push once on the easier gradient but don’t neglect to look out for the views of mountain ridges disappearing hazily into the distance. From the summit you can see the distant peak of Mont Ventoux and feel wafts of hot air coming up the valley as you enter southern France. 

Gorge de la Nesque 

Stage: Villes-sur-Auzon to Sault (30km)
Region: Provence

The road cuts directly through the rock itself

This spectacular gorge is often over looked by cyclists who are drawn to the region purely to conquer Mont Ventoux, however they are missing out on arguably some of the finest 30km you can ride in the whole of France. The route climbs gradually from a height of 310m to reach a commanding viewpoint, Le Rocher du Cire, at an altitude of 750m. Clinging to the edge of this narrow gorge the road passes through numerous rock tunnels and arches as it mimics the course of the small Nesque River invisible below. Pause at the top to appreciate the vertiginous view to the bottom of the gorge and see the road you have come up where it winds in and out of the rock. 

Gorge du Verdon

Stage: Moustiers-ste-Marie to Balcons de la Mescla (40km)
Region: Provence

Vibrant blue of the reservoir in the distance at the start of the climb

Second only to the Grand Canyon in size, the climb through the gorge is dramatic in terms of both riding and scenery.  From the aquamarine waters of the Lac de Ste-Croix at the start of the gorge to the emerald green waters that flow through it, there is a feast of sights and colours. The category 1 climb begins the moment you turn away from the reservoir and finishes when the road reaches a height of 1,180m as you pass the Source du Vaumale, where the canyon is at its deepest point. With an average gradient of 5.8% there are several hairpin bends with long ramps where height is gained quickly.

(All images: John Walsh and Hannah Reynolds)

‘France en Velo – The Ultimate Cycle Journey From Channel to Med – St-Malo to Nice’ by Hannah Reynolds and John Walsh is available from for £13.59 using  20% off  discount code SMN220 includes free postage and packaging to UK destinations

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Have you ridden any of these climbs? What are your memories of them? Let us know in the comments below!