Start in Cuneo in the Italian Alps. Cuneo is a provincial capital in western Italy whose old town centre dates from the 12th Century when it was a fortified town. The Renaissance style arcaded main street is lined with shops and cafés giving it an elegant appearance. Cuneo was made famous in the cycling world in 1949 when the legendary Fausto Coppi dominated the stage there to win the Giro d'Italia. More recently it was a start town for the Tour de France stage to Jausiers in 2008. In the evening there will be a welcome meeting and a chance to check bikes and make any final adjustments.
In the morning we enjoy a nice gentle warm up cycling along the valley Stura to the village of Pratolungo. From here we start the hors category climb of the Col de la Lombarde (21.3 km, avg. 6.8%), located on the French/Italian border at 2351m. The climb was last used during stage 16 of the 2008 Tour. From here we are rewarded with a long downhill to the ski resort of Isola 2000 where we spend the night. Approx. cycling distance - 65km with 2389m ascent and 926m descent.
After breakfast we descend to Isola (862 m) where we reach the Tinée Valley. The valley is very narrow and typically alpine, with superb views and some attractive waterfalls. A relatively gentle climb brings us to Saint Etienne from where we will tackle the infamous Col de la Bonnette (26km, avg. 6.5%), the highest col in Europe (2802 m). This climb has only been used a few times during the Tour (in 1962, 1964, 1993 and 2008) but really is one of the highlights of the trip. After catching our breath we descend to Barcelonnette, where there'll be the option to climb to either Super Sauze or Praloup. Approx. cycling distance - 82km with 2394m ascent and 3259m descent.
Todays ride is a little shorter but still very challenging! In the morning we ride up to Jausiers and then climb the beautiful hors category Col de Vars, climbed 20 times since 1947 in the Tour de France. (2108m, 15km, avg. 5.5%). Here we enter the spectacular Hautes Alpes and enjoy some great mountain views on the ride down to Guillestre at the border of the Queyras Regional Park. If you'd like to do a few more miles then in the afternoon there's the option of a nice steady loop to Embrun or the more challenging climb to the ski resort of Risoul. Approx. cycling distance - 59km with 1418m ascent and 1540m descent.
The hors category Col d'Izoard (2360m) is a unique place to cycle and one of the greatest cols of the French Alps (32km, avg. 4.5%). The Tour organisers clearly agree as it has been included 23 times in the race since 1947! The scenery here is beautiful, from the sandy coloured eroded cliffs above the 'Casse Deserte' near the summit to the green wooded mountainsides above Briançon where we stay. From Briançon you have the option to continue on a relatively flat ride along the Clarée valley, or to climb the Montgenevre pass on the Italian border.
Approx. cycling distance - 58km with 1985m ascent and 1784m descent.
This morning the 'Giant of the Alps' awaits us, namely the hors category Col du Galibier (2645m). It is a mammoth 37km of climbing from Briançon, but it is the final 21km where the effort really kicks in at an average gradient of 6%. In 2011 the summit saw a solo stage win for Andy Schleck, but the real drama was a little further down the mountain as Thomas Voeckler heroically retained the yellow jersey with a mere 15 seconds to spare. A monument in homage to Henri Desgranges, the founder of the Tour, sits at the top of the Galibier. A seemingly endless descent brings us to Valloire, from where we cycle down the Maurienne valley to Saint Jean de Maurienne. It is possible to extend the ride with a nice circular ride to Bonvillard (700m climb). Approx. cycling distance - 75km with 2515m ascent and 3250m descent.
For our final days ride, two superb challenges are on the menu! We warm up on the hors category Col de la Croix de Fer (2067m, 30km, avg. 5%). This is a lovely peaceful climb that has featured 15 times in the Tour since 1947. But no cycling trip to the Alps is complete without tackling the legendary 21 hairpins bends on the iconic climb of Alpe d'Huez (1845m, 14km, avg. 8%). From Bourg d'Oisans the road immediately ramps up with some of the steepest sections and is often the scene for the first attacks. 'The Alpe' has been climbed 27 times in the Tour since 1952 and the names of many of the winners are marked on plaques on the hairpins. The late Marco Pantani's record of 37 minutes 35 seconds in 1997 is quite humbling! Tonight we will celebrate our efforts in Alpe d'Huez. Approx. cycling distance - 72km with 2599m ascent and 1394m descent.
Spend the morning relaxing in Alpe-d'Huez and packing up your bike. End Alpe d'Huez.