Just a few short weeks following Chris Froome’s victory in the Tour de France, we are all ready getting excited about next year’s race which starts in Yorkshire. This supreme test of human endurance is a prized national institution for the French, but recent success has cemented Britain’s reputation at the forefront of world cycling. First Sir Bradley Wiggins and now Chris Froome, it is possible that the current British domination is extended into the next few years – and it is the formidable aspect of the personal challenge for riders that is so enduring.
Apart from the physical examination of racing across much of France, the Tour is a mental test that creates fascinating personal struggles from stage to stage as riders pit their wits against the differing challenges that each stage demands. For many it is the ‘climbs’ through some of Europe’s most scenic mountain terrain that best exemplifies the challenge of the Tour. This year’s event was dominated by the extended mountain challenge, with riders ascending summit heights totalling 35,441 metres (bearing in mind that Everest sits at a mere 8,848 metres) nearly double the total of last year’s race. These historic mountains play host to some of the most dramatic moments in Tour history, and of course continue to fascinate fans drawn to the unique challenge of Alpine cycling.
It is against this backdrop that hardy British cycling fanatics seek to test themselves following the routes of their heroes through the epic French mountains. Without the small matter of actually racing this is an exciting challenge but is a great way to get the most out of an active holiday. Apart from the appeal of an area shrouded in sporting legend, the French Alps exude the epitome of pristine natural beauty. The physical height is matched with a sense of spiritual elevation born out of the proximity to heavens. Surveying the horizon it is very difficult to escape a feeling of awe at the raw power of nature. It is perhaps this separation from the everyday reality that is so appealing about cycling, a basic communion with the natural world.
Whilst few football fans will ever get to play at Wembley cycling fans can follow in the ‘tracks’ of the professionals which simply adds to the exhilaration of a cycling holiday in the Alps. For holidaymakers this type of adventure does not need to be daunting as many routes have professional guided tours through scenery that has stunningly lakes, glaciers and forests. The northern Alps offer some of the most popular climbs with Morzine to Alpe d’Huez a particular favourite amongst Tour enthusiasts. Picture yourself leading the peloton as you ascend to an unassailable lead in the Tour and become ‘King of the Mountains’!
Meanwhile back on Earth, and if you have the stamina, the route from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Grenoble includes one if the most challenging climbs in the shape of Col du Galibier one of the most revered in the Tour. This is a unique experience, which if you do not already have cycling in the blood will doubtless leave a lasting impression of an unforgettable holiday experiencing the essence of the mountain stages of the Tour de France.