The Haute Route Alps is fast making a name for itself as the most challenging amateur cycling race in the world.
The Haute Route Series feature 3, 5, and 7-day cycling events, which will bring a tear to the eye of most seasoned riders.
Eleven years since they began, these multi-day stage races have it all; monumental mountains, famous climbs, and fellow riders from all over the world.
With the Haute Route Alps, expect seven long and grueling days on the bike, with over 20,000 m of elevation gain, alongside 750 km traversed over the course of the week.
Although the Haute Route is primarily known for its Alpine adventures, there are a series of other equally testing Haute Races which cut through the Dolomites and Pyrenees.
Ready for an in-depth look at the most challenging amateur cycling race?
Ultimate Guide to Cycling the Haute Route Alps 2023
As cycling races go, this is the ultimate multi-day amateur stage race.
Seven classic point-to-point stages, including one uphill time trial. We use the term amateur very lightly; this feat should not be underestimated.
It really is a Grand Tour experience – and perhaps more. It is very rare that you’ll see a Grand Tour mimic back-to-back days of elevation like the Haute Route.
The stages range from anywhere between 90-150 km (55-93 miles), averaging a blistering 3000 m of climbing daily.
We’ll look at the upcoming 2023 edition, although it is worth noting that the route changes each year. This year, the race is due to start in Megève and end in the seaside city of Nice.
Stage 1: Megève-Megève: 99 km (2400 m Elevation)
Setting out from last year’s finish line, the 2023 edition will begin in Megève, starting with a long descent that will lull you into a false sense of security.
Expect to experience rolling hills and lush green forest, soon followed by an ascent of the Col de Romme.
A 9.3 km climb with an average gradient of 8.7%, well-known for its quiet roads and beautiful views, topping out at 1297 m, it is the perfect introduction to the 7-day race.
Before you can catch your breath on the descent, you will find yourself climbing the Col de la Colombière, a regular in the Tour de France, and for a good reason. It is a winding alpine pass with great views, and this time a much more manageable 6% gradient over 11.8 km.
Before circling back to Megève, you will be tested with one final Col of the day; Col des Aravis. A steady 18.8km long with an average gradient of 4.7%, Col des Aravis has featured over 40 times on the Tour de France.
There are 3 Cols behind you, and a big dinner ahead of you.
Stage 2: Megève-Alpe d´Huez: 152 km (3900 m Elevation)
Hopefully, you’ll be able to get some sleep despite an early start.
Today, Haute Route riders will be conquering the famous Col du Glandon. Physically demanding and mentally exhausting, this climb is 20.9 km long with 1470 m of ascent. Pace yourself on this one; it is exceptionally long and leaves the best (or worse) until last.
Although the average gradient is 7%, the last seven kilometers will hold firm at just under 9%. As you crest the top, take in the 360-degree views and give yourself or a teammate a pat on the back.
You’ve got an equally long descent to enjoy before one last climb up Alpe d’Huez.
You won’t be witness to the infamous switchbacks today, though, this route takes you along a remote and scenic climb via Villard-Reculas.
Stage 3: Bourg-d’Oisans-Alpe d’Huez: 83 km (2900 m Elevation)
Are you walking like John Wayne yet? Don’t worry; there’s plenty more to come.
You’ve got a spectacular day ahead of you, which includes my favorite route in the French Alps, the Route des Travers: breathtaking views, complete tranquility, and almost no cars to be seen.
The Col de Sarenne comes at a cost: 12.8km long, averaging 7.5%, with a 7 km stretch averaging over 9%.
On your way back down, look to the left and enjoy the sprawling views of the Bourg-d’Oisans valley; you’ll soon cross Alpe d’Huez and descend the climb you did the day before.
Finally, you’ll loop back around until you hit the foot of the iconic climb of Alpe d’Huez made famous at Le Tour. This time you go up it.
You are amid cycling folklore; enjoy it if you can.
Stage 4: Alpe d’Huez-Col du Galibier: 123 km (4000 m Elevation)
Today is the Queen stage.
Tough enough on fresh legs, eye-wateringly painful to think about with legs that have banked 13000 m of vertical in the last few days. Either way, you signed up and have got this far. May as well crack on.
Ever heard of the Marmotte Granfondo Alpes? If you haven’t, it’s one of the toughest 1-day races in the Alps; thousands of riders set it in their sights each year. It includes ascents of 4 legendary cols in the Alps.
Well, you’re doing that today, minus “one and a bit” of the cols, which you did yesterday.
You’ll begin the morning with the Col de la Croix de Fer, one of the longest climbs in the French Alps, covering 29.1 km. The average gradient of 5.1% is slightly misleading as the climb includes a few short descents, don’t be fooled.
The gradient is ever-changing; it may help to break it up into three climbs in your head.
After you pass Le Rivier d’Allemond, the scenery becomes increasingly beautiful, and soon you’ll be gifted with views of Lac de Grand’Maison. By this point, you’re almost at the top.
Time to brush yourself off and continue towards the Télégraphe and Galibier; together, they add up to a 34.8 km climb with 2069 m of vertical ascent.
The Télégraphe is winding, well-paved, and steady. Not much in the way of views until you reach the top. A few kilometers of descent into the skiing village of Valloire before you take on the Col du Galibier.
The first 10 km is relatively gentle. You hug the river as you cut through the valley. As you turn right at the Plan Lachat refuge, crossing the Valloirette River, the real climbing begins.
You’ll be lifted out of the valley with the help of a few steep hairpins, finding yourself in a harsh grassy meadow beneath the summit. Head down; the final 2 km has more hairpins in store before you reach the summit.
Stage 5: Serre Chevalier Briançon-Col du Granon: 15 km (1200 m Elevation)
An uphill time trial. Good luck!
The Granon features double-figure ramps with an average gradient of 9.3% over 11.4km. The climb is beautiful, but you probably won’t get to look up that often, so there is not much to add to this one. You know whether you’re racing or surviving.
Race your race; avoid the lanterne rouge.
Stage 6: Serre Chevalier Briançon-Cuneo: 140 km (2900 m Elevation)
It feels like a bit of an emotional rollercoaster just producing a write-up of this race, so I can’t imagine what will be going through your head here. But well done. You’ve made it to the penultimate stage.
Setting off from Serre Chevalier Briançon, you’ll ride through the heart of the Écrins mountain range.
The first big challenge of the day comes in the form of the Col d’Izoard.
A progressive climb spanning 19.1 km with an average gradient of 6.1%. The lower slopes will give you a chance to warm up before a hard finish. The pass is in the middle of a desolate mountain landscape shadowed by Pic de Beaudouis.
It has been the scene of numerous Tour de France classics and has even appeared in the Giro d’Italia. After reaching the top of the pass, you will descend into Chateau-Queyras before heading up your final Col of the day; Col d’Agnel. As good as it gets!
This Col offers sensational panoramic views of both France and Italy and is the third-highest paved road in the Alps.
Col d’Agnel is 20.7 km long with an average gradient of 6.6%, although the climbing really ramps up in the last 5 km. It’s all down from here! A fast finish into the Italian city of Cuneo.
Stage 7: Cuneo-Nice: 144 km (2800 m Elevation)
If you make it to the start line for Stage 7, well done: you’re a machine.
Thought the route designers would make this one any easier? Dream on – it’s another big day in the saddle, traversing four epic cols.
Up first is the Col de Tende, well-known for the numerous switchbacks above the Tende tunnel. By this point, every mountain col is going to feel tough. Nevertheless, the Col de Tende is 14.1 km long with an average gradient of 6.4%.
As you head back into France, you will be greeted by the Col de Brouis; at just 8.5 km long and an average gradient of 6.6%, this will be one of the easiest ascents you’ve done, at least on paper. The climb is relatively steady until the last 1 km, which offers a tasty 9% gradient.
Before you know it, you’ll be climbing the Col de Braus, you may be bonking, or you may be sensing that the end is near. Let’s hope it’s the second, in which case you’ll breeze through the 11.2 km.
One more to go! All those hours of training and focus have got you here, and there’s just one more climb in the form of the Col de Nice between you and the finish line.
A week of insane altitude gain and agonizing efforts. A ride like this will strip you back emotionally and physically. Savour the shouts of “Allez, allez!” as you cross the finish line. You’ve earnt it.
Let us know in the comments if you have tackled this insane challenge or plan on doing so!