Base Training

In my pursuit to not embarrass myself too much this August, I’ve got the idea to do a little ‘climbing camp’ about 2 weeks before Haute Route Pyrenees. Assuming I bring any sort of form up to this point at the end of July, a good, hard block of 4 days of climbing should wear me out to the point of my body overcompensating in its healing process, thereby transforming me into a superman by the time Haute Route starts, two weeks later.

This ‘supercompensation’ has actually worked for me in the past, but really only for one day (like the time I nearly broke 1:30 up Ventoux – 2 weeks after a hard sportive in St. Tropez…the good ol’ days). In the two HRs I’ve done, though, I don’t think I’ve done this correctly. I felt fairly lethargic in both events.

Anyway, that wasn’t even the purpose of this post, so must get to it: I’m looking for the perfect climbing base to achieve what I’m out to do (kill myself without actually getting dead).

I’ve identified a few excellent places to stay and climb till your heart’s content and if you can add to these, that’d be very helpful. Here goes:


In the southern Alps, this nice little town has great restaurants, including decent Mexican food (a long story that is worth a read)! It also has some very serious climbing nearby, including Cayolle, Allos, Vars, Champs and the big daddy, Bonette. You can also ride into Italy over the Larche (Maddalena in Italian) and do an awesome loop that comes back into France over a wonderful col called Lombarde. The only ‘problem’ is, I’ve been here several times, so nothing will be new.


The wild Bonette climb


Up a couple of valleys from Barcelonnete, this is another great base. Briançon is apparently the highest city in Europe and boasts several hundred days of sun. I’ve also been here many times and I don’t remember bad weather (at least in the town). From here you can hit some classics like Lautaret and Galibier (and Télégraphe if you want a huge day), Montgenèvre, a lovely valley called the Claire, Izoard (the climb starts from the town) and a few up-and-backs on tiny, car-free roads.

Again, food is good and there’s even a casino, if I want to recover at night while losing money.


Vallée de la Clarée

La Clusaz / Le Grand Bornand

These two villages are in the northern Alps and offer great climbing in all directions. The cols might not be as famous as some of the ones listed above, but they are lovely. A few notables are the Croix Fry, Aravis, Colombière, Glières, Arpettaz (a gem of a climb), and further afield Les Saisies and even the Roselend if you’re feeling frisky.

And added bonus to this area is that you are close to lake Annecy, which is about as chichi as you can get in summer, but one of most scenic spots in the Alps. And yes, great restaurants abound.



Anywhere in the Cévennes

What this area lacks in long climbs (although there are a few of 15 km), it makes up for in sheer numbers. You are always near a road that will take you up or down and you can get some really excellent training here. I won’t say that I know every road in the Cévennes, but I have spent a lot of time here over the years. This could be both a pro and a con. The other little issue is that there aren’t any big towns, so eating and sleeping possibilities are limited (but there are some great choices). The cols are too numerous to list, but the big ones are up Mont Lozère and Aigoual.


Mont Lozère in the distance


I know there are some good places to climb here, but since the event is happening here, I’d like to stay away.


Typical roadside companions

Cuneo (Italy)

I used this small city as a base in 2015 and loved the climbing (Italian Alps), but I had to drive each day to begin the rides. Not a huge problem, given the amazing climbing there is in the area.


Me and Pantani

Cuneo is getting a little long, too, since it’s a 6-hour drive. I’ve really gotten soft since leaving Canada. Back home we call that a ‘commute’. Other areas in my ‘radius’ include the Vercors (not enough climbing), the Jura (will looking into this but I don’t think the number of big climbs is sufficient) or maybe even the Cantal, in the Massif Central (perhaps not ‘condensed’ enough?).

Okay, now it’s your turn. Any climbing bases you’d love to visit (or revisit)? Even outside France or Europe would be helpful. Now I must get on the bike and enjoy the low 20s we’re experiencing at the moment. Love Global Warming when it happens in February.


11 thoughts on “Base Training

  1. Hi Gerry,

    I know you said you didn’t want to base yourself in the Pyrenees, but you did ask your loyal readers for their opinions, and as far as climbing in France goes I’d love nothing more than to base myself in Argeles, to do Soulor again, to check out Aubisque (was closed when we were there last year), and to tackle Tourmalet with fresher legs. Why there? Epic climbs & views like Alps, but quieter roads. And at that time of year, likely greener too. Bonus: I think there’s a thermal spa in Luz St Sauveur area. (Lemme tell ya, hot sulfuric waters really does work miracles on beat-up muscles.) And if all else fails you can go pray for miracles in Lourdes. 😉

    #2 on the list is the Cevennes. Although for me the appeal in midsummer is as much for cooling down in the rivers and lakes as much as riding on the roads. Probably not the case for you, especially if you meet your power:weight targets and so will be buoyant as lead.

    • I like your taste in climbing bases, Sarah. I think Argeles is the best place overall, like you, in the Pyrenees, unless there’s one down in the Basque Country I don’t know about. But I know want to get ‘over Pyrenee’d’ before the big week.

      You’d know more about the water holes in the Cevennes than I would, although I do see people standing in rivers from time to time when I ride there. Someday I’ll check some of them out.

      Hope the training for Etape is going well.

    • You guys will just miss the Marmotte (7th)! Then again, if you did that you’d need a week just to recover…

      Thanks for the invitation. I’ve got it on the calendar. It’s a good week for training and 44|5 has it open at the moment. Never know! What kind of km/m are you thinking about doing each day?

      • Km/m depend on who’s riding and how we feel… Typical day would be leaving after breakfast, riding, stopping somewhere for a lunch break, riding more. Back at hotel say 3-4pm. Depends on the route (and the weather)—typically I end up making a route the night before and loading it on the Garmin. If you come, you can always set the pace and parcours 🙂

      • Hello Gerry , I think I mentioned something like this a few posts back , it was about hill repeats using both sides of the Galibier, while basing yourself in Valliore ,this has the added benefit of sleeping at altitude and if you get bored Barcelonnete isn’t that far.

  2. Hi Gerry , I also wanted to mention the simplicity of this as an idea, you don’t have to worry about what to wear or what to take with you because you’re never far from you base . It’s also be good traffic wise.

    • Andrew, Valloire is a good choice and I’ve stayed there, too. The ‘problem’ is that you only have two ways to go, up or down, and there’s no loop options unless you want to do La Marmotte 😉 It’s a nice little village, though, and the setting is beautiful

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