Category Archives: Advice

E-bikes in the Alps

E-bikes (Electric Bikes!) are big news in the Alps. In fact they are big news across the bike industry. For a start it is a growing sector and industry always craves growth. The latest figures I can find from make it look like 23% of the 325,000 bikes sold last year in Switzerland were e-bikes, bringing the total number of e-bikes in the country to 400,000. It seems that these e-bike sales are in addition to the regular bike sales.

I’ve been a two-wheel fanatic since my youth and I find this pretty logical. E-bikes are democratising cycling, making it available to all, not just the fit. That is especially the case in the mountains. I’ve just spent 6 days cycling across the Alps to Nice and kept thinking that with an e-bike this trip would be open to everyone who is willing to ride a bike. Unsurprisingly I saw plenty of people doing just that, the IGN map I had was adapted for e-bikes too.

The Portes du Soleil is working hard to promote e-bikes, they have been for a few years, 20+ shops have them for rent, most of the information you need including a map is on this webpage

And this year an e-bike festival.

My usual advice stands in this area. Unless you are a confident bike rider heading off the road onto the trails comes with some dangers. I recommend hiring a guide to start with. For the intepid I have highlighted some of the easier trails in the Portes du Soleil area here: 

Each year the Portes du Soleil hosts a huge MTB event called the “Pass’Portes du Soleil” I’ve always taken the opportunity to have a free go on the Lapierre e-bikes that are available for demonstration. This year for the first time there is an e-Pass’Portes route. In fact they have taken one of my favourite routes and added in a couple of lifts for good measure. It’ll be a great day out if you get a chance!

Some people don’t see the point of e-bikes, here is my take on the pro’s and cons.


  1. They mean you can MTB in the mountains without lifts, so out of season, late in the evening or out of the area. That can save you 27€ a day on a lift pass!
  2. They can bring a disparate group of abilities together. The fit ones won’t have to wait for 20 min at the top of the climb….and then announce they are ready to go 10 seconds after the less fit have arrived!
  3. As above for couples that want to ride together. They no longer have to use a tandem!
  4. Biking is a wonderful sport that some people shy away from because of lack of fitness. The e-bike can solve the problem.


  1. E-bikes are expensive
  2. They are heavy
  3. E-bikes are almost a motor vehicle…and with that in mind could cause issues with other users of our wild spaces.
  4. Once you have ridden one, getting back on a normal bike seems like hard work!
  5. They are a rapidly changing technology, next year’s e-bike will be better and cheaper than this year’s!*

* I have hired a bike each year for the last few years and each time I have thought…they are “nearly” there. This year I used a 2017 bike and I think the manufactures have nailed it. Beyond the weight of the bike (which you don’t notice when riding) and the range (I rode 30km and ascended 700m), I could not think how it could be improved.

*I have just seen that Bosch (one of the main manufacturers of e-bike motors) is adding ABS… …it looks like you can always make something better!


Currency fluctuations and selling your French property.

Buying or selling property is not supposed to be a gambling game. It’s bad enough having to deal with the vagaries of the property market in your own country. It’s worse when buying or selling across currencies. For someone based in the UK who is thinking about buying or selling a property in France, the Sterling to Euro exchange rate is yet another unknown to include in the equation.

Currency brokers can help smooth out some of these issues. At the outset they can be considered as a way to save money over the exchange rate your bank might offer. They can also help by hedging against currency fluctuations.

In this scenario I am thinking about a seller with 350,000€ to repatriate from their French property. For whatever reason they have decided to sell up in France and take the money back to the UK. It’s not their fault that Brexit has caused the currency market to go haywire. But it can work in their favour. The weaker the pound is, the more their property is worth in £ sterling.

Take a look at the graph below. Our fictional sellers accepted an offer on their property in November when the exchange rate was 1.12. They would end up with £312,500 back in the UK.  But in fact it took a few months for the sale to conclude at which point the exchange rate is 1.18. This equates to only £296,600, a net loss of almost £16,000 and all because of a fluctuating exchange rate.

A currency broker could help in this situation. If a broker is approached at the time the offer is accepted they would take a 10% deposit to secure the current rate. If the sale falls through between this point and anytime up to 2 years in the future the money can be sold back to the market. There would be no penalty as long as this happened at or above the rate that had been secured.  That’s what happens in the scenario above. However if the rate drops below 1.12 then the seller would have to compensate the broker for the difference. On the bright side, in that situation the property would have a paper value in pounds £ of even more than it started with!


euro graph

We’ve worked with the same brokers for over ten years. Let us know if you’d like us to contact you to discuss this.

Trail Running in the Portes du Soleil

New for 2017, Trail Running in the Portes du Soleil

400km of signposted trails with 48 different routes across the 12 towns and villages of the Portes du Soleil. This is a big project that should be ready for summer 2017. It is one of the results of the drive by tourist offices around the Alps to diversify from a focus on alpine skiing.

It’s a great idea. The Portes du Soleil is ideally suited to trail running, it’s not a new activity, in fact fell running has been around forever, it is however a new idea to “package” it like this, providing signposting and resources to open it up to more people.

There is a website up and running and there will be leaflets available in the relevant tourist offices. An app is available for iOS and Android that will help with the mapping and tracking of each trip.

trail runnin


The trails are all graded from easyish valley trails to some fairly extreme “skyrun” trails


It looks like they have wisely missed out an obvious candidate for the “Skyrun” routes, the “Roc d’Enfer” pictured below.

trail runnin_5

This is all part of a bigger network of Trail Running centres that can be seen here. 

There are already a couple of trail races in the area

and this

and of course the crazy KMV in Montriond now in it’s 7th year




The avalanche report explained

The avalanche report is a great place to find unbiased information about the snow conditions and the weather forecast. Obviously it should always be the first port of call before a trip off piste too. It’s updated at 4pm each day. So it’s ready to be checked the night before a trip out. The forecast is made by real people using real observations and not by a computer model that is taking a guess!

There is a separate forecast for each region. I’m concerned with the Haute Savoie, AKA the Alpes du Nord. It’s all accessible from the following link.

Here I will deconstruct the forecast for tomorrow. Wednesday February 8th 2017.


avalanche forecast

You can see the region is split into 3 areas. The Chablais, Mont Blanc and the Aravis. I’ll choose the Chablais because that is where I live. Tomorrow you can see the risk of avalanche is 3 (marqué), this translates as “considerable”. This is the level at which most people get hurt! When it gets to 4 (fort / high) or 5 (trés fort / extreme) skiers tend to worry more and take conservative decisions.

  • To be more precise its level 3 at over 2200m metres and level 2 under that height. So basically it’s 2 in 95% of the Chablais. The flag for 3 will fly in the resorts though.
  • There is also an avalanche “rose”, that’s the compass symbol. This attempts to let you know if there is more risk on one side or other of the mountain. This often happens because the danger will depend on the wind direction on the preceding days. In this case the risk is the same on all aspects.
  • Finally there is a short description of the hazard. So in this case some small to medium avalanche might release spontaneously. Whereas a skier could release anything. This is important because skiers are generally buried in avalanches they have released themselves.

The next stage is to click on the area that concerns you to get the forecast in detail.

avalanche forecast 2

Here there is more detail on the stability of the snow cover.

  • Spontaneous avalanches: some releases are possible on the very steep slopes/couloirs/changes of slope in the form of a flow or a crack (slab). The size of these avalanches will often be small but could become quite large in the cold areas that have not yet slipped since the snowfall on the weekend.
  • Skier released avalanches: A big crack (slab) is possible on the less steep slopes, not sunny, and not effected by the strong wind on Saturday. Be careful on the ridges and changes of slope angle in various aspects.

That is a bit of a mouthful. Worry not, the next bits have more pictures.


avalanche forecast 3

On these images you can see the actual amounts of snow that fell at 1800m and the forecast amounts.  Also the weather forecast for Wednesday, it looks to me like light snow all day, the rain/snow line is starting at 900m and dropping to 700m. The wind starts out from the NW and then strengthens from the NE. Wrap up warm, that’s a windchill of less than -10C!

avalanche forecast 4

  • Here is a pictorial representation of the snow depths on the north and south side of the mountain. You can put your skis on around 800/1000m, once you get to 1500m there is a really decent depth of snow which is starting to settle. Tomorrow you can expect fresh snow all day and a bit of a north wind.
  • The “tendance” is always interesting, here they predict the risk will remain the same on Thursday and drop (become safer) on Friday.

The next bit of the avalanche forecast is new. It gives the history over the last 6 days. You can see how it was warm last week and has cooled off a bit since then. It also charts in blue the rain/snow line and how it has fluctuated as the two fronts came through.

The second chart shows the wind speed and direction. You can see that on Saturday the resorts had 100km/hr winds over the tops. Anyone skiing that day will confirm that 90% of the lifts were shut! It’s significant from a avalanche point of view though, these winds will have built up accumulations of snow on the lee (sheltered) slopes, in this case a SW wind…means slabs on the NE slopes.


avalanche forecast 5

The final charts are self explanatory. Showing the evolution of the avalanche risk and the snow depths.

So there you have it. The avalanche report. A mine of information.







French side of Geneva airport

Geneva airport straddles two countries. It is mostly Swiss but there is also a French side to the airport. The story about how this came about is available on this Wikipedia page. The French side is very small and VERY easy to miss. However, when booking car hire on the internet it may be that hiring on the French side is cheaper than on the Swiss. If I’m asked for advice I will always suggest car hire from the Swiss side from a convenience point of view. I’m writing this piece to help people who have hired a car from the French side. Particularly those that are heading towards the the main ski areas of the Haute Savoie (places like Chamonix, St Gervais, La Clusaz, Les Carroz, Samoens, Morzine and Chatel)

For the average slightly lost tourist hiring a car from the French side can lead to a stressful end to a holiday. BUT for the accomplished and alert traveller it will not cause a problem.

The first issue is that from the French side you cannot guarantee the hire car will have a Swiss motorway vignette. If you need to drive on a Swiss motorway then you’ll have to buy one for 40 CHF. You can avoid driving on a Swiss motorway, but to give you an idea of how ludicrous this is, the nearest motorway is only 200 metres from the hire centre!

If you are using a GPS the address for the French side is: Route Douanière, Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland or coordinates 46.233842, 6.111623

Leaving the French side of Geneva airport.

Actually, first you have to get there. All international or Swiss flights distribute luggage on the Swiss side. Only if you have arrived from France should you follow signs to France inside the airport BEFORE picking up your luggage. Unless of course you are travelling with hand luggage only, in which case you can follow the French sign straight away. There is more information on the GVA website.

Here is the Google route for heading to Morzine. You can see that the difference between taking the motorway or not is only a few minutes. Remember, I’m assuming you won’t have a vignette and that you don’t want to buy one! So all these routes avoid the 10km of Swiss motorway.

“Via D902” is the one.

From GVA to Chamonix you’ll add on 10 minutes by taking the route through Geneva that misses the Swiss motorway.

For both Morzine and Chamonix once you leave P20 do the weird dog leg through the border (driving under the runway, round the border and then back under the runway!) then follow signs for Geneva centre. Once you hit the lake follow signs for Evian (if heading to Morzine or Chatel) or Annemasse (for Samoens or Chamonix), it can be a bit congested at times in Geneva but it usually moves. (Unless it’s rush hour in which case this route can add 45 minutes)

Keep your eyes open on that weird dog leg, reversing it on the way home is the hard bit.

Returning to the French side of Geneva airport.

On the way you’ll need to head through the centre of Geneva again. Then follow signs towards the airport. All the signs in Geneva point you to the Swiss side of the airport, and not to the French side. The trick when you get to the vicinity of the airport is to head for signs that say “La Faucille/Gex/Ferney”….whereas all logic would make you head towards Aeroprort/France…nicely illustrated here.

french side 1

You need to be in the right hand lane and head into the tunnel (under the runway).

then get to the border, and take a hard left. See here. Above the sign that says Gex, it says “Aeroport secteur Francais”, unfortunately google hasn’t street viewed both sides of the road!

french side 2

another little sign here

french side 3

If you miss those signs then drive 100m to a roundabout and then head back around to the border. It’s more obvious now.

french side 4

and then

french side 5

You are aiming to get onto this fenced road, a weird piece of France in Switzerland. Obviously a deal the Swiss came to with the French when they swapped land for the runway.

french side 6

Further links

Availability of all the car parks and prices here. For the French secteur it’s P20.

Various versions of “how to get to the French side of the airport” are here.

Learning to Sitski

My brother Gareth was badly injured in an accident in Australia a couple of years ago. It’s left him with mobility difficulties, which means he can’t take part in sports like he used to. Gareth was a very keen and competent skier prior to his accident, and he had the opportunity last August to take part in a disability winter sports camp in Australia, which introduced him to the world of sitskiing. He made great progress during the 4 days he spent on the ski slopes, and was once again bitten by the skiing bug!

Gareth came over to the Portes du Soleil for Christmas, along with the rest of my family, so it was the perfect opportunity for him to build on what he’d learnt in Oz, and was a new experience for me and the rest of my family to learn about!

Sitski Lessons

Gareth booked a week of sitski lessons with Tigrou, an ESF instructor in Morzine, and one of just a handful in the area qualified to teach sitskiing. Day 1 started on a dualski, with Gareth firmly strapped in to the seat, affixed to two skis. The skis had a set of bindings at the back for Tigrou, who maintained full control of the sitski throughout the lesson. Because the instructor has full control, this type of sitskiing is perfect for anyone regardless of the severity of their disability: children, people with little upper body strength, and even frail-but-thrill-seeking grannies! It is quite a white-knuckle ride, the sitski is seriously fast!

Day 2, Gareth transferred to a uniski, a sitki with only one ski on the bottom. With a uniski, the sitskier has a pair of “outriggers” instead of ski poles, which are like mini crutches with a small ski on the bottom. The outriggers help with balance and direction, much in the same way as ski poles. With this set-up, Gareth was able to control the sitski himself, with Tigrou skiing behind and helping out with balance and steering.


Over the course of the next 4 days, we were able to explore the full extent of the Portes du Soleil, skiing together as a family, and with Gareth increasingly taking sole control of the sitski, and Tigrou helping out less and less. It was great fun, and brilliant to all be able to ski together, rather than have Gareth stuck on the nursery slopes like a traditional beginner skier.

It is quite possible to become and independent sitskier, and once you’ve mastered the art, the possibilities are endless. We’ve made a short video to give you an idea.

Like anything else. it can get extreme. The Winter X Games Mono Skier Cross footage is just insane! It would take a braver person than me to head down this course, well worth the watch!

Sitski alone!

After a couple of days off for Christmas and Boxing Day, we decided to go it alone, and took Gareth’s own sitski up to the nursery slopes in St Jean d’Aulps for a maiden descent! It turns out this was a lot harder than we thought! Our first obstacle was the draglift. A slow-moving button lift with a very gentle slope all of a sudden seemed pretty daunting! After falling off the draglift three times, we abandoned using the lift and resorted to pushing Gareth up the hill ourselves!

Getting back down the nursery slope proved just as challenging, the poor conditions meant that the snow has hard and icy, and the nursery slope was about a third of its usual width. With little space to get enough speed up to successfully make his turns, Gareth spent as much time on his backside as on his sitski! After a few more goes, we abandoned for the day and went for hot chocolates all round instead!

Not wishing to be defeated, the next day we decided to give Les Gets a go. Unfortunately, with very poor snow conditions and crowded slopes, we all found it challenging! (Although Gareth did manage to get both on and off the chairlift without an instructor and without falling over, which was an achievement in itself!).

pic from

We were lucky enough to meet Martin Lister and his son Matthew, who came to our rescue after seeing us struggle to help Gareth get down a particularly icy section; I think our confidence was really beginning to waver! Martin told us he had had many years enjoying sitkiing with his son William who had muscular dystrophy, and they had sadly lost William just a few months prior. Martin and Matthew offered Gareth some practical advice, and with Matthew at the reins, Gareth successfully navigated the last section of the piste. It was really encouraging to meet other families with experiences to share, and Martin and Matthew were very kind and helpful indeed!

Sitski practicalities

The practical aspect of “disabled” skiing was also new to us. On the whole, we didn’t encounter too many problems. We were pleased to find was that disabled parking bays were available at the Prodains lift in Morzine (and later in the week at Les Gets too), which made things much easier. We also learnt that for disabled skiers and a companion, a discounted lift pass is available, which was a real added bonus. More difficult was accessing some of the lifts once in the sitski. It’s difficult to get the sitski through the turnstiles without getting stuck! We mostly had to approach the chairlifts directly from the side (and jump the queue!), but over in Chatel, the “turnstiles” were generally much better, as they were set up to allow mountain bikes through, so the sitski got through with ease.

Finding the right equipment is nigh on impossible too. For lessons, the ESF have equipment available, but I did not find a single ski shop in the Portes du Soleil that has sitskis for hire for Gareth to use for practice outside of lessons. Sitskis are very expensive to buy new (think in the thousands!), so it’s quite limiting for a beginner looking to improve on their basic skills outside of lessons. I was fortunate enough to meet Catherine Cosby of Ski 2 Freedom, who was very helpful. The Ski 2 Freedom foundation was set up to help facilitate access to alpine activities to any person with any kind of disability, anywhere in the world. Catherine is currently fundraising for a new sitski which will be made available on a permanent basis to anyone looking to sitski in Morzine. On the whole, Morzine is a pretty disabled-friendly town, so hopefully the addition of a permanent sitski will allow more skiers like Gareth the possibility to enjoy the mountains with as much ease as the rest of us! (If you would like to donate, you can do so via the Ski 2 Freedom website:




Chalet Business in the Alps pt 2

3 years ago I wrote what I had hoped would be the first part of a blog on how to start a chalet business in the Alps. It was in response to an upturn in enquiries for that type of property. As usual I got sidetracked and never wrote pt 2. I never felt the need. My blogs are always written in reaction to something and the enquiries tailed off. It turned out that the upturn in interest was short lived.


The image above is Ferme Hauts Choseaux, 7 bedrooms, 595,000€

The subject came up again last week as I was contacted by a researcher from ITV . She is doing a feasibility study for doing a program that will follow a “life changer” that wants to run a chalet. She needed to know how many of these enquiries we get, per year. To give them an idea of how long they will have to wait for a suitable person to become available.

I explained that we now get a more diverse range of life changers. People wanting to work from home, work from Geneva, people offering services to the local community. It’s more than just people wanting to run a chalet. It’s funny because that is exactly what I was advising in part 1! This new wave are looking for a family home, generally a more modest property than the traditional catered chalet and almost certainly in one of the cheaper outlying villages. The centre of the resorts are too costly for anyone other than those looking for a business opportunity.

I sent the question out to some of our agents. One of them pointed out that there are some brakes on the whole business plan. The ski client is more demanding than 10 years ago. Their accommodation has to be in the right place, the standard they demand has gone up, home cooking isn’t the thing anymore, it’s all chefs, sauna’s and luxury. Put all this together and you need a lot more money available to buy something that is up to the standard. This is the first thing that has made the process much harder.

I’m not saying that there is less demand. There isn’t, there is still plenty of demand for catered holidays. It’s just that the demographic of the skier on a catered chalet holiday has changed. They are no longer the ones that want to run a small chalet business. Those skiers are now staying in self-catering properties and from their point of view a rental business somehow seems less accessible.

I did a straw poll amongst our agents, here are some quotes.

“I can think of one or two this year, but none that have actually taken the plunge, it seems like that those thinking about it were considering the catered chalet option as one of a variety of “career” options. I think plenty of people still have the desire to come and live here, just that not many of them want to run catered chalets (or they realise there isn’t the market). And people are (trying) to be a bit more original! Working from home, sports coaching, life coaching, transport, tradesmen, property development and even “professional” jobs like doctors, architects etc.”

“Many of the catered chalet owners in my area are actually trying to sell. My experience with clients is very similar to the other agents.”

“I agree, and actually all the ‘life-changers’ I know are also moving out of the chalet business…..”

If after reading this you are still looking for something that might work as a catered chalet option then take a look at our website. The “sweet spot” for this type of enquiry is a chalet with 5 or more bedrooms, priced between 450,000 and 700,000 euros. We currently have 10 for sale, 3 of which are on a ski bus route.



Les Carroz is pushing ahead pt 2

There was an important meeting in Les Carroz last night (24/11/16). We had thought it was about the proposed developments (more on this below) but it was actually about the PLU. The PLU is certainly important but only really to land owners.

So I thought I’d take this opportunity to list the proposed projects for Les Carroz. This list is distinct from pt 1. Pt 1 was about recently completed projects, this list is for the future.


  • Pictured above the new pedestrianised centre with improved traffic flow (tbc)
  • State of the art medical centre (this has started);
  • A new 400m2 tourist office (tbc);
  • New leisure facility as an extension to that which exists already (pool and wellness complex, sports hall, tennis courts and accrobranche (GoApe) comprising a 9-hole golf course along with VTT trails and summer walks. This can be adapted in the winter for cross country skiing, biathlon and snow shoeing (tbc);
  • The Funiflaine (tbc). According to the local newspaper the proposal is still very much supported but a new feasibility study is being undertaken, with a new route.

The Funiflaine is an ambitious plan to connect the motorway with the skiing at Flaine. The estimated cost is 84m€, mostly from the state.  The idea is 3 fold.

  1. To cut down on traffic through Les Carroz
  2. To make getting to Flaine more “sustainable” or better for the environment. It’s a reasonable idea. This will save 28km of winding driving. This takes 40min on a good day. It can take many hours on a snowy Saturday in the ski season. The lift should take half that time. Currently 250,000 holiday makers and 2oo,000 day trippers make the trip by car. They’d like all these people to go on the lift!
  3. With the convenience and a big car park it’s likely to divert day trippers from going up the motorway to Megeve, St Gervais and Chamonix. This isn’t one of the stated aims. It’s an obvious plus for the Grand Massif though.

The most recent route that had been proposed was  via Le Lays (just below Les Carroz) and then up to Flaine. I guess this was mainly to keep the commune of Les Carroz on board.

A potential revision has been suggested that would be to go straight from Magland to Flaine. And for a separate lift to be built connecting the entrance to Les Carroz (at Le Lays) to the Grand Massif via the Les Carroz slopes.


The original plan is in red and the new plan in black. The motorway is on the left and Flaine on the right.

Watch this space – we’ll keep you informed on any further developments!



Renovations in St Jean d’Aulps & Vallée

Renovation round-up in St Jean d’Aulps & Vallée

Renovation projects are increasingly difficult to come by in the Alps. The more “Grand Design” farmhouse restorations that are completed, the fewer there are left for the rest of us to do the same!  If there are not many old barns left, an alternative project is to transform an out-dated hotel or holiday centre into apartments for resale or rental. Investors with cash in the bank earning little or no interest can see better returns on investing their money in this type of project.

The attraction of a renovation project is two-fold: You can create a unique property tailor-made to suit you, and then you can make a profit on the blood, sweat and tears you’ve put in! The profit can either be in the form of a one-off lump sum when you sell (cashing in the value added), or as a rental income, particularly apt if you’ve created more than one apartment with your refurbishment project.

Here’s a quick round-up of the different types of renovation projects on offer in the Vallée d’Aulps:




Ferme de la Moussière d’en Haut:
This old farmhouse is ski-in, ski out, and would probably be best suited for conversion into a single family home. The structure is in great condition, so no worries about big remedial works! Full details on this link



Rénovation le Crêt:
This project is ideal if you want to self-build, but you can’t be bothered with the headache of all the paperwork or the slog through the mud of putting in the foundations. All the messy hard work is done, leaving you to do the fun stuff! Full details on this link



Maison la Charrette:
With an already-habitable 3 bedroom apartment, this property is ideal for someone looking to “live-in” whilst doing the property up themselves. This property is very large, and would lend itself well to being divided up into a handful of apartments. Full details on this link



Les Grands Clos:
This is another enormous property, with two habitable 3 bedroom apartments, and space for a few more in the huge barn! There’s lots of flexibility with this property, and more space than you can shake a stick at! It’s in a really pretty location too, with great views from every angle. Full details on this link

Don’t hesitate to contact us for more info on any of these properties, or for more info on realising your renovation dreams!

Should I ride in the Etape du Tour?

Should I ride in the Etape du Tour?

A question thousands ask themselves every October. The answer is probably “yes”, I’ll explain why here. The Etape du Tour and the Tour du France are organised by the same people. ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation), ASO organises a dozen or so huge events (Paris-Roubaix, Critérium du Dauphiné and the Vuelta amongst others).


They partially release the route for the Tour du France for the forthcoming year in October. The stage that will be used for the Etape is announced on the same day.  Generally they choose the “Queen stage“, the hardest day on the tour. If you are interested then you probably have a month or so to sign up. In 2015 the 15,000 places where all allocated by the end of December.


There are lots of reasons not to sign up. I guess that’s the same with any big sporting event. It is easy to think of excuses not to go.

  • I’m not fit enough.
  • It’s too big, you’ve heard of terrible queues and holdups.
  • It’s dangerous, you are surrounded by thousands of wannabe bike racers who probably aren’t safe in a group.
  • The logistics and expense are too much.

Not being fit enough is probably the weakest reason not to go and the best reason to give it a try. True, it is a hard day out. Generally not harder than any other Grand Fondo in the world though. Between 120km and 170km and with between 2,000m and 4,000m of climbing. The winners often complete the course in 4hrs and the last arrivals in around 10hrs. There are various “cut offs” along the course where the organisers will insist you stop if you are riding too slowly.

mavic mutual support

In general this equates to an average speed of 14km/hr. It is definitely not an event that you should consider turning up at and “having a go” without doing the training. Thousands of people realise this every year. Of the two Etape’s I have taken part in 25% did not turn up in 2016 and 30% in 2012. I suspect they will have realised they had bitten off more than they can chew!

sign up no queues

The fact that this has 15,000 people entering is a daunting. I have done plenty of Gran Fondo’s and normally the participants are measured in the hundreds and not the thousands. I have heard all sorts of rumours about being forced to walk because of heavy traffic, massive queues getting to the event, holdups because of crashes. I’ve been fearful of these things myself. In the two Etape du Tour’s I have entered I have not come across anything like this.

competitors wall

The organisation has always been exceptional. You would imagine there might be issues but I have not seen them. I’m sure they exist but they are the exception rather than the rule. The start is staggered. The fastest riders set off first (7am) and then tranches of 1000 will set off every 7.5 min from then on until almost 9am. When you enter they will ask you for an estimated time to complete the event. They will try and use this to put you in the relevant “pen”. If you put “I just want to finish” they’ll put you at the back. If you desperately want to ride with a friend and you find yourself split up then don’t stress, there is some discretion at the start.

start etape du tour

Cycling comes with dangers. Cycling over the Alps or Pyrenees comes with extra hazards. The long steep and twisting descents add issues. The weather often plays its part too. In my experience you’ll have to deal with all sorts of cold and rain whilst training and on the day will be faced with a heat wave. There are crashes and if you are involved they will hurt. I’m pretty sure most of the crashes are caused due to user error though, not other riders. Not all but most. If you don’t want to “mix it up” with the boy racers it’s easy to back off and find some space.

descent on the etape

Remember the whole road is closed so you have twice as much tarmac to play with compared to normal. You will see plenty of crashes and lots of medical staff helping out. But then there are thousands of riders and thousands of chances to fall off. The guys in the Tour de France crash much more often than people taking part in these events!

climbing the colombiere

I think the entry fee was about 100€. For this you get closed roads, an incredibly well organised event, a nice medal (if you finish), a hat or a t-shirt or something like that. In 2016 a rucksack of sorts. 3 feeding and watering stations and 4 extra water stops. There is even sports drink available if that is what you are in to. At the start there is coffee and Madeleine cake and a pasta party at the finish. Saying that I have never been able to face eating at the finish.  The smaller events cost less but are not better value. They do tend to be circuits though which makes your own personal logistics much easier to organise.

joux plane

The fact that most Etape’s are “point to point” does add a big logistical issue. The organisers do arrange plenty of buses on the day and the days before too. Saying that a support car and a willing driver would help immensely. There are plenty of large organisations that will sort things out for you too. Ranging from a weeks holiday, rental bikes, top spec hotels, exclusive support during the ride for up to $5k or camping at the start and riding back after (there are plenty that do that!).


james alpine property

I’ve not spoken to anyone who has not been immensely impressed with the Etape de Tour. The organisation, the route and the atmosphere. So stop thinking of reasons not to do it and get on and ride!