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29-06-2023 | Marcel van Herten

The highlights of the Tour for gran fondo fans

In the gran fondo world, Italy and France are usually competing over who has the most beautiful, most, toughest and best gran fondos. Then, at CycloWorld, we always say 'it's a matter of taste'. It's the same with the grand tours. Some can dream away at the compelling, bombastic and passionate Giro d'Italia. The other is wedded to La Grande Boucle, still the greatest cycling spectacle in the world and for many the most important multi-day race of the year.

But the course builders of the three grand tours have been doing their best in recent years to increase the entertainment value and still surprise the cycling fan each year. In part 1 about the Giro we kicked off a trilogy about: What do you look forward to in the grand tours as a gran fondo rider? In part 2, the Tour de France. A more than entertaining edition in 2022 with perhaps the most beautiful course in years set the bar high for 2023. The A.S.O. has again turned it into something beautiful. Check out the trailer below.

We list six highlights for gran fondo enthusiasts.

#1 - Crazy start in the Basque Country

In 2023, the Tour will start for the second time in Spain and for the second time in the Basque Country. This is not without reason. What Flanders is to Belgium, the Basque Country is to Spain when it comes to cycling. A crazy cycling region. The route the Basques have laid out for the Tour promises fireworks in the first three days: a playground for attackers and puncheurs. But riders with ambitions for the GC will not only have to be on their guard, but will have to get going right away. The highlights are definitely the finish in Bilbao and San Sebastián. Because with the hilly ride to and from Bilbao, the Guggenheim Museum at the finish, the beautiful beaches of San Sebastián and the mythical Jaizkibel, it's going to be a real treat.

That the region is cycling crazy is reflected in the number of cycling events in the Bilbao and San Sebastián area. In the Orbea Klasika Bilbao-Bizkaia, Gran Fondo Bibe Transbizkaia and Donostia Baiona Donostia you can ride parts of the route of the first stages of the Tour. Keep in mind, though, that these are tough routes where it keeps going up and down and you will have to digest the necessary elevation. The oldest of the three events mentioned, the Donostia Baiona Donostia, is already organized 21 times. In the event, you get to ride up the Jaizkibel twice. How cool is that?

#2 - On classic tour in the Pyrenees

This year's Tour is visiting all five of France's mountain ranges. The Massif Central, Jura, Alps and Vosges await the riders one after the other. Very early in the Tour, the riders head into the fifth mountain massif, the Pyrenees. Fans of the big names will not be disappointed this year. Stages 5 and 6 will feature the Soudet, Marie Blanque, Aspin, Tourmalet and the climb to Cambasque-Cauterets. Those climbs are of course familiar from a number of popular GF races such as the Marmotte GranFondo Pyrénées and the GFNY Lourdes Tourmalet.

If you have a slightly bigger budget and want to get close to the Tour, the Haute Route Pyrénées is highly recommended. From July 4 to 8, you can put plenty of check marks on your Pyrenees bucket list. The day after the sixth stage, you'll also ride virtually the same course as the pros.

#3 - Return of the mythical Puy de Dôme

After exactly 25 years of absence, the dark flanks of the Puy de Dôme return to the Tour de France. This mythical mountain is the only one that really matters in this ancient volcanic landscape around Clermont-Ferrand. By the way, did you know that the area finds its similarity in terms of genesis in the German Vulkaneifel?

The ascent to the transmitter mast takes the ancient volcanic cone in its stranglehold like a snake. Epic duels were fought here between Coppi and Jan Nolten and Anquetil and Poulidor (right, MvdP's grandfather). In the latter duel, Poulidor was the strongest, but did not distance himself enough to take the coveted maillot jaune (his grandson did that for him in 2021). Because the Puy de Dôme is privately owned, the climb is not freely accessible. Once a year in June, three hundred lucky people may attempt to break the KOM/QOM during La Montee du Puy de Dôme. Be quick as registration is always full within minutes. CycloWorld secretly climbed the mountain in 2020. Vacation tip: one of France's most fun amusement parks is just around the corner: Vulcania. Which, by the way, hosts the start of stage 10.

The Central Massif in general and the region around Clermont-Ferrand in particular is perhaps one of the least known and most underrated cycling regions of France. It can't be faulted for the gran fondos in the area. We mention a few that are definitely worthwhile.

  • La Volcane: Start and finish in Volvic, from the mineral water of the same name. 2,600m+, 160 km and across the volcanic landscape with the ascent of several Puy's.
  • Les Copains Cyfac: Start and finish in slightly more southerly Ambert. 156 km and 3,200m+.
  • Objectif Puy de Dôme: stage race from Ambert with ascent of the Puy de Dôme. Total 510 km and 10,000m+, a tough ride!

#4 - The mountain of the 'lunatics'

The Mountain of the Lunatics? CycloWorld also had to scratch its head behind the ears, but more on that in a moment. First to July 14, 2023, Quatorze Juillet, not only the French holiday, but also arrival on the Col du Grand Colombier. It will (most likely) be even more beautiful. July 15, l'Aindinoise, the gran fondo with arrival on the Col du Grand Colombier. Getting closer to the Tour and experiencing it yourself is really only possible in L'Étappe du Tour. The date is still subject to change. 

Back to the Tour and the mountain that was (partially) climbed from three of its four sides in 2020. This year, the riders only ticked off the side from Culoz. The Grand Colombier has only been included in the Tour de France four times, but it has served as a sharper point in the Tour de l'Ain on numerous occasions. The gran fondo l'Aindinoise was previously attached to the final day of the Tour de l'Ain with the same course. Following the example of the Jedermannrennen at German pro races such as Deutschland Tour and Münsterland Giro.

So what about The Mountain of the Lunatics? It is the free translation of the Fêlés du Grand Colombier. Or the challenge of conquering the four sides of the 1,501-meter-high Col du Grand Colombier in one day. Just like the Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux. A nice challenge for during the summer vacations, 130 km and over 4,800 meters of climbing. Check our Komoot for the route. Fun fact: In June through September, the ascent of the Col du Grand Colombier is reserved for cyclists on the second Saturday of the month as part of Journées Cyclo du Grand Colombier.

#5 - Strong focus in mountain playground

From the Grand Colombier, the snow-covered peaks of the Alps will certainly already be visible in stage 13. From stage 14, a five-day stay of the Tour de France in the Alps is about to begin. Not only a great playground for the Tour de France, but also of numerous gran fondos.

Rit 14 has been chosen by the ASO to serve as the course of the annual gran fondo L'Étappe du Tour. On July 9, the 151-kilometer, 4,100m+ route will take in part the course of the no longer existing gran fondo La Morzine. The penultimate climb, the Joux Plane, is the most famous. The finish, of course, is in Morzine itself.

In stage 15, the course builders still kept it pretty civilized. The pros ride partly on the roads of the Tour du Mont Blanc. The very toughest gran fondo there is. Go figure: three countries, eight cols, 338 km and over 8,500m+. If you're looking for the ultimate challenge!

Stage 17 could well be the highlight of this Tour: the Queen Stage! A stunning stage over the Cormet de Roselend, and the beastly Col de la Loze as the final climb. After a short descent, the finish is in the fashionable winter sports village of Courchevel. The Col de la Loze is part of a project to connect all three valleys of Les Trois Vallées by asphalting old trails. CycloWorld is closely following the developments. Of course, there is also a GF here, Gran Fondo Col de la Loze.

Book your entry with 40% discount in our SHOP.

Reason enough to discover cycling hotspot Brides-les-Bains.

#6 - Short and hefty taste of the Vosges Mountains

In stage 20, the riders get a typical Vosges course under their wheels. No pretty girls this time (Planche des Belles Filles), but with the Ballon d'Alsace, Petit Ballon, Col du Platzerwazel and a finish at Le Markstein, we can't possibly speak of a downgrade. Especially considering that the stage is only 133 km long. In 2022, the ladies in the Tour de France Femmes already rode much of the stage, which resulted in fireworks from Annemiek van Vleuten. With the men, are we going to get fireworks again in the 2023 with a Vosges apotheosis like in 2020?

The route makes the hearts of GF lovers beat faster. It is, of course, immediately reminiscent of well-known gran fondos such as Les Trois Ballons, GFNY Grand Ballon, Granfondo Vosges and the revamped L'Alsacienne. The latter, for the upcoming season, is CW's Choice. Definitely worth mentioning is the event Ride for the Cure. During the last weekend of July, you can ride from Le Markstein not only to fight all the famous Vosges cols, but also to fight breast cancer.

Now that the routes of two of the three grand tours are known, the third and final presentation awaits: La Vuelta. The Spaniards will present their 2023 route with Gran Salida in Barcelona in December. Just waiting to see. CycloWorld provides the final episode in this triptych before the Christmas season. To be continued!

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