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Thomson Bike Tours: “Death Rides”
Thomson Bike Tours has earned a reputation for offering guests some of the toughest cycling routes in all of Europe. Several of their tours feature a day known as the “death ride”. TBT’s Andrew Ward tells us why they’re so popular.

– Special Travel Feature By Andrew Ward of Thomson Bike Tours –

“That was the hardest and most challenging day of cycling I have ever done!” one of our riders told me after the 6th day of our Trans-Alpine challenge. The “epic” ride we had just completed had seen us ride from Briancon to Auron, 90 miles and 13,500ft of elevation gain over the Col d’Izoard, Col de Vars and the Col de le Bonette, the highest asphalted route in France. Each of our Performance tours includes one of these “epic” rides which have become known amongst our riders as the TBT death-rides. In this article we describe some of our favorites:

(1) Tour of the Dolomites and Italian Alps:

- Distance: 85 miles
– Elevation Gain: 13,100 feet
– Key Climbs:

• Passo Fedaia (HC)
• Passo San Pellegrino (2nd Cat.)
• Passo Duran (HC)
• Forcella Staulanza (1st Cat.)

These climbs have been a staple for the Giro route designers in the past few years and a similar route featured as the Queen stage of the 2006 Giro d’Italia.

Stunning views in the Dolomites

The last 6 kilometres of the Passo Fedaia (from Caprile) are leg breakers with long sections of 15% and over. Francesco Moser once said that the Passo Fedaia is one of the most feared in the Giro. The later climbs are not quite as challenging but pace yourself on the Fedaia or you may well receive the invoice on the Passo Duran.

As well as being probably one of the hardest cycling terrains in the world the Dolomites and Italian Alps are also stunningly beautiful. Pray for good weather and don’t forget to pack your camera.

(2) The Trans-Alpine Challenge:

- Distance: 90 miles
– Elevation Gain: 13,450 feet
– Key Climbs:

• Col d’Izoard (HC)
• Col de Vars (1st Cat.)
• Col de la Bonette (HC)

This is a monster of a day that Thomson Bike Tours included on the 5th day of their very first edition of the Trans-Alpine challenge this year. This “Death Ride” will surely be a mouth-watering prospect for performance cyclists looking for the ultimate in Alpine challenges. Riders were in for a treat this year as the Col de la Bonette, Europe’s highest paved road, opened just hours before we rode it and was in beautiful condition. The breath-taking descent was well worth all the hard work. The pass of La Bonette has featured in the Tour de France four times (1962, 1964, 1993 and 2008) with Scotsman Robert Millar leading over the summit in 1993.

The Trans-Alpine Challenge: premiered in 2009

Not for the faint-hearted, this challenge takes in the longest, highest and most challenging climbs in the Alps.

(3) The Trans-Pyrenees Challenge:

- Distance: 75 miles
– Elevation Gain: 11,150 feet
– Key Climbs:

• Col de Peyresourde (1st Cat.)
• Col d’Aspin (1st Cat.)
• Col du Tourmalet (HC)

The Trans Pyrenees Challenge “Death Ride” may not seem as challenging as the previous ones but remember this ride comes in the middle of 525 miles and 55,000ft of climbing! The cols of the Peyresourde, Aspin and Tourmalet are sure to test the mettle of experienced riders so be sure to keep some gas in reserve for the remaining days of this iconic coast-to-coast challenge. The Tourmalet (2115 m) is the mountain pass which has been used the most in the Tour de France and features towards the end of this very tough day of cycling.

Riders on the Trans-Pyrenees Challenge

(4) King of the Mountains – France Alps:


- Distance: 115 miles
– Elevation Gain: 14,100 feet
– Key Climbs:

• Col de l’Iseran (HC)
• Col du Telegraphe (1st Cat.)
• Col du Galibier (HC)
• Alpe d’Huez (HC)

Our 2009 Alps King of the Mountains’ ride ride whetted the appetite of the long-distance specialists with over 100 miles of riding and 14,000 feet of climbing. Col de Galibier (2645 m) was the decisive mountain in this classic Alpine stage which finished on an old favourite of the Tour de France: Alpe d’Huez (1860 m). Thomson Bike Tours provided the best support in the industry – and we encouraged and supported our riders to finish every kilometre of this epic bike ride.

Col du Galibier

(5) King of the Mountains – France Pyrenees:

Distance: 115 miles
Elevation Gain: 14,100 feet
Key Climbs:

• Coll de Canto (2nd Cat.)
• Port de la Bonaigua (2nd Cat.)
• Col de Portillon (1st Cat.)
• Col de Pereysourde (1st Cat.)

The King of the Mountains Pyrenees’ ride took in 4 cols: two in Spain (Canto & Bonaigua); and two in France (Portillon & Peyresourde). The route, like all Thomson Bike Tours’ routes, was amazing and the terrain challenging. This ride had a sting in the tail with the demanding Peyresourde, at just over 9 miles and with an average grade of 6.1%. Although this may have less elevation gain then other TBT Death Rides this route should not be underestimated and had a satisfyingly quick descent off the Peyresourde as its “finale”.

TBT Riders coming over the top of the Peyresourde

For more information on how you can participate in a European “death-ride” consult our website for further details.


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