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Victoria vs France: 7 Peaks Challenge versus the French Alps!

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Victoria vs France: 7 Peaks Challenge versus the French Alps!

Clare Holdsworth

I am often asked 'How do the mountains in Europe compare to cycling the climbs in Australia?'.  Firstly, if you have conquered Victoria's 7 Peaks Challenge - then you should be able to manage almost all of the iconic European climbs.  Whilst every climb presents its own challenges and quirks (e.g. the gruelling first 3 ramps of Alpe d'Huez, or the ups and downs of the final 8km of Mt Hotham),  the overall distances and gradients are comparable.  

One main difference in Europe can be the altitude - with iconic Cols such as the Galibier, Izoard and Bonette taking you to well over the height of Australia's highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko (2228m).  At these altitudes, the body begins to notice the impact of the drop in barometric pressure (the percentage of oxygen in the air is always 21% at all times).  The drop in air pressure results in a reduction in the availability of oxygen transfer to our blood, leading us to feel breathless.  The impact of this whilst cycling these higher climbs in Europe (mostly all less than 3000m) is likely to be subtle in most healthy fit recreational cyclists -  you may notice you are breathing more heavily or that your speed has slowed slightly comparable to what you would expect for a given gradient.  The impact of altitude is certainly more pronounced for higher climbs, such as that to Manua Kia in Hawaii (4,200m), where altitude related side-effects like dizziness, nausea and severe breathlessness are common.

Other differences are the scenery, history, culture and cuisine.  Australia has wombats, France has marmots.  Australia has gums, Europe has pines.  Each of the 21 hair-pin bends of Alpe d'Huez are named after previous winners of the climb; Mt Ventoux has a memorial to Tommy Simpson near the summit.  At the top the European climbs there is a Col sign for a brag-worthy "I made it!" selfie, a bar and a shop, where you can usually get some quality food and drinks and pick up a souvenir jersey "Mt Ventoux Finisher".  While there's nothing wrong with the food at Mt Hotham's "The General Store" - the beauty of being in France is that you can order an omelette jambon fromage of equal quality to that at an inner Melbourne cafe - it's hard to believe you are on a mountain in the French Alps.  To me, these are some of the things that distinguish France from Australia!  

Below we compare Victoria's 7 Peaks Challenge (+1) to 8 iconic climbs that we will ride this year on our Nice to Alpe d'Huez cycling holiday.  We have chosen climbs that are comparable (as much as possible) in terms of total distance and average gradient.  The only one we struggled for a fair comparison is Dinner Plain's 42km at 2% (so we threw in the Col de la Bonette  - the highest sealed road in Europe, instead).   Despite some similarities in distance/gradient/altitude gain - each has its own unique differences, but we hope this will give you an idea of what it's like to ride the climbs of the Tour de France.  

australia

mt hotham

  • Length: 30.8km
  • Average Gradient: 4.2%
  • Elevation Gain: 1279m
  • Max Gradient: 18%
  • Max Elevation: 1970m
  • Start: Harrietville, Victoria
  • Finish: Ski Bridge, Entry to Mt Hotham village
The view over the Victorian Alps from near Mt Hotham Summit.

The view over the Victorian Alps from near Mt Hotham Summit.

Image thanks to Cycling Profiles

Image thanks to Cycling Profiles


MT buller

  • Length: 15.3km
  • Average Gradient: 6.2%
  • Elevation Gain: 921m
  • Max Gradient: 13%
  • Max Elevation: 1560m
  • Start: Mirimbah toll booth, Victoria
  • Finish: Entry to Mt Buller village
Photo thanks to Kristin Simpson, Photographic Artist.

Photo thanks to Kristin Simpson, Photographic Artist.

Image thanks to Cycling Profiles

Image thanks to Cycling Profiles


MT buffalo

  • Length: 23km
  • Average Gradient: 5%
  • Elevation Gain: 1119m
  • Max Gradient: 11%
  • Max Elevation: 1420m
  • Start: Eurobin Picnic Area, Victoria
  • Finish: Dingo Dell Cafe, Mt Buffalo
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MT BAW BAW

  • Length: 6.5km
  • Average Gradient: 11%
  • Elevation Gain: 741m
  • Max Gradient: 20.6%
  • Max Elevation: 1460m
  • Start: The Gantry, Mt Baw Baw Tourist Rd
  • Finish: Mt Baw Baw village entry gates
Pic thanks to the Climbing Cyclist - note the old-style WOR jersey!

Pic thanks to the Climbing Cyclist - note the old-style WOR jersey!


lake mountain

  • Length: 20.9km
  • Average Gradient: 4%
  • Elevation Gain: 932m
  • Max Gradient: 10%
  • Max Elevation: 1345m
  • Start: Marysville, Victoria, Australia
  • Finish: Lake Mountain Village
Profile-Lake-Mountain-1024x401.jpg

fAlls creek

  • Length: 30.9km
  • Average Gradient: 4%
  • Elevation Gain: 1181m
  • Max Gradient: 10%
  • Max Elevation: 1500m
  • Start: Mount Beauty, Victoria, Australia
  • Finish: Falls Creek Village
Profile-Falls-Creek-1024x401.jpg
 

dinner plain

  • Length: 42.8km
  • Average Gradient: 2.1%
  • Elevation Gain: 943m
  • Max Gradient: 11%
  • Max Elevation: 1500m
  • Start: Omeo Bakery, Omeo, Victoria, Australia
  • Finish: Dinner Plain village entry sign
Profile-Dinner-Plain-1024x401.jpg
 

donna buang

  • Length: 16.8km
  • Average Gradient: 6.4%
  • Elevation Gain: 1069m
  • Max Gradient: 11.4%
  • Max Elevation: 1252m
  • Start: Warburton, Victoria, Australia
  • Finish: Donna Buang Lookout Tower

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france

Col de la croix de fer

  • Length: 27.5km
  • Average Gradient: 4.7%
  • Elevation Gain: 1292m
  • Max Gradient: 9%
  • Max Elevation: 2064m
  • Start: Barage de Verney, Rhone-Alps, France
  • Finish: Col sign
Image thanks to climbbybike.com

Image thanks to climbbybike.com


alpe d'huez

  • Length: 13.2km
  • Average Gradient: 8.1%
  • Elevation Gain: 1071m
  • Max Gradient: 13%
  • Max Elevation: 1815m
  • Start: Bourg d'Oisans, Rhone-Alps, France
  • Finish: Alpe d'Huez village
Clare on one of the final hairpins, Alpe d'Huez

Clare on one of the final hairpins, Alpe d'Huez

Image thanks to climbbybike.com

Image thanks to climbbybike.com


MT ventoux

  • Length: 21.4km
  • Average Gradient: 7.6%
  • Elevation Gain: 1639m
  • Max Gradient: 12%
  • Max Elevation: 1912m
  • Start: Bedoin, Provence, France
  • Finish: Mt Ventoux Summit 
IMG_0963.JPG

col du galibier

  • Length: 8.5km
  • Average Gradient: 6.9%
  • Elevation Gain: 585m
  • Max Gradient: 10%
  • Max Elevation: 2642m
  • Start: Col du Lautaret, Rhone-Alps, France
  • Finish: Col sign at top
It's busy on the Col, 2 days before the arrival of the Tour de France

It's busy on the Col, 2 days before the arrival of the Tour de France


col du vence

  • Length: 19.3km
  • Average Gradient: 5%
  • Elevation Gain: 958m
  • Max Gradient: 12%
  • Max Elevation: 963m
  • Start: Cagnes sur Mer, Provence-Alps-Cote d'Azur
  • Finish: Col sign
IMG_1148.JPG

col du lautaret

  • Length: 28km
  • Average Gradient: 3.1%
  • Elevation Gain: 853m
  • Max Gradient: 5.2%
  • Max Elevation: 2057m
  • Start:  Briancon, French Alps
  • Finish: Col sign
Profile thanks to Climbbybike.com

Profile thanks to Climbbybike.com


COL DE La bonette

  • Length: 24km
  • Average Gradient: 6.6%
  • Elevation Gain: 1589m
  • Max Gradient: 9%
  • Max Elevation: 2802m
  • Start: Jausiers, Provence-Alps Cote d'Azur, France
  • Finish: Col sign at top
bonette.jpg

COL de l'izoard

  • Length: 15.9km
  • Average Gradient: 6.9%
  • Elevation Gain: 1095m
  • Max Gradient: 12%
  • Max Elevation: 2361m
  • Start: Guillestre, Rhone-Alps, France
  • Finish: Col sign at top
The view from one of my favourite little restaurants in the French Alps, hiding along a dirt road, high above Bourg d'Oisans

The view from one of my favourite little restaurants in the French Alps, hiding along a dirt road, high above Bourg d'Oisans