The idea of a multiday bike race around France seemed preposterous when journalist Géo Lefèvre first cooked up the idea in 1903. Now the Tour de France is one of the world’s premier sporting events—and pedaling atop the high mountain passes of Western Europe is one of the highlights of any pro cycling career.
“The ultimate bike trip would be to take a trip to Europe and ride up the highest paved peaks in France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and Spain,” says racer Kristin Armstrong, who has one of the Tour’s famous climbs in mind. “While I was there I would spend a week in each of these countries to explore the towns and to experience the culture.”
Among the stops would be Col de la Bonette, the Tour de France’s highest pass; Spain’s Pico del Veleta, the highest paved bikable road in Europe (a stretch of nearly 27 miles with an average 6.2 percent grade); and Austria’s Ötztal Glacier Road, where a sign warns “Mountain Road Only for Experienced Riders.” Enough said.
Next: See Kristin Armstrong's Must-Do Trip: Bike Through Tuscany, Italy
Road cyclist Kristin Armstrong won the World Time Trial Championship in 2009 and a gold in the individual time trial event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. She and cycling legend Greg LeMond are the only Americans to ever win three career medals at the UCI Road World Championships.