Posted by: Jennifer Sage | May 6, 2008

The Best time to cycle in the Alpes and Pyrenées

The mountain ranges of the Alpes and Pyrenées are fairly similar in terms of the best months to ride your bike, but there are some differences in the average temperatures and rainfall that I’ll point out at the end.

For the most part, you can bicycle in these ranges from the first week of June to the second or third week of September. I’ve known some people who’ve ridden before or after those times, but they live close by and can easily take advantage of windows of good weather. If you’re traveling there from another country, you want a greater chance for sunshine and warmth, so I’d avoid outside those months unless you are a hard-core cyclist.

I took a group to the Alpes in June and we had beautiful weather in the 70’s, though it did get quite cool and foggy on a few days. This made for excellent temperatures for climbing on your bike. This photo is Andy Beyer on the Col du Glandon in mid-June.

It can be quite variable in July and August in the Alpes, from chilly rains to very hot and sunny. Remember, the elevation in the Alpes and Pyrenées is nothing like in the Rocky Mountains, the valleys are much lowerin elevation giving the mountains the appearance of being much higher. The elevation gain can be substantial from valley to col, but the highest passes are “only” at 7,000 – 9,000 feet (the highest paved road in Europe is Col de la Bonnette in the Alpes at 9,190 feet). Though this is 3,000 feet less than those in the continental divide in the Rockies, you still encounter major weather changes from top to bottom, and from moment to moment (like they say, if you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes!) Like in the Rockies, you can encounter snow in July (and I have a few times), though it will most likely melt within a day.

I go out a week prior to my Tour de France tour in July to do some research and the past couple of years I’ve been to the Alpes in July it was very wet early in the month. In fact in both 2004 and 2007 I had almost a week of cold rain prior to my tour. I even found myself buying a fleece both years because I hadn’t packed enough warm clothes. I was apprehensive that it would be cold and rainy for my tour, and that my clients would have to ride in cold miserable conditions to view the Tour de France. But both years, to my delight, the very first day of my tours dawned warm and sunny, and we had 8 solid strong days of sun, even hot temperatures.

This photo is one of my riders climbing Alpe d’Huez in the heat of the day in July, as she approaches an even steeper portion (the sign on the left is a 10% grade). This was a day we wished it was cold and misty!

July gets a little less rain than August, where frequent afternoon thunderstorms are possible. It’s best to plan your rides for early in the day to avoid the greatest chance of rain, and also to avoid the heat of mid-day on the steepest climbs, where the heat is reflected off the pavement into your face and amplified, even if the ambient air is fairly cool. If you’re like most mere mortals climbing these cols, you’ll be traveling a lot slower than normal, so you won’t have wind speed to cool you down! Get ready to peel off the layers.

The temperature gradient between the valleys and the higher cols can be 10-25 degrees or more. I recommend to bring warm riding gear even in mid-summer, and bring them along even if it’s sunny and warm down below and there are no visible clouds. You just never know! This photo is of me and some of my guests on the Col du Galibier in 2007. It was very warm where we were staying. One client forgot her jacket (“you warned me Jennifer! You warned me!” was all she could say), and even with our arm-warmers, long sleeved jerseys and jackets, we were still very chilly at 8,682 feet (in the Rockies, that’s nothing, but in the Alpes, that’s very high and due to the higher peaks all around, the weather can change very quickly up there). But we also hung out for several hours in the cold wind, with tens of thousands of others, waiting for the peleton to ride by. A kind couple loaned us this blanket!

In the Pyrenées, the average temperatures are higher, and it’s warmer earlier and later in the summer because this mountain range is much further to the south than the Alpes. July and August can get up into the 80’s, even 90’s in the valleys, but it’s not unusual to also encounter 40-50 degrees on the cols so the variability is wide. In mid-summer, you’re likely to have afternoon thunder showers as in the Alpes, but on average, it rains less in the Pyrenées than in the Alpes.

This photo is Nancy Germond on the top of the Col d’Agnes in the Pyrenées in July, a bit foggy up on top, but it was a very warm day.

If you encounter unpleasant weather on successive days and want to drive to find better riding conditions, because of the east-west orientation of the Pyrenées range, you have easy access to the warmer rolling hills and plains to the north. This isn’t as easy in the Alpes – you’d need to drive a lot longer to get out of the tall mountains.

Average temperatures for Grenoble(Alpes) (note: these seem a bit low to me, because I’ve experienced so much higher, but I guess that’s what “average” means! This just shows you the potential range you may experience.)

May 13.5 c/ 56 f
June 17 c/ 63 f
July 20.5 c/69 f
August 19.5 c/ 67 f
September 16.5 c/62 f
October 12.5 c/55 f

Average rainfall Grenoble (centimeters/inches)

May 8.4 cm/3.3″
June 8.7 cm/3.4″
July 7.4 cm/2.9″
August 9.2 cm/3.6″
September 8.4 cm/3.3″
October 10.2 cm/4.0″

Average Temperatures for Lourdes (Haute Pyrenées)

May 20 c/68 f
June 24 c/75 f
July 26 c/79 f
August 26 c/79 f
September 23 c/73 f
October 18c/64

Average Precipitation for Toulouse (cm/inches) (Note: this may be slightly less than the average rainfall in the higher Pyrenées, as Toulouse is just north of the range).

May 7.3 cm/2.9″
June 6 cm/2.4″
July 3.8 cm/1.5″
August 5.3 cm/2.1″
September 5.8cm/2.3″
October 5.6 cm/2.2″

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