Skip to main content

I have just completed the 10 Icons Tour, a 6-day event in the French Alpes, hosted by Braking Away Cycling Tours

This was an epic undertaking where you climb 10 of the most iconic mountains that have featured in the Tour de France.  It was a unique experience and the closest an amateur cyclist will get to replicating the challenges the professionals undertake, as they battle to win the Tour de France. 

This was a fully supported trip where your cycling requirements were completely catered for and with two support vehicles only moments away, you could ride in the knowledge that help was always close at hand.     

The climbs that were tackled included the Col du Joux Plane, Col de la Colombiere, Col de La Madeleine, Col du Glandon, Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galibier, Alpe d’Heuz, Col d’Izoard, Col de la Bonette and Mont Ventoux.  If that wasn’t enough, the Col de la Joux Verte was offered as an extra upon arrival to ensure your bike was setup for the week ahead.  

About Braking Away Tours 

Braking Away Cycling Tours is led by Managing Director, Gordon Geraghty.  Gordon formed Braking Away Cycling Tours and his vision is to “give every amateur cyclist the opportunity to experience the life of a Tour de France rider and help them achieve their dreams of conquering some of the most iconic mountains the Tour has to offer.”    

To help Gordon deliver his vision he has assembled an experienced team.  Ciara O’ Dwyer, a passionate cyclist and qualified practicing nurse of 20 years, specialising in emergency response, accompanies the tour.  Ciara owns her own Physical Therapy practice and when is not on the Tour nursing, can be found there.  Her physiotherapy skills were required by various members of the group throughout the week, myself included, and her professional expertise enabled us all to complete the Tour.     

Ensuring the right route was taken out on the road was Italian Amedeo Tabini.  He was the group leader and an experienced rider, having raced at the Pro-Continental level and has completed almost 1,000 group led tours.   

Providing the logistical support was local company Powdercab.  Owned by Steve Johnson, who has lived in Morzine with his family for the last 20 years, he accompanied us throughout the trip along with Aaron Johnston, who works alongside Steve.   

How the tour worked 

The tour had been meticulously planned and where possible, we would ride from hotel to hotel, via the climbs.   Where this was not possible, due to the distances between hotels being too great, a short transfer in the two support vehicles was undertaken.  There were only two longer transfers to Mont Ventoux, and back, which is located in a separate region of France (Provence)This gave us all an excuse to enjoy a bit of a rest during the transfer.   

People would climb at their own pace and there was never any time pressure.  A support vehicle was only ever minutes away, often checking how you were doing as you tackled the climb, including playing motivational music to spur you on.  In addition, Amedeo Tabini would be close at hand, ensuring everyone was OK.  On one occasion, I had the privilege of being led up a climb, getting hints and tips how to optimize my effort.   

Once you reached the summit, there was always a support vehicle waiting with your warm clothing, food and drink.  You couldn’t ask for better or more support.  It is important to note that there was never any pressure to ride every climb and some of the group were selective on which ones they tackled.    

After completing the daily ride and once safely back in the hotel, we would enjoy a 3-course dinner and swap stories reliving the day. After a good night’s sleep and an early breakfast, we would do it all again.  It was fun. 


The tour starts from Morzine, which is perfectly located.  It is only an 80-minute transfer from Geneva airport at which we arrived and where we were greeted by Gordon and the Braking Away team.  

Upon arrival at our lovely hotel, Le Petit Dru, we were shown where we could assemble our bikes, and all tools were provided.  I was keen to test the bike and my legs to ensure everything was setup correctly and so I embarked on a solo 28km round trip up the Col de la Joux Verte.  This was the ideal climb at 857m, to dial in the bike. 

During the climb, I noticed my power meter was not working, and this was easily fixed by re-pairing my pedals with the Garmin.  The ride also gave me the opportunity to understand what clothes would be required for the next few days as on the descent, my hands got incredibly cold and so long fingered gloves would be called into action.   

The evening meal provided the ideal opportunity to meet fellow members of the tour and get the all-important safety briefing and order of play for the week. 

Day 1 (108.37km) – Col du Joux Plane and Col de la Colombiere 

 We rode from the hotel to the base of the climb at a leisurely pace and it was here where I was able to put to test the months of training that I had undertaken to get myself to a level of fitness where I felt I could undertake the 10 Icons Tour.  Under the guidance of Rowe and King Coaching, I had followed a plan to get fit with much of it involving training indoors using Zwift. 

We approached the climb from Samoens and it only took me a few kilometers to find my rhythm.  I was conscious not to exert myself on the first climb and found a comfortable and sustainable effort level.  The lower slopes felt the most challenging as you passed farms and mountain meadows.  As the elevation increased, the temperature dropped and soon we rode into the mist. 

Upon reaching the summit, the clouds had come in and it was now properly cold and wet, fortunately, there was a lovely restaurant to drink a hot chocolate and get a bite to eat and get warm. 

  After a pitstop where I encouraged my group to continue on, I pushed hard to catch them up.  This was genuine fun and I looked at it as a challenge to see if I could make up the time I had lost. Cheered on by Gordon and the team, I managed to reel in all except two members of the group.   The end of the climb is challenging, there is long drag to the finish with the road nestled against a rockface on one side.

It was on the descent from this climb, where it was clear that I certainly no longer had the appetite for descending quickly and found myself keeping the speed down to a safe level.  Over the next few days, I realised my days of descending at reckless speeds had now passed. 

Day 2 (99.77km) Col de La Madeleine and Col du Glandon 

This was a challenging day.  Two 20km climbs, back-to-back.  The Col de La Madeleine will be remembered for two things., The first being that whilst ascending, I linked up with Jeroen Thur, an 18-year old Dutch cyclist and aspiring pro. As we climbed much of 25.3km together he told me  “You are good for an old guy.”  At that point, I wasn’t too sure to feel pleased or insulted. However, 3km from the top, my right knee started hurting and I crawled up the final few meters in pain.  The Col de La Madeline is long.  It’s not particularly difficult, just long, taking 2-hours.  The second thing I noticed was seeing the final 3km.  This consists of hairpin bends and looks so challenging, which can impact your mental state making it harder to keep pushing those last few kilometres.  

After a stop for lunch, it was a fast descent and straight into the Col du Glandon, where I suffered.  My leg was painful meaning the last 2kms where the road reached gradients of 12% were torture and I found myself meandering across the road to make it to the top.  I was relieved to reach the summit.  I couldn’t wait for the descent to get some form of recovery.   

Day 3 (101.62km) Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier 

Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier are special climbs and feature regularly in the Tour de France.  To summit the Col du Galibier is not an easy task as the climb reaches 2600 meters above sea level, where the air is thin and every pedal stroke is a challenge. 

Due to heavy snow, there were question marks if we would be able to make it up the Col du Galibier, but fate favoured us and we could.  Just to get to the Col du Galibier, you first need to ascend the Col du Télégraphe.  This is a beautiful climb with wide roads, long sweeping corners and gradients that are consistent.  It’s a climb where you feel like you can go fast, when you find your rhythm and before long, you are at the summit looking down the valley.   

Next up was the Col du Galibier.  For much of the climb I found myself riding alongside, Neil.  Neil is the quintessential Irish cyclist, cut from the same cloth as Sean Kelly – hard as nails, a proper rider and absolute fearless descender.  Despite tweaking his Achilles heel the day before, with the help of massages from Ciara, Neil had been able to climb at a steady pace, reaching the summit, conquering the mythical climb.   

The next time I saw Neil, he was down in the valley, outside Le Bourg-d’Oisans, causally sat on a bench waiting for me to catchup.  Before the start of the day, Neil noted “A good head and bad legs will get you further than good legs and a bad head.”  He certainly proved this to be the case. 

A night in the Hotel de Milan was like staying in a museum of cycling with its basement decked with Tour de France memorabilia.  It’s a unique place to stay if you are in the area. 

Day 4 – (85.01km, 3556m) Alpe d’Heuz and Col d’Izoard 

Alpe d’Heuz is a mythical climb and our ascent coincided with a Dutch event that was raising money for cancer.  It was the busiest I had experienced it and there was a real atmosphere.  An early morning start was ideal as the temperature was cool as I attempted to climb the mountain in under an hour.  It’s a route I know well having raced in countless times on Zwift and I was keen to see how I would perform.  The only issue was the 7 previous climbs that were in my legs. 

As a consequence of fatigue, halfway up the climb, I was unable to keep the hard tempo that I had set.  As I ticked off each of the 21 turns, my goal was looking unlikely, so I simply kept riding at a pace that I could sustain and hope that I could sneak in under the hour.  To my delight, I did.  58 minutes and a few seconds saw me beat a time I had set 8 years previous.  It was nice to think that despite being older, I was actually fitter.  This truly is a magical and legendary climb with breath-taking views from the summit your reward for ascending. 

After descending the back of the Alpe – the turn of which I nearly missed due to my euphoria for summitting in under and hour, we stopped for lunch and a quick transfer to the base of the Col d’Izoard and my favourite climb.   

During the transfer, my bike chain had become lodged between the frame and the cassette and I feared that my day would come to a premature end.  However, Amedeo was on hand to undertake a roadside repair.  Simply by loosening the crank, he was able to free the chain.  Problem solved. 

The climb up the Col d’Izoard was special.  As you approach high elevation, pine trees are prevalent and the road beautifully meanders into the high mountains, where the top of the climb is like a lunar landscape. This is genuinely one, if not the most spectacular climbs in the Alpes. 

The descent down the other side is equally impressive where we finished the day riding through a gorge.  A short transfer saw us stay at the majestic Villa Morelia in Jausiers, where we were treated to an evening of fine dining.  A fitting end to a perfect day. 

Day 5 – Col de la Bonette (47.29km, 2,107m)  

The Col de la Bonette is without doubt one of the nicest and most spectacular climbs I have experienced.  On paper, this 23km climb from Jausiers, which reaches 2802 meters in elevation appears frightening, however, the reality is something quite different.  Incidentally it is the highest tarmacked road in Europe,   

This climb will feature in stage 19 of the 2024 Tour de France and will provide a majestic backdrop.  Overall, it is a gradual climb that rises steadily into the high mountains, where you will find yourself surrounded by snow-capped mountains.  On the way to these you will pass a pristine lake and tackle long sweeping switchbacks that allow you to view the valley below. 

This day was a real highlight of the trip for multiple reasons.  The weather was warm and not too hot with clear blue skies.  We were not tackling multiple climbs, so there was no subconscious worry about the next upcoming effort, enabling you to really enjoy the experience.   

This was the highest elevation I had ever climbed and pleased to have achieved this.   

Climbing with a small group, consisting of Amedeo Tabini and fellow cyclist Neil, we spent the climb swapping cycling stories, sharing jokes, admiring the views and on the descent, stopping to take photos and having fun.  Before the trip Neil’s step-daughter Katie asked him “What’s your why?” with this trip ultimately providing the answer.     

A 5-hour transfer to the base of Mont Ventoux followed, where we stayed in a grand hotel, called Chateau de Mazan.  The last two days were simply special and it was sad that there was only one day remaining, but what a climb to finish with! 

Day 6 – Mont Ventoux (53.55km, 1942m) 

The mighty Mont Ventoux.  After 9 hard climbs, to finish the tour with this epic climb was momentous.  It’s a route I am familiar having raced it many times virtually on Zwift, so I knew what was in store and I was keen to see how I would fair.   

What was evident after setting off was that after 5 big days in the mountains, I would not be swashbuckling my way up the climb reminiscent of the great Italian road climber, Marco Pantani. Instead, I found myself sitting in a gear that I could turn the pedals and ground my way up the mountain.  I knew I was fatigued as I could neither raise my heart rate or my power and just focussed on consistency.  In fairness, riding my own rhythm soon saw me catch and pass other riders on the road and as I approached Chalet Reynard, which is 6km from the summit, I was overtaken for the first time by a young 24-year-old Belgium rider from Ghent called Emiel Fontaine.  He was racing up the mountain on fresh legs.  

I attempted to hold his 300 watts but it didn’t last long and I was soon back to grinding my own path.  I was then overtaken by an e-bike, which I battled with for the next few kilometers.  1 hour 38 minutes, after starting the climb, I reached the summit and consequently reaching the top of the 10 summits.  This was an incredible achievement.   

After some celebratory photos with the group, it was on to the descent via a different route, where I found myself riding with the breaks fully applied, simply wanting to safely descend the mountain and complete the 10 Icons Tour.  And with the descent safely navigated, it was “mission accomplished.”      

 Summing up 

The 10 Icons Tour was an incredible journey, where each day brought its own special memories and each completed climb a moment of sheer exaltation.  It was emotional.  During the week I had multiple moments of genuine achievement, this included summiting Alpe d’Heuz in under 1 hour and beating my previous time up Mont Ventoux. However, the highlight of week was the morning spent climbing the Col de la Bonette.  This is because I was not focused on beating a previous record, I was simply riding for enjoyment.  It was a spectacular climb with breathtaking scenery.  If there was ever to be a perfect day on the bike, that was it.  

Credit for creating that perfect day, has to go to Gordon, Ciara, Amedeo, Steve and Aaron who ensured that the day, and all the others went to plan and everyone enjoyed themselves, reaching their own targets and returning home safely.  After completing the tour, we were all awarded with a medal, which I will treasure. 

When I reflect back upon the week, my favourite climbs in order were: 

  1. Col d’Izoard 
  2. Col de la Bonette  
  3. Alpe d’Heuz  
  4. Col du Télégraphe  
  5. Mont Ventoux 
  6. Col du Galibier 
  7. Col du Joux Plane 
  8. Col de La Madeleine  
  9. Col de la Colombiere 
  10. Col du Glandon 

There are two more 10 Icon Tours this year, the tour from 27th July to 3rd August has sold out.  Due to last minute cancellations, there are several spaces available from 22nd June to 29th June, if you fancy a challenge, you won’t regret it.