I think all Col hunters love a good Col sign.
COL is French for “mountain pass.” First used in the 12th Century, it’s derived from “cou” which means “neck.”
The two biggest climbs from home: Col de la Croisette and Col des Pitons have new Col signs with altitude (thanks JB for the Croisette tip). It seems all my letters harassing local Mayors has paid dividends****.
Barely a couple of hours after JB’s email, I couldn’t help myself, and got on the bike to witness this new sign for Col de la Croisette.
Anyway, while climbing the crazy Croisette hairpins , I got to thinking. So here is everything you wanted to know about Col signs but were afraid to ask:
Most Col signs on roads
The majority of French Cols signs are simple black panels with the name of the Col and its altitude. There is no better feeling than approaching the top of a new climb and seeing this black panel.
You should immediately open a beer or pop the champagne upon arrival at any Col sign.
Some Big Cols
Some of the most famous Cols – especially on the route des Grandes Alpes – have big fancy white Col signs. In the last few years, giants Col de la Croix de Fer and Col du Glandon have replaced their little black signs with impressively big presentations.
Col du Glandon. New sign and old sign:
Quite a few Cols in France have individually designed Col signs. The effort of the designer is always appreciated.
The Pyrenées have some nice old historic Col signs like the Peyresourde sign above and also at Col d’Aubisque:
What To Do Upon Arrival
Apart from drinking a beer, one should always stop at every Col sign and take a team photo.
A few years back, on a trip in the Vosges, I rode for the first time in a pace line – with some American friends. During my turn at the front, we passed a tiny Col sign, I immediately braked for a photo, and almost killed the entire group – much swearing ensued. By the end of the trip, even in pouring rain, these great guys would wait for me by a Col sign knowing I needed a photo.
Swiss Col signs are fairly Swiss: straight forward, simple, and accurate. Many of the signs are just a small blue sign. Some are just white squares. And of course, some variety exists.
Doreen makes any Col sign better:
I have much less experience in Italy, but it seems that most Col (Passo in Italian) signs are brown. Some signs – see the Stelvio photo below – will have “Cima Coppi” on the sign, signifying that they were the highest climb in an edition of the Giro d’Italia.
And some of the great climbs have specialized signs:
Lots of tourist regions have specialized signs – sometimes in addition to the standard signs. For example the Vercors have giant green (not great) Col signs. I prefer the Beaufort region and their “congratulation signs”.
Cols on Trails or Gravel Roads
It’s possible to reach on bike lots of Cols that aren’t on paved roads. Often these have little hiking signs. Better than nothing!
Col du Merle:
What To Do If No Col Sign
Bring Your Own:
Col Croix de Pierre:
For a FLICKR set of a few hundred Col signs see here.
**** just kidding about harassing the local mayors