All About Col Signs

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Col de Bérentin

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.”

New Col sign !! Col de la Croisette

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
Col de la Faucille and a beer Ventoux at Dawn Beer at Top of Plateau de Beille

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.

Col du mont cenis

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 de la Croix de Fer Col de la Croix de Fer Col de l'Iseran - highest pass in Europe (for road bikes) Cormet de Roselend

Col du Glandon. New sign and old sign:

Exceptions

Quite a few Cols in France have individually designed Col signs. The effort of the designer is always appreciated.

Col de l'Epine Col de la Platrière - Casse Desserte Col des Contrebandiers Col du Feu Col de Menthières Col de la Clye Col de Peyresourde

The Pyrenées have some nice old historic Col signs like the Peyresourde sign above and also at Col d’Aubisque:

Top of Aubisque

What To Do Upon Arrival

Apart from drinking a beer, one should always stop at every Col sign and take a team photo.

22/07/2008 cormet de roselend Not the famous Madeleine Col de Joux Plane Col des Contrebandiers Wooohooo

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.

Ballon d'Alsace

Switzerland

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.

Furka Pass Flüelapass Grimsel Pass Nufenen Pass Albulapass Klausenpass Oberalppass

Doreen makes any Col sign better:

Col du Pillon

Italy

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.

Colle delle Finestre Passo Falzarego Passo Valparola Passo Sella Passo delle Foppa (Mortirolo) Passo dello Stelvio !! Passo Gardena

And some of the great climbs have specialized signs:

Passo Gavia!

Tourist Regions

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”.

Col Saint Alexis Col de Rousset Col de Malaterre Top of Col du Pré Signal de Bisanne Col du Joly

Cormet de Roselend

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 de Balme Col des Posettes Col du Sanetsch - 2252 metres Col des Moises Col d'Arpettaz Col du Souchet

Col du Merle:

Col du Merle

What To Do If No Col Sign

Bring Your Own:

Col Croix de Pierre:

Col Croix de Pierre

For a FLICKR set of a few hundred Col signs see here.

**** just kidding about harassing the local mayors

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About Author

Happiest while cycling uphill. More enthusiastic than talented, my 2014 Challenge is to cycle 50 great rides, slowly.

2 Comments

  1. Nice post Will. There are very few sporting activities quite so satisfying as knocking off another col on the list. Out of the saddle and the last gasps of air as you reach the top and try to sprint for the sign. I always take a picture of the sign and the bike, even if I am out on my own it is a col I have climbed many times before. May be that says something rather sad about me

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