Don’t confuse Col de Cenise with the also great Col du Mont-Cenis further south on the French/Italian border — see here.
This is a very tough, quiet climb on the north edge of the French Alps, on the other side of the big mountains one rides beside while climbing Col de la Colombière.
I started from the village of Thuet at 450 metres. The first few kilometres are also on the way to Plateau de Solaison. It’s consistently 10% or higher as the road climbs through the woods.
I had planned to take the D286 through the Gorges du Bronze, but it is currently closed for a month for construction. So instead I stayed on the Solaison road until Brizon and traversed across to Mont-Saxonnex (see map at bottom). No worries, this is a terrific cliff road, in fact the plan was to climb one way and descend the other.
A couple of kms above Mont-Saxonnex (roughly 1150 metres) I turned onto an unpaved road leading to Lac Bénit. This is steep, slippery gravel – frequently 20% or so. With the recent rain, I found it too slippery to ride very much. But I wanted to see the lake so I kept going.
The lake backs against a big wall of mountains – tough to photo. It’s a popular hiking spot apparently. Plenty of picnic tables, etc.
From here, i briefly doubled back and took a rideable trail until the top of a little ski-lift – maybe 1540 metres. I then took a steep, well-marked but completely unride-able (40%?), hiking trail down to the road that leads to Col de Cenise. At 1250 metres I re-joined the paved road.
Let’s be clear: the road to Col de Cenise is great. But my detour to the lake? I can’t recommend it for cycling. It’s mainly unride-able up, and absolutely unride-able down. But I enjoyed the chance to visit for the forst time. I like alpine lakes. 🙂
Here’s a link to a ride/map where I climbed directly to Col de Cenise via Gorges du Bronze.
You may not be interested in Lac Bénit, but the top kilometres to Col de Cenise are fantastic. It’s a beautiful road with great views:
It is paved until 1570 metres, two kilometres from the Col. The last two kms are a rough, narrow farm road. Perfectly ride-able.
I decided to just turn around at the col and descend the same way I climbed. But I could’ve (should’ve) gone over the top and looped back to the start via Plateau d’Andey. Here’s a ride where I did this loop but in the other direction. Note: the far side of Col de Cenise is also steep, and very interesting – starting from Le Petit Bornand. Note: the top couple of kilometres on that side are also unpaved.
Finally, here is a link to a slightly crazy ride that gets to Col de Cenise via Lac de Lessy and Col de Sosay (1994 metres). Tip: don’t descend Sosay when it’s covered in snow :).
Col de Cenise is higher and far quieter than it’s famous neighbour Col de la Colombière. I always enjoyi visiting here but remember it requires fatter tires to reach the summit,
Bikemap.net altitude profiles seem to be broken at the moment so here is another map showing altitude: