Col de la Croix de Fer via La Toussuire

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Col de la Croix de Fer is usually the first of the giant Maurienne valley cycling climbs to open after a long winter. So while Iseran, Galibier, Madeleine, and even Glandon are still closed, I dashed off to visit an old favourite.

Of the five ways up Col de la Croix de Fer – see here – the lower stretch of the direct route from St-Jean-de-Maurienne is perhaps the least interesting. So this challenging loop bypasses it by first visiting the ski station of La Toussuire.

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In recent years, La Toussuire has hosted several Tour de France stages, most recently in 2015 in a stage won by Vincenzo Nibali. From St-Jean-de-Maurienne, there are three or four routes up.

I took probably the least well known: via Jarrier. (details via Fontcouvert here) – but they all share parts of the same road and are reasonably similar.

I am not going to argue that La Toussuire is even remotely one of the best climbs in the Maurienne valley. But it’s a big, quiet enough, and plenty of beautiful mountains views.

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Next, I made the long descent to join the direct way to Croix de Fer. Unfortunately, there is no way to join this road higher up, so this becomes a ride of two big ascents, ultimately joining the route 25 kms (!) below the summit.

This is a very uneven climb, sometimes easy, sometimes long stretches at 10% or more, etc. There are three tunnels in quick succession perhaps 18 kms from the col (boo!), but they are wide, well lit, and virtually flat – even this tunnel-coward was cheerful enough. But the highlight of the route is without a doubt the final 6 kilometres above Saint-Sorlin ski station.

Sexy Hairpin

Sexy Hairpin

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Col de la Croix de Fer just  around that corner

Col de la Croix de Fer just around that corner

Hot Mountain Bike Tip: Exactly at the col, behind the little parking lot, is an unpaved road that goes much higher to two beautiful lakes/dams, a couple of cols, and eventually to the Glacier de St-Sorlin. Truly amazing: details here.

Glacier de Saint-Sorlin

Glacier de Saint-Sorlin

Back to the ride: It makes me very happy that Col de la Croix de Fer (Pass of the Iron Cross) actually has an Iron Cross at the summit. I took my usual celebration photo:

Pass of the Iron Cross

Pass of the Iron Cross

Next, I descended the other side to visit the nearby Col du Glandon. I knew it was officially closed but there didn’t seem too much snow around and I thought I’d see if I could descend it.

The final hairpin is one of my very favourites:

Col de Glandon

Just below summit:

Col du Glandon

Below that final hairpin are a bunch more that don’t get much sun, and get avalanched on all winter. A few stretches still needed to be ploughed. I decided to try a couple of snow portages. Frankly, it was probably a poor idea. I’d recommend waiting until the road is officially open in a week or two. But I made it.

Dodgy descent.  Do not try.

Dodgy descent. Do not try.

At least after making it over the short stretch of snowy road, it was a very quiet descent. This is a fun, but (for me at least) tough loop. But it’s always worth the effort to see a high pass so early in the season.

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Happiest while cycling uphill.

4 Comments

  1. Hi Will, we stayed in Jarrier last summer. Very nice location with the classic summits nearby. I thought the road towards Jarrier is tough. Later on to La Toussiere its easier. Nice blog (as always).

  2. Great website – I’ve been reading page after page!
    I’ll be in Briancon from 7-13 June and hoping to ride Col du Galibier – what do you think the chances are that it will be open? And even if it is open, will it be pleasant or horrid to ride?
    Cheers

    • Hi Alex,

      After June 7th? Almost 100% certain to be open. I’d expect it’s open by end May. If it is sunny, it will be fantastic to ride – best time of year! Only horrid if rain/snow. Just bring extra jacket if cool. It might be quite cold up there.

      • Good to know. A lot of the websites showing col opening dates are vague or conflicting so its great to hear info from a local cyclist. Thank you!

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