Beyond Alpe d’Huez: The Best Cycling Climbs from Bourg d’Oisans

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I understand. It’s your first visit to the Alps and you want to climb Alpe d’Huez – fair enough. But then what? There are lots of other climbs in the region, many of which are higher, quieter, harder, and — yes — better.

It’s the most common email I receive: Asking for route advice from Bourg d’Oisans. So here are my favourite climbs, some route tips, and also one climb that I think you should avoid.

Each ride below contains a link to a blog post with a map, climb profiles, photos, and a route description. There is also an overview map at the bottom of this post.

#1 Alpe d’Huez – Five Different Rides

I might as well start with Alpe d’Huez itself.

Lac de Besson - above Alpe d'Huez

Lac Besson – above Alpe d’Huez

There is more than the classic Tour de France route here. There are, in fact, three paved roads up to the ski station. And don’t forget to visit the beautiful Lac Besson a few kilometres above town.

For 5 different Alpe d’Huez ride ideas see this link.

Tip: The official Tour de France route does NOT end as you enter town and see a big line across the road beside a couple of restaurants and the Trek bike shop. The majority of cyclo-tourists mistakenly stop here. Keep going! It is (badly) signed, but continue perhaps a kilometre further, through town, and after negotiating a couple of round-abouts, you will see a bunch of signs at the official finish. Now you can stop! 🙂

#2 Col de Sarenne – non Alpe d’Huez side
Col de Sarenne

Col de Sarenne

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The 2013 Tour de France climbed Col de Sarenne from Alpe d’Huez. But the other side might be the quietest, most beautiful, big climb in the region.

Note, that the link below also includes detours up to Auris ski station, the little village of Marrone, as well as starting along a truly fabulous cliff road. Details here.

Tip: Pay attention to the cliff road “long-cut” described in the link. It’s an amazing, little-known, road – bypassing a busier main road below.

Great "Secret" Cliff Road

Great “Secret” Cliff Road

#3 Col du Sabot

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Higher, harder, and far quieter than Alpe d’Huez. A little known giant-of-a-climb. It’s a dead-end, but a fabulous ride. Details here.

Tip: After descending Col du Sabot, you could return to Alpe d’Huez up the back (pink) road detailed in the “Five Different Rides” link above.

#4 Col du Solude

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In the cliffs above Bourg d’Oisans, directly opposite Alpe d’Huez is another often ignored, but special climb (two ways up). Read the comments in the link, cyclists love this road. Details here.

Tip: Bring a light, because the early tunnels are dark, and narrow (but quiet), and bring thicker tires – if possible – so you can traverse the col and return down the far side, as there is a long unpaved stretch before the summit. Both sides are still more than worthwhile if only willing to ride the paved stretch.

#5 La Berarde

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Are you visiting Bourg d’Oisans but searching for something quiet, scenic ….. and easier than Alpe d’Huez? Then La Berarde is your climb.

Starting just down the road from Bourg d’Oisans, 27 kms long, occasionally steep, but generally not too difficult. This is a perfect training ride for those a little intimidated by the Alpe. Details here.

#6 Col d’Ornon, and Oulles
Oulles

Oulles

Oulles

These two climbs start a couple of kilometres down the road from Bourg d’Oisans. Ornon is scenic and not too difficult. The road to Oulles is a steep, little detour that will amaze you – I promise.

This link is a ride including Alpe d’Huez and the above climbs.

#7 Col de la Croix de Fer

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There are five routes up Col de la Croix de Fer – the Bourg d’Oisans side is the first discussed in the link here.

Tip: a couple of kilometres before Col de la Croix de Fer is the turn off to Col du Glandon. It’s just a few hundred metres to the Col. At a minumum, take a peek over the top as the last 2 kilometres of the far side of Glandon have some fabulous hairpins.

#8 La Marmotte Cyclosportive Route
La Marmotte

La Marmotte

For the strong and motivated: The most famous cyclosportive in France (perhaps Europe?) starts at the base of Alpe d’Huez — in Bourg d’Oisans — and finishes at the summit. 174 kilometres and 5000 metres of ascent. Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galibier, and Alpe d’Huez. Hard work. Details here.

A tasty beer after La Marmotte with La Côte Wheelers

A tasty beer after La Marmotte with La Côte Wheelers

#9 Col de Cluy
Col de Cluy

Col de Cluy

Here is superb alternate way up to Col de Sarenne and the back side of Alpe d’Huez. The route in the link also includes the fully paved extension above Alpe d’Huez to the beautiful Lac Besson. Details here.
Tip: While I used a road bike, please note, there are a few kilometres on “good” gravel roads on each side of Col de Cluy. If you are fussy, bring thicker tires.

#10 Col du Souchet via Col Nazie
Road to Col du Souchet

Road to Col du Souchet

Feel like mountain biking? Here is a four Col ride that goes much higher than any of the above climbs. My friend Bastien showed me this great route. Details here.

#11 Col du Jandri (Glacier de Mont-de-Lans)
Glacier de Mont-de-Lans

Glacier de Mont-de-Lans

This is an unpaved climb above Les Deux Alpes that reaches ….. 3141 metres. Wow, one of the highest roads in Europe. Details here.

The Road to Avoid!
Galibier above Col du Lautaret

Galibier above Col du Lautaret

48 kilometres above, the south side of the legendary Col du Galibier is obviously a goal of anyone visiting Bourg d’Oisans. But the lower slopes have perhaps ten tunnels. Many are long, wet, and dark. And while usually not the busiest road, it is a fast “through-road,” including trucks. Frankly, I think it’s dangerous. Many a cyclo-tourist has had a lousy day on the bike here.

It’s a matter of taste, but I hate this stretch, even descending. But long, dark, narrow, uphill tunnels? No thanks.

NOTE, since early 2015 this route has been cut by a collapsed tunnel abov Lac du Chambon. It’s uncertain when this minor disaster will be resolved.

But, of course, you still should visit Col du Galibier. The last bad tunnel is just above La Grave, so I recommend driving above here to start. This leaves a scenic, easy stretch to Col du Lautaret and then the last, best 8.5 kilometres to Galibier. If you want to make a big day, just descend the other side of Galibier as far as you like (it’s 35 kms down), and double back. In fact, I have several times just parked at Col du Lautaret and headed up.

A complete look at Col du Galibier here.

Final Thought:

The above list is fairly comprehensive, but please feel free to comment with additional ideas. One climb missing is Les Deux Alpes (and mountain biking high above). I’ll try and cycle it soon. 🙂

Enjoy!

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Happiest while cycling uphill.

15 Comments

  1. Great article. How about

    The climb to Oz-Station ski station,

    The unrelentingly steep climb to Vaujany

    The climb to Huez village via Villard Reculas

  2. Hey Will. I rode down to La Berarde trip before last, and it is absolutely gorgeous. Very isolated, not much traffic. Saw what I thing was a chamois, lots of marmotts and other wildlife critters. Still a fair amount of climbing. Not flat by any means. Great article. A few in there I haven’t tried. I really, really liked the Sarenne climb. Some of my best pictures from there and some great pictures of Huez from Solude. All three are great, and so quiet and peaceful, especially when compared to the “other” climb.

  3. You can also do a loop going up Croix de Fer, descending to St Jean de Maurienne and then coming back up Col de Glandon. From Oz it’s about 124k and 3500m of climbing. The last bit of Glandon is a bit unrelenting at the end of a long day, but even in July’s mist and rain this year it was worth it.

  4. Ben, Good idea. I love Col du Glandon. And agree, the top is tough.

    So basically, one would start head up to Col de la Croix de Fer, descend to St-Jean-de-Maurienne, head north in the valley until St-Etienne-de-Cuines, then turn up Col du Glandon – a tough, superb 20 km climb, then just over the top, the route would descend back down the same side of Croix de Fer that you’d climbed, until Rochetaillée.

    Here are details of Col du Glandon – including a little detour part way up:
    http://www.cycling-challenge.com/col-du-glandon-and-le-fremezan/

  5. Col de Luitel from Séchilienne, and then on up to Chamrousse, looping back to the Romanche Valley by way of Vizille. It was an attack on the Luitel that won Charley Gaul the Tour in the 1950s. The road is too narrow for the modern Tour though.

    Across on the opposite side of the valley from Séchilienne is another good climb, on the D114 that can be used to get to the Col d’Ornon and back to Bourg d’Oisans from the South.

  6. Ric, yes, totally agree: Luitel is a superb, steeeeeeep, tiny road that starts (from Séchilienne) on the main road from Grenoble to Bourg. Personally, from Bourg, I don’t think it’s a great ride along the valley to the start. Only one option. But certainly not un-do-able. But a great climb, once at the start.

    Also from Séchilienne – the other side you mention – is the fairly big climb to Col de la Morte.

    Here’s a very good loop: http://www.cycling-challenge.com/col-de-la-morte-and-col-de-malissol/

  7. Pingback: 100 Cycling Climbs Better Than Alpe d’Huez

  8. Nice climb from the rear of bourg d oisans is villard notre dam,(on opposite side of valley to heuz) some great views of bourg
    And when the road ends just cyclo cross for about 5 mins and you will come back onto a road which leads to a small village which then leads to the ornon decent back down to bourg,nice climb to do on the 1st day to find your climbing legs.

    • Hi Kevin,

      The climb you are talking about us Col du Solude —- see #4 above.

      The Col is above Villard Notre Dame after the unpaved stretch.

  9. Hi Will. I thought I’d been around in the Bourg d’Oisans area… but not compared to you! Once again I’m impressed! You’ve been everywhere!! Do you have access/links to any place with news of the collapsing tunnel on the road to Galibier from Bourg? Last thing I heard was that they were planning to build a new road on the Deux Alpes side of the lake. I have no clue if they are really doing that or how long time it will take… can you help? Cheers, Jesper

  10. Geoff Longstaff on

    Will
    Thanks for the site. Just got back from a fabulous couple of weeks in the area and based on your recommendations did the Soloude (brilliant) Oulles (steep and hot) Lac Besson via Villard reculas (beautiful) La Berarde (long & fun) Sarenne via the Auris balcony road (wow. Just wow) and also the traditional alpe (just because it’s there and why not. Not a big fan though too busy)
    And I also did Oz. Lovely quiet little climb 7km at 7% not hard and just a lovely way to finish off a great holiday.
    Chapeau for the Jandri climb at 2 Alpes! I Took the cable car up. That’s a long way up!! (Maybe next time for me!!)
    Thanks again and keep up the recommendations! (Now I just need to persuade the wife that next year we need to Base ourselves in the alps again ?)

    • Hi Geoff,

      Very well done exploring the region. So much more than Alpe d’Huez. Ha, yes the Jandri climb is tough, but very quiet and rewarding. And if you can manage the climbs you mentioned, you could manage Jandri.

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