The Maurienne valley is home to perhaps half of the top 10 climbs in France. Cycling heaven. Col de la Croix de Fer (and Col du Mont Cenis) are usually the first of the highest to open – (Glandon, Madeleine, Galibier, Iseran, etc. are all still closed).
See here for details of 15 Maurienne Valley climbs.
In the 3d video, just try and count all the hairpins in the final descent (detailed map at bottom).
There are five ways up to Croix de Fer. I describe them all here (plus a bonus 6th option). Today, I chose the quietest of the two options via Col du Mollard. It begins easily enough in the valley between Mollard and Croix de Fer then snakes up some great hairpin. Here is an old photo taken from the main Croix de Fer route showing some of these hairpins up to Mollard in the distance. Don’t under-estimate this climb, well over 1000 metres of vertical.
Above the hairpins, the route reaches a plateau with Mollard a touch higher. The views get great.
If you’ve never climbed Croix de Fer via Mollard, I’d actually recommend the other option described in the above link – I would descend it at the end of this loop. It has something like 40 hairpins on the lower section. Very fun.
It’s a short 6 kilometre descent from Mollard to the main route to Croix de Fer, but lovely views:
The next nine or so kilometres are easy. As usual, I stopped at a bar for a drink (ice tea, I swear). A nice thing in the Alps, most bars will fill your water bottle with a smile – assuming you buy something. It’s exiting the ski station of St-Sorlin-d’Arves where things get fun. The final 6 kilometres are on a narrower road that hairpins up and over the mountain. Beautiful.
Full disclosure: there are certain climbs that I try and visit once every year. And then I often stop at the exact same spot to take a photo. Sorry.
The Croix de Fer Vandalised
When I reached Col de la Croix de Fer I wanted to take my standard photo with the Croix de Fer (Iron Cross) monument. But it wasn’t there. The base of the monument was on its side, and the cross itself nowhere in sight. I would later find out that it was vandalised this winter. Apparently, the mayor has the Iron Cross part, and they are considering whether to repair or replace the monument. Such a shame. Here is a link to the story in the Dauphiné Libéré.
Here’s an old photo of the monument:
My plan was to descend the 2.5 kilometres to Col du Glandon, then descend it. I knew it was closed, but I had sneaked down last year in early May, a snowier year. The top few kilometres of Glandon have some of the best hairpins in cycling, but they are north facing and snow avalanches across the road. I had a glance, and it was worse than last year – and I had been a touch nervous then. So I turned around.
A sign seemed to indicate that they would be mining and clearing the snow on Tuesday and Wednesday. If planning a visit here (or Galibier, Iseran, etc.) see this official link indicating Col closures for the Savoie Department.
I climbed back up to Croix de Fer. Unfortunately, the direct way down to St-Jean was also closed as they cleared up an avalanche – winter is tough on high Alps roads! So I climbed back to Mollard but descended via the crazy hairpin route. Spoiler alert: for a lousy descender like me, it’s more fun to climb. But it’s a beautiful stretch of road.
It's always fun to get above 2000 metres in May. Croix de Fer is a beautiful climb, but more interesting if you get there via Col du Mollard.
Quiet / No Traffic