Col du Galibier opened early this year, giving me the good fortune to cycle it in May for the first time. I realised I already have ten or so Galibier posts, so I thought I’d write one master post:
Below I will discuss all three sides up this great mountain – with a map at the bottom. But first, here are a few links to other posts:
- A slightly crazy 4th way up – bypassing Télégraphe
- A Brief History of Col du Galibier
- Cycling Galibier to see the Sun Rise
- La Marmotte Cyclosportive – Glandon/Alpe d’Huez/Galibier.
- Watching the Tour de France up Galibier: North side and rance-galibier-stage-17/” target=”_blank”>South Side
- 2017 ride with drone photos
- Col des Rochilles – Superb high Mountain Bike Trail off north side
- Col du Galibier via the Old “Road”
The Classic North Side via Col du Télégraphe
This is easily my preferred side. Starting from St-Michelle-de-Maurienne, it is 35 kilometres to the summit of Galibier.
First, cyclists have to climb Col du Télégraphe. It’s 12 kms at a very steady 7% or 8% on a good quality wide road winding up to the Col and the Fort du Télégraphe. A pleasant start. From the Col it is four or five mainly downhill kilometres to the ski-station village of Valloire.
After Valloire is my least favourite part of the climb. It starts easy, but there are 8 or so tough kilometres with few hairpins. It looks easy, and feels difficult. 🙂
At roughly 2000 metres of altitude, with 8 kms until the summit, the route reaches Plan Lachat (2 little hut restaurants and a million sheep). Here, the route just turns up. Nothing but painful fun.
After the brilliant hairpins above Plan Lachat the road passes Les Granges du Galibier – a couple of little cabins and a small snack bar. The Marco Pantani monument is also here, erected a couple of years back, Pantani won a huge Tour de France stage in 1998 at Les Deux Alpes after climbing Galibier.
Approaching the tunnel. The goal is straight up:
The tunnel (no bikes allowed) is roughly a kilometre from the summit. And above is truly a delight.
View both of sides from above Col:
The South side from Briançon
Both south sides run along a main road. Usually not too busy but definitely some faster traffic. From Briançon, most of the way is quite easy, until Col du Lautaret.
At Lautaret, the route leaves the main road and climbs 8.5 marvellous kilometres to the summit. A few times I have just parked at Lautaret and skipped the lower stuff.
It’s not the steepest stretch, but so beautiful winding up the mountains. Just before the tunnel entrance it is impossible to miss the monument to Henri Desgranges, Tour de France founder.
The South side from Les Clapiers
Honestly, I included this only for completeness. This side starts near Bourg d’Oisans – the base of Alpe d’Huez – so it is a common route among cyclo-tourists based below that want to cycle Galibier after conquering the Alpe.
But this side is perhaps the worst big climb in France. Ten tunnels, several long, dark, narrow, wet, with fast traffic, including trucks as this is a main through road. No thanks. This sucks enough descending – La Marmotte does this – but climbing is just madness in my opinion. And I’ve met many unhappy tour group participants that agree. But it’s your choice.
(Oops, sorry to end this post on a downer)
Col du Galibier is one of the most famous and highest passes in cycling. If you can, climb the north side. If you’re on the other side, don’t be a purist. Go to Col du Lautaret and just cycle the last, awesome 8.5 kilometres.
View Col du Galibier in a larger map
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Loved this article as we are heading out to the Alps in a few weeks time.
We are hoping to climb the North side of Col du Galibier on Saturday 28th May. How did you find out it was open and how far in advance to they set the opening date?
Any info would be appreciated
Sam, the best bet is to contact the Valloire tourist office. They often have the opening data planned a couple of weeks in advance. Galibier is a little special as each side is in different department so the clearing must be coordinated. But it is the north, Valloire side that is tricky. the tourist office is very good at quickly responding.
straight to the point. You wrote “the worst big climb in France”. Funny how experiences can differ. Yesterday (Monday, started before nine) I rode from Bourg d’Oisans to Galibier and I loved it, the whole part. Loved the views, did not mind the tunnels at all (I think I rode through around 5) and there was very little traffic. But I understand that a very little traffic for me can mean a lot of traffic for someone else. Note that I used the security road to get around Chambon.
I am glad to hear you enjoyed the road. With the tunnel collapse and the road closure (and emergency road), I understand the traffic is MUCH reduced, especially trucks. BTW, one of the worst tunnels is the one that collapsed 🙁
I stay in Saint-Martin d’Heres the whole July and this area around Grenoble is just amazing. Especially for a guy who lives and regularly rides in the Czech republic in the area where the highest climb go to the altitudes of 500 metres 🙂 I love climbs. And the area around le Bourg d’Oisans, it’s just magnifique:-) I still have 3 full days, so I think that tomorrow I will take the early morning bus from Grenoble to Bourg d’Oisans and explore some other cols in the area you wrote about. Thanks
Já teda mám zkušenost trochu jinou. Provoz fakt hustej až do la Grave, pak k Lauteretu o n?co lepší (dál na Galibier ne?ekan? prázdná cesta). A to byl ?erven. Vícekrát jsem tuhle partii nejel.Ta silnice je využívaná jako tranzit z Itálie p?es Alpy do Francie. Spodní ?ást jde ale objet p?es kopce po D211A a D211B, což je sám o sob? zážitek, protože silnice jsou vysekané ve skále vysoko nad údolím. Vyhneš se taky dv?ma tunel?m. Jeden krátký “skalní” úsek je i na opa?né stran? sm?rem k les Deux Alpes na D220. M?žeš taky jet p?es Alpe d Huez a Col de Sarenne. Na hlavní se pak napojíš na hrázi p?ehrady Chambon.
Will, is it possible to climb Galibier from the south side and then descend down to Valloire or are the south and north sides of Galibier only connected via the car tunnel?
they are connected above the tunnel too. At the tunnel on BOTH sides the road splits. a) the tunnel and b) a paved road roughly a kilometre long that climbs to the summit. Best part of both sides ….
Oh, great. I saw the road but couldn’t find anyone who wrote about going over the top and back. I’m planning to drive from Bourg d’Oisans to the Col du Lautaret and then ride over the summit, down to Valloire, and then climb back up and over to maximize the best parts of the Galibier. Your site is amazing! Thanks for all the tips.
Here is another option for anyone who doesn’t want to deal with the tunnels. In June We stayed in L2A and drove to Villar d’Arene on D1091 and parked in the small lots of the main road. We then did a much shorter ride up the Lautaret. We then did both sides of the Galibier plus the short part of the Telegraphe. Some us decided to ride all the way back to L2A through the tunnels while others drove back. The tunnels were ok going down but we did have to go real slow though a couple due to truck traffic. I only went down all the tunnels from L2A to Boug d’Oisans so cannot say how going up them would be
yes, that is good advice