Col du Grand Colombier – all four sides


The steepest side of Grand Colombier and Col de la Biche will feature in the 2017 Tour de France. See here for a recent post previewing them.

Don’t confuse this Jura mountain giant with it’s more famous but easier Alps cousin: Col de la Colombière.

I am now eligible to become a “member” of the Confrérie des Fêlés (brotherhood of the crackpots) du Grand Colombier after cycling the two hardest sides of this crazy mountain on a single day.

To become a “master” one must do 3 sides. A “grand master” must cycle all 4 sides in a single day!! Yikes, I am 20 years too old for that. Their web site here.

There are four sides up to Col du Grand Colombier. All four are challenging with very steep stretches. Best of all, the road is near deserted as there is nothing much up top (nice hiking, some cows) and lower roads link the different valleys.

It’s become the feature climb on the last day of the Pro cycling Tour de l’Ain held every August – so there was some graffiti on the roads.

Today I visited the entire mountain, climbing two sides and descending the other two. So here’s a quick overview of all four sides of this monster:

1. East side. Start Anglefort.

Distance: 15.7 km; Ascent: 1251 m; Average % (max): 8.0% (14%)

This was my first time climbing this side. It has the highest average %, and is very difficult from the start. For me, it’s the least beautiful but winds up through nice quiet forests.

2. West side – easier variant. Start Artemare.

Distance: 21 km Ascent: 1300 m; Average % (max): 6.2% (14%)

I then descended the less steep variant of the west side. Because frankly descending the steep variant is asking for trouble. While without a doubt the easiest of the four sides, It is still a challenging climb.

3. West side – steep variant. Start Artemare.

Distance: 15.9 km Ascent: 1251 m; Average % (max): 7.9% (22%)

After reaching Artemare, I started my second climb via the crazy direct west route.

It shares much of the route with the easier variant, but takes a short-cut (see map) that is near madness. This short-cut is just nasty steep – I don’t know a long stretch of paved road steeper. My main goal was just not to put my foot to the ground.

4. South side. Start Culoz.

Distance: 18.3 km Ascent: 1260 m; Average % (max): 6.9% (14%)

For me, this is the most scenic side. The route hairpins up a road cut into the cliff and has beautiful views of the Rhone river, Lac du Bourget, and the redoutable Mont du Chat.

Today, I descended it, but have climbed it in the past. This is the side to avoid in a heatwave as it faces south and lacks shade on much of the route.

Maybe one day I can get up early and try doing 3 sides in a day to become a “master.” But I think all four sides would kill me. 😉

View in Google Earth (requires Google Earth to be installed):


Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Bonne nouvelle: l’âge moyen d’un Grand Maître est de 48 ans, et pour le défi Bugiste de 49 ans !

    Peut-être devrais-tu essayer ce qu’ils appellent la “directissime”, 14 km à 9%, en fait la voie direct avec en plus un passage de 19% sur 400m à la sortie de Virieu. J’avais mesuré un maximum à 24%… Et la route est étroite mais bien goudronnée.

    En tous cas bravo pour cette performance !

  2. good morning, as the season goes, preparing new challenges, new goals, intention a consultation, that there is a cycling march of several days by the zone of tilro, and that raises the Stelvio, you know as is called, thanks

  3. Anything that makes the Col de la Colombiere seem easy has to be respected. Congratulations!

    I didn’t know this challenge existed. Thanks to you and this site it’s gone on to the list of “must do” rides for the year. So a note of thanks… but maybe I’ll be cursing you in between breaths sometime this summer!

  4. Phil Greaney on

    Congrats Will, on the col challenge and becoming a ‘member’ – a superb achievement, inspiring. Always a pleasure to find the insight and details on your website, too.

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  8. Hi Will, We’re loving your guide to annecy rides. Just a note for anyone tackling le grand in the next little while – the route up (and down!) from Angleforte is currently being resurfaced so is covered in lose stones….beware!

  9. Thanks Catherine,

    Ricky, yes, I descended this with a friend on TdF day and it was treacherous … so steep and slippery.

    It is fine to climb this side. But if you want to descend this side you are currently better to descend to Culoz and loop around on the main road.

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  12. David George on

    Hi Will
    I cycled up the West side – steep variant today. If I had known it was so steep I wouldn’t have done it but I was looking for a shaded route. The Culoz climb looks really hard too. Saw a lot of cyclists looking very tired on my way down.

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  20. The perfect planning aid for yesterday’s Tour de l’Ain, where the pros did one and a half Grand Colombiers and the Col de la Biche for good measure. The wimps amongst us climbed from Lochieu to come out at the top of the super steep section for a first viewing and then rode on to the top to see the finish. People with stronger legs climbed the steepest route. And of course, lots of people had fun riding the lacets to see the race and the amazing view (Mont Blanc obliged yesterday).

  21. Niels Speelberg on

    Hi Will,
    In 2017 I did the Grand Colombier from Tallisieu. I believe this is the directissime route. The most direct and steepest route. It shares a lot of the route with the Artemare side, but just after Ouche you can take a short cut to the right to Chavornay, at Vovray you can take a shortcut to Assin and in Vireu le petit there is a road to the right just before the d69c. Especially the last shortcut is very steep, already around 20 percent, and this just the warm up for the later section of 22 percent that comes later on the d69c!

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