Epic! Col du Grand Colombier


steep      Doreen  

Every year local cyclists shake their heads at cowardly Tour de France organizers that run the Tour right by this Jura giant, but refuse to climb it. It’s just too steep!

Don’t confuse Le Grand Colombier with the more famous Tour de France Alp climb Col de la Colombiere – about 50 kilometres away (Colombe means Dove in French). Click the link for details of the 2009 Tour de France climb via the little known Col de Romme. PS – Le Grand Colombier is less well known, but it’s definitely harder.

There are four great – very challenging – routes up this massif. I have previously climbed Colombier from Culoz.

It was cool and grey today but I was determined to climb this from the hardest side starting in Artemare. Almost from the start, it is a typical, beautiful deserted Jura road heading up through a forest. It’s good enough quality for a road bike but I brought my hybrid for the easier gearing.

Cyclists can be like fishermen, exaggerating the difficulty of a climb. But Le Grand Colombier is something special. One kilometre averages 15% and another full kilometre averages 13%. For perspective the steepest average single kilometre on Alpe d’Huez is 11% and on Galibier 9%.

I had no speed or time goals, I just wanted to finish. As I approached the steepest stretches (one bit is 22%) I could have walked as fast as I was riding, but I was determined to pedal the whole route. My God!! But too much fun.

Nearing the top, I deserved some luck for the effort, and suddenly I burst through the clouds into bright sunshine (OK, burst makes it sound like I was going faster than I was). Mont Blanc was right there in my face above the clouds. Beautiful. I was absolutely soaked with sweat from the effort so the descent was shockingly cold – I took the super-scenic easier (but still very difficult) way back to Artemare, as even top cyclists won’t usually descend the route I climbed – it is just too dangerous.

Le Grand Colombier

Cyclo tourists will continue to flock to places like Alpe d’Huez, Galibier, and Ventoux – and for good reason. But this area — with Mont du Chat just down the road (Le Cycle magazine’s July issue called it the toughest climb in France) and Col de la Biche on the other side — is filled with challenging, stunning rides on virtually deserted roads.
Le Grand Colombiere is part of the Jura mountains (as in Jurassic) not the Alps. Following the Rhone as it leaves Lake Geneva, a good rule of thumb is any mountain on the North/West side of the river is a Jura, and anything on the South/East side is an Alp.

From June 2006: Probably the most famous climb in the Juras.  There are four very steep ways up this monster.  To become a Confrérie des Fêlés du Grand Colombier (translated:  Brotherhood of Loons (freaks, crackpots) of Grand Colombier) one needs to climb all four in one day.   YIKES …. I am a decade past being able to do that as each climb  is a challenge in its own right.  One route has parts with a grade of 22%!  Trust me 11% is very hard, 22% near impossible.  Cyclists are sternly told not to descend by this route.  It’s just too steep.  Although just climbing 2 sides grants member status.

Bike route 821145 – powered by Bikemap 

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Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Dave JOYNSON. known as "Colbagger"! on

    Enjoy browsing your photos, and i’m damn jealous !! I’m stuck here in Stoke on Trent !! —- but close to the Peak District and other U.K. delights !
    Great website you’ve got , appreciate all your work . I too enjoy col climbing and have been at it since i was a teenager in the lat 1950’s !! I’m in the u.k col climbing club otherwise known as the OCD- Order Col Durs ( the order of the hard cols … or should it be -Obsessive Compulsion Disorder !! I think the latter certainly fits !!
    A few years ago i reached one million metres climbed , counting all the cols climbed over 300 metres, but it had taken me 40 odd years to do it !! Highlights have been — Ventoux, Alp d’Huez, Restefond ( in next year’s Td F) , Galibier, Tourmalet etc…
    Nice to see the skiing pics of La Plagne,Wengen and Les Arcs , weve had some great ski hols there .. and we are off to Belle Plagne again next Jan.
    Good luck with your alps challenge and …allez, allez!!!!
    Cheers, Dave (COLBAGGER)

  2. Hi Dave – Thanks for your note. I am quite familiar with your exceptional photos at FLICKR (I have great landscapes but no photgraphy skill).

    A million metres wow! – don’t go giving me ideas 🙂

    FYI – probably the craziest thing I have ever done on a bike was trying to combine my love of skiing and cycling. This past January I mountain-biked up to Les Arcs 1950 while my wife drove – there was ice at the BOTTOM of this 25 km climb. Luckily I didn’t have to descend it.

    Yes I can’t wait for Bonnette/Restefond to be in the Tour. I have only cycled the North side (the tour is coming from South I think). Haven’t done the Pyrennées yet. A dream though.

    Enjoy Belle La Plagne (cycled it this August – and struggled). We will be skiing at Les Arcs which is of course linked with La Plagne.

  3. Pingback: My Cycling Challenge » Blog Archive » Cycling the French Alps

  4. Hello Will,

    Congratulations for this climb, so beautiful and hard !
    I love “Grand Colombier”, and it’s unfortunate that the Tour de France ignores it for an arrival at the summit. I think it is not because of the difficulty but it is mostly a story of money…
    In August, I climbed the Col du Grand Colombier by Artemare too, for the first time (by this way). Before, in the same day I had climbed the Col de la Biche (very hard too) by Seyssel and after the Col de Richemont (easy by this way). Col de la Biche by Seyssel + Grand Colombier by Artemare, you should try. Incredible ! And “trop bien” 🙂

  5. Salut Bastien

    Nice to hear from you.

    Yes, I am sure you are correct that it is a question of money. C”est Dommage.

    I climbed Col de la Biche and Col de Richemont in April. What a beautiful car-free (sans voitures) route.

    But to also do Grand Colombier the same day? Well, i know you are much younger than me. 🙂 But that would be a fantastic end for a Tour de France stage.

    Peut-etre l’année prochaine.


  6. Pingback: Jura Giants: Col de la Biche and Col du Grand Colombier : Cycling Challenge

  7. Hi, can you help – I’m heading to Chanaz (at the foot of Le Grand Colombier) next week. I could really do with some advice on which is the easiest route up by bike – I’ve been in training for a few months, but I’d still like to start with the easiest route up and work from there. I’ve been up by car a few times, and been getting ready to go up for almost a year. Any help would be great,

  8. Paul

    The route in comment 7 above is the easiest. You can start in Artemare – go THROUGH virieu le petit and turn up near lochieu.


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