Five Big Cycling Climbs – A To-Do List


For a preview of the Italian side of Col Agnel and Stage 18 of the 2011 Tour de France see here

Winter is for dreaming.

There aren’t that many cycling climbs in the French Alps over 2,000 metres. Here are five great climbs all over 2,000 metres that to-date I have not yet cycled. Four are rated Hors Categorie (Outside Category) by the Tour de France – the hardest rating.

This post is really just another 2008 “To-Do” list for me. Now that I have a map – no excuses

If you zoom the map or click the link at bottom left, you can see each route.

View Larger Map      View in Google Earth

#1 – Col de Granon

Summit: 2,404 metres (7,890 feet)

The Climb: 16.5 kms (10.3 miles); Ascent: 1,120 metres (3,675 feet);

A couple of year’s back Le Cycle magazine published it’s list of the 30 most beautiful cycling climbs in France. 18 were in the Alps. I have done 17. Col de Granon is the missing climb – as you can see it is very steep.

Col de GranonSituated near Briancon, I once stayed at the base of the climb but was on my way to cycle Col d’Izoard. Painful to pass this by.

Tour de France: Rated Hors Categorie, this climb has appeared only once in 1986, stage 17.

Update: Climbed July 2008 – details here.

#2 – Col Agnel

Summit: 2,744 metres (9,005 feet)

The Climb: 25 kms (15.5 miles); Ascent: 1,450 metres (4,760 feet);

Col Agnel

This is an absolutely giant climb. The second highest pass (only 26 metres lower than Col de l’Iseran and third highest road in France (only 58 metres lower than the Cime de la Bonette). The top is the French/Italian border. This will be epic.

Tour de France: As best I can tell this has never appeared in the Tour – possibly because until recently is was very poorly surfaced. But it would clearly be rated Hors Categorie

Update: I finally climbed Col Agnel in July 2012 – see here.

#3 – Val Thorens

Summit: 2,340 metres (7,680 feet)

The Climb: 38.2 kms (23.7 miles); Ascent: 2,000 metres (6,560 feet)

Val thorens Cycling Grade

This is another giant climb. There are very few climbs as long or with as much ascent in Europe. This could take close to three hours. Part of the world famous Trois Vallées ski area (Courchevel, Méribel, etc), I have skied at Val Thorens.

Tour de France: Rated Hors Categorie, this climb has appeared only once in 1994, stage 17.

Update: Climbed October 2008 – details here.

#4 – Col de la Madeleine – North Side

Summit: 1,993 metres (6,540 feet)

The Climb: 26.5 kms (16.5 miles); Ascent: 1,610 metres (5,280 feet)

Col de la Madeleine - South Side

OK, at 1,993 metres, this climb is not quite 2,000. Although the sign at the top proudly rounds up to 2,000 metres, so why can’t I? I have climbed the South side of Madeleine, but forgot a camera that day – So I have unfinished business (I need a photo of the Col sign).

Tour de France: Rated Hors Categorie, this climb has appeared 22 times, most recently in 2005, stage 11.

Update: Climbed August 2008 – details here.

#5 – Col du Mont Cenis – North Side

Summit: 2,100 metres (6,890 feet)

The Climb: 14.8 kms (9.2 miles); Ascent: 770 metres (2,525 feet)

Col du Mont-Cenise Cycling

Starting at the same point as the South side of Col de l’Iseran, this relatively short climb ends beside a large alpine lake, just short of the Italian border – so I’ll likely descend into Italy and climb the other side too.

(note – there is a Col de Cenise near Geneva which is also a great ride).

Tour de France: Rated 1st Categorie (Hors Categorie on other side), this climb has appeared 5 times, most recently in 1999, although for this side 1992

Update: Climbed July 2008 – details here.


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Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Pingback: Val Thorens : Cycling Challenge

  2. I have only recently discovered your webpage, and I have to say i’m very impressed……and motivated. I have recently taken up cycling as an older rider and former rugby player – so a bit large from a cycling perspective.

    I did l’etape in 2009, but your site has motivated me to get into proper shape with a view to doing one-off climbs next summer. Given the breadth of your experience, what in your view is the best col to climb from the point of view of someone who is looking for a ‘gentle’ introduction and spectacular scenery?

    I’m very motivated to get into shape so that I can hit the ground running next spring and start ticking off some of these spectacular rides you have done….what a very lucky man you are!

  3. Derek,

    Tough question as there are so many climbs, all of different shapes and sizes.

    I do often mention Col de la Pierre Carrée (Flaine ski station) as a great “gentle introduction” to the huge French Alps climbs. As it’s +20 kms (so very long) but never too steep. It gives one the introduction to a giant climb without it being too crazy.

    Details here:

  4. Hi Will

    First up, excellent website-thanks for this.

    Now, my question. Next year we are going to the Tour de France for 10days with friends as we have done for a couple of years now. We both have young families-children ranging from 9 to 15. We all cycle in varying degrees but the two dads like to do some ‘proper’ rides in between seeing stages of the Tour. We look to stay in places which are good for riding for the dads,the family and for seeing a stage or two of the Tour. Also places which are just nice to stay especially for the families.

    My idea is to stay near Alpe d’Huez as I think it is a good bet for a stage next year. I figure that there are plenty of rides right out of your front door near there or Le Bourg d’Oisans and that to see any further stages in the Alps we can drive . My friend reckons we may be better finding somewhere to stay between the Alpe and Briancon (where we stayed a couple of years ago) on the basis that we can get to both more Tour stages and also a wider variety of rides/Cols to for ourselves. Obviously the Tour stages are not known yet but do you have any thoughts on this issue ?

    Many Thanks

    • Steve,

      It’s just a question of which climbs you want to do. There are quite a few climbs near the base of Alpe d’Huez (Sarenne, Berarde, Croix de Fer, Sabot, etc.). But lots of climbs near Briancon too (Granon, Izoard, Galibier, etc).

      The one “tip” I’ll give you is that you DO NOT want to climb between Bourg d’Oisans and Col du Lautaret on the way to the south side of Galibier. There are 10 uphill tunnels, several dark, quite long, and wet – and a fair bit of traffic including trucks as it’s a prime through road. It is misery – but often done by un-informed Tour groups.

      Happy to give more specific route advice, I would bet that Galibier will be in the Tour next year – given the anniversary. Easier to climb from Briancon than Bourg d’Oisans. (Although the north side is the best side — via Télégraphe).

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