A guide to cycling & running the Col du Granon 2,413m deemed to be the toughest climb in France

A guide to cycling & running the Col du Granon 2,413m

The Col du Granon, I often refer to it as my "local hill" being only 5km from where we live and in my Strava log, as a bike climb it features over 33 times, and like the Galibier, I've hiked, run and ski toured up it as well

The Col du Granon,  I often refer to it as my "local hill" being only 5km from where we live and in my Strava log, as a bike climb it features over 33 times, and like the Galibier, we've hiked and ski toured up it as well, and I've even run up it as part of the Defi du Granon, and more recently as a Strava Half Marathon challenge run!

In fact Elaine Deed, Style Altitude Editor has run up it twice, competing in the Defi du Granon winning her age group both times, more on that here.

It is nowhere near as popular as the two classics either end of the valley, the Izoard and Galibier, and could be described as the "poor relation"...

And a quick bit of Strava research confirms this. Galibier has had 3,771 people cycle the HC segment, the Izoard 7,201 while the Granon has only 1,959 people.

This could be in part because on a road bike it goes nowhere so you cycle up, get to the top, do the selfie thing, have a drink and then head back down.

Unless, of course, you're on a mountain bike and then there are some superb options, but more on that later.

The Col du Granon is tough; it's deemed to be the toughest climb in France...

Though nigh on half the distance of the mighty beast of Provence, the Ventoux, I cycled both within three days of each other and the Granon is on a par as, again, you're cycling at well over 2,000m.

The Col du Granon and The Tour de France

It has only ever featured once in the Tour de France back in1986 which was the infamous battle between Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond. Legend has it that the reason it has never featured again is that Hinault, as a tour director, can't face it again as it broke him!

I've copied this extract from Eduardo Chozas who in 1986 won the Granon Stage, along with three other TDF stages, though sorry about the grammar, but you'll understand where he's coming from!

As I was recovering I was more aware of what was achieved, I came news that many riders were having a bad finish, that Hinault himself came KO, He had been beaten, He had succumbed to this great stage. I realized it was going to be remembered for its hardness. I could not guess is that this stage would enter the history of the Tour de France who dethroned king of the Tour: Bernard Hinault caiman.

He did not know the rise, hardly anyone knew, if the other two were known, Cole Vars and Col d'Izoard had risen in the Dauphiné, but the Col du Granon, after that day still remains the great unknown. However it is a true 'HC' out of category, It is a rise of the toughest I have faced in the Tour de France, harder than the mythical Izoard, Col du Galibier, col du Tourmalet, col d'Auvisque and other best-known ascents Tour, it is that at the top there isn't a ski resort that wants to promote the area, there is only a military base and the road ends at the top, you can only continue on a dirt road. The Col du Granon deserving again in the Tour, sure make a difference again, I wish it did on this stage one of the Tour de France next decade.

Cycling the Col du Granon

The start of the actual climb and for those chasing Strava segments (joke), is just past the Gendarmerie and you'll see this bike at the junction of the start of the climb.

The start of the Col de Granon climb
 

The first profile sign actually reads 11.4km and there's a good chance that you'll miss the .4 and then get a little confused when the next sign reads 11km

The start of the Col de Granon climb and and 11km profile sign
 

Initially, the start of the climb up to Le Villard Laté is not too bad then as you leave the village by the church it starts to ramp up, but still only 8-9%.

The Col de Granon climb and and 10km profile sign
 

The next four kms are in the trees and there's a steep but all be it brief section where the gradient is circa 15%, that's just to prepare you for what is to come later.

The Col de Granon climb and and 9km profile sign
 
The Col de Granon climb and and 7km profile sign
 

As you climb up out or the trees so you ride through the summer village of Les Tronchets and then things start to get tough, and the gradient is consistently in double figures.

The Col de Granon climb and and 6km profile sign
 

It does seem strange that as you leave Les Tronchets the road looks not as steep as it was in sections in the woods and then the 5km sign appears and you look ahead of it to see the road and your legs start to feel heavy, for you know that when a sign shows 11.1% that some section in the coming km are going to be much more than that!

Col de Granon Gradient and the 5km profile sign
 

For the next couple of km it's a case of hanging in there.

Col de Granon Gradient and the 4km profile sign
 

As then it's +9% all the way with only a slight break with 3km to go as you then turn up towards the Col.

Col de Granon Gradient and the 3km profile sign
 

 

Col de Granon Gradient and the 2km profile sign
 

 

Col de Granon Gradient and the 1km profile sign
 

Just below the Col you pass through the barracks of the Le 7e Bataillon de Chasseurs Alpins (French Mountain Troops), and I always think how they should at least have one barrack block open in the winter as a refuge.

Col de Granon barracks Serre Chevalier
 

As you leave the barracks there is one more bend and then you see your objective!

And for reasons, only the French will know, recently they have built a toilet block (see video below of the final approach) right by the sign where people take their photos.

In the Summer months, there is a Buvette / Cafe open there, and be warned Horse Fly's can be an issue up there.

At the top is a large parking area and for the descent, it's back the way you came or if you have a Gravel bike / MTB then there are some superb routes.

The profile of the Col du Granon climb. 

Col de Granon Gradient Profile Serre Chevalier
 

Descending the Col du Granon

It is one of the more difficult and technical descents, compared to the likes of the Lautaret, Galibier and Izoard and should be treated somewhat more cautiously.

I think the first time I cycled it was in the afternoon after having cycled the Galibier in the morning, and it was very windy.

I was not that used to descents and as the Granon is quite technical as well as being steep  I managed to blow my carbon rim as it overheated from way too much braking.

That first descent was back in August 2011 and timed at 41.29 and since then my descent times have come down, and my PB stands at 15:41 though I still had a few cars in my way, however, it has to be said disc brakes on the Granon descent are a huge advantage!

One descent on the Granon I was chased by a Patou and this is really the only mountain when climbing on a road bike that you might well come across them, however, they now tend to be behind electric fences up there along with the sheep they guard.

Col du Granon Winter
 
 

Running the Col du Granon

As I mentioned in the introduction at the top of the page, we've run the Granon a couple of times.

The first time was due to a mechanical when I was due to ride the Defi du Granon bike race and a spoke broke in my wheel and I was unable to source another in time, so I joined my wife Elaine and entered it as a runner, though I should admit to walking most of it!

More recently we both ran it to compete a Strava Half Marathon challenge, so that was both up and then down.

I filmed the key elements of the ascent and descent and it gives you a good idea as to what the Granon is all about!

And as I also mentioned in the intro we ski tour up there quite often, especially in the Spring as we can drive up to the snow-line.

It's one of our favourite tours, in fact we climb another 400m or so to the Gardiole 2,753m and in the video below I've filmed with a drone, and then the descent you'll see our dogs just loving it!

 

Mountain Biking off the Col du Granon

Balcons de Serre Chevalier

This I think has to be one of my favourite trails as it traverses along the valley via the Col des Cibieres, Col de Buffere, Vallon de la Moulette and then a descente "magique" sur Monetier par le bois de St Joseph.

The only negative is that there is a tough climb to get to the Col de Granon where the route officially starts. However what many do is to take the bikes in a car to the Granon car park leaving another car at the bottom so at the end of the ride you then drive up in the other car to collect the one you left.

Obviously, if you have an Electric Mountain Bike or are very fit then the cycle up to the Granon is not an issue!

And be aware, there is a good chance of coming across the Patou along the traverse and if cycling up the Granon and then near the Granon, horseflies!

The trail is easy to follow and is well signposted, going from trail to eventual single track.

Balcons de Serre Chevalier
 

The traverse below the Grand Area

Balcons de Serre Chevalier
 

Looking across the valley to the pistes of Serre Chevalier / Monetier

Balcons de Serre Chevalier
 

Descente "magique" sur Monetier par le Bois de St Joseph.

Balcons de Serre Chevalier
 

 

There is a shorter version of this route as well, rather than driving / cycling to the Granon you park up at a parking area about 3km below the Granon, this does avoid some climbing than if you were to leave from the Granon.

Heading down towards the forest.

Balcons de Serre Chevalier

 

Up the Granon then traverse through Bois de L'Ours to Croix Toulouse

Again if cycling this route you could drive up to the Granon leaving a car there.

This route is far more technical as it is mostly single track, and then down through the forest, the switchbacks are quite demanding.

The route goes below the ridge, rather than up and along it, but presume if you wanted to do that and had the necessary skills........

Balcons de Serre Chevalier

The single track traverses can be quite intimidating if you do not have much of a head for heights with steep drops below, eventually, the descent will take to the road near where Briancon hospital is and hopefully you will end up not in it :)

Balcons de Serre Chevalier
 

Granon and descent to Nevache and back via Briancon

Again if cycling this route you could drive up to the Granon leaving a car there, and or this would be ideal for an electric mountain bike, though there is one part of the descent where if you're not used to descending you may have to walk down.

After the tarmac road up to the Col du Granon, the route becomes an off-road trail and was an old military road, just below the car park is a WW2 Maginot line fort that you can still gain access to.

There is a long almost flat traverse around the mountain before the start of a reasonable technical ascent, only made worse by the rocks and boulders. Once down from there, about 3km the trail is really good all the way down past the beautiful summer village of Granon

Eventually the trail meets the road at just before Val de Pres then it's back along the road to Briancon.

Granon and descent to Nevache
 
Granon and descent to Nevache