Guide to cycling & running the Col du Galibier 2,642m
The summit of the Col du Galibier is only 27km from where we live, and my Strava log as a bike climb, it features over 40 times! And like the Col du Granon, we've hiked, run and ski toured up it as well...
Cycling the mighty Col du Galibier 2,642m
I've actually lost count of how many times I've been up to the Galibier, especially if I include ski touring up there!
This is what it looks like in the winter up there.
And then having dug the sign-out, which I often have to do!
From the Lautaret side of the Col, you can actually ride it from two directions, one from Briançon which is roughly 37km and 1,400m of climbing or the longer and much tougher ride from Bourg d'Oisans via La Grave, and that's circa 48km and nigh on 2,300m of climbing, at least the return leg is nigh on downhill all the way!
From La Grave, it is the same amount of vertical, as where we live in Serre Chevalier, Villeneuve / La Salle Les Alpes is at 1,400m.
However, if staying in Briancon / Serre Chevalier and you would like to ride a circuit then that is almost the equivalent of the Marmotte, as you have to cycle from here up to the Col du Lautaret and then on down to Bourg Oisans, then it's a big ascent to the Col du Glandon and Croix de Fer before descending down into the Maurienne valley, which in the summer can be stupidly hot.
Once in the valley, then it's a bit of a drag to Saint Michel de Maurienne and the climb up to Col du Télégraphe 1,566m. When you top the Télégraphe it's a frustrating short descent to the ski station of Valloire 1,409m and then the real ascent to the Col du Galibier starts.
When I have cycling mates out here in Serre Chevalier when we 'do' the Galibier we will cycle from here up to the Lautaret 2,057m and then up to the Col du Galibier. Once at the top and after photos, we then descend down the other side to Plan Lachat at 1,962m where there's a nice little cafe, or you can go further down to the ski station of Valloire where there are more cafes and restaurants.
The road to the very top does not open till late May / June and can be affected by freak snowstorms even in the height of summer.
There is a tunnel lower down that allows the road to be opened when the top is closed, which is often the case for most of October.
Best time to cycle the Col du Galibier
Ok I admit that I am fortunate in that I can pick and choose when to ride up the Col du Galibier, not only the time of year but I can be selective with the weather.
I tend to avoid the busy high season as there's nothing worse than cycling up a mountain to then have to descend breaking behind a string of campervans whilst they drive down at 30kph.
I think it's ironic that many a campervan supports the Tour de France and cycling and then they clog the roads up all summer on mountain passes, if I had my way I'd only allow them very early in the morning or after 17:00hrs, anyway rant over!
However, in High Season the Col du Galibier is closed on a couple of dates and only open for cyclists, this is part of the Cols Réservés and it is truly a fantastic time to cycle the Galibier.
I often drive up to the Lautaret and then cycle up when they close the road, normally around 08:30 and climb to the Col before descending down the other side to Plan Lachat at 1,962m and then climb back and then descend back down to the Lautaret all on closed roads.
I also take advantage of cycling up the road when they are still clearing the road of snow, though this can be a little hazardous on the descent as there can be more debris on the road, and or the road closed with a landslide/avalanche.
The road open to the tunnel and you can see the snow-plough which has been used to clear the snow from the final km up to the actual Col.
Snow-plough clearing the snow on the actual Col after I'd dug the sign out (top picture).
Snow-plough clearing the snow on the North Valloire side of the Col du Galibier, where there is always more snow due to the North facing aspect.
And the Henri Desgranges Monument who was the first organiser of the Tour de France which is on the final bend just before the tunnel entrance, Lautaret side.
Cycling the Col du Galibier
As I've already mentioned, the Galibier road can, in High Season get quite busy, the best time is before 10:30 and as ever lunchtime can be quieter.
I always try to be back home by 13:00 as there's always the threat of afternoon storms, though the forecasts are very good at predicting these, though what they can't do is predict the exact location as they can be so localised.
Last year's Tour de France, 2019, it was the 18th stage from Embrun to Valloire, taking in the Izoard and the Galibier, there was the very real threat of storms, however, the stage and the riders were not affected, whereas many spectators who had come up from the Bourg Oisans side found themselves stuck in La Grave as violent storms wreaked havoc with resulting landslides and roads closed.
It was the next day, Stage 19 Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Tignes that saw race officials abandoning the race due to the severe weather and resultant landslides.
These "coulée de boue" are very prevalent in the summer.
One thing is for sure when cycling the Col du Galibier in July and August you will not be on your own, and there is almost a festival spirit atop the Col, especially on a day of the Cols Réservés.
The only problem can be getting a photograph as often apart from cyclists there are often Fat Harley Davidson / Honda Gold-Wing motorcyclists who want their photos by the sign as if they had managed some amazing achievement by hauling their lard arses up there!
And even more frustrating they then tend to descend en masse in convoy at similar speeds to camper-vans!
The final km up to the Col from the Lautaret is quite tough and pretty similar on the Valloire side as well as your lungs have to work hard in the thin air especially as you're cycling above 2,350m.
Cycling profile of the Col du Galibier
From the Lautaret
Either side of the Col near to the tunnel entrance (final km) there is a Cafe where you can stock up on supplies, as well as further down each side at the Lautaret, be sure to go to Fred's Café de la Ferme where you can have a well-earned drink and take in the stunning mountain views, and on the other side, there is a cute little cafe at Plan Lachat as well more Cafe's and restaurants in Valloire.
On the way back up from that side at Granges du Galibier 2,300, there is the monument to Pantani, though it's quite easy to miss!
And here's some interesting drone footage of the actual Col when it was deserted.
And then this video is of descending the Galibier from the tunnel when the road was still closed due to snow at altitude.
And a Strava GPX.
Filming with GoPro Max 360 descent from the Galibier. I'd been waiting for a window of opportunity in the forecast and in the morning as I'd seen some photos of how the road cut through some impressive banks of snow up towards the Galibier, I decided to take my GoPro Max 360 to see what interesting 360 footage I could get while also attempting to make a bit of a commentary about the climb up there.
The net result being the video below:
Running up the Col du Galibier on the l'ancienne route du Galibier
There is also a good off-road route up to the Galibier which is, in fact, the old road (Route Ancienne), about 1.5km down from the Lautaret, which starts just before the long galleried tunnel at 1,950.
It is also the route that the various mountain bike Co's take clients down from the Galibier after they've taken them up there with a van & trailer.
Cycling on a MTB up there is quite tough and I can run faster up there, or at the same speed as when I'm on my MTB.
And this is a truly great video, again including some drone footage of the l'ancienne route du Galibier and the actual Col itself.
This is the Strava route up and down 12.5km and 712m vertical
Col du Galibier Mountain Bike & Col des Rochilles - The Big One
Long ride up to the Col du Galibier and then descend to Plan Lachat, followed by off-road climb to Col des Rochilles, then descend (walking a lot) till trails rideable to Haute Clarée Nevache and then the road back
This is quite long and tough!
Ride on the road up to the Galibier, though if you were super keen you could take the off-road route up through the valley and then the l'Ancienne route du Galibier up to the Col!
Then it's a superb road descent down to Plan Lachat, and then the fun starts.
After the Col terrain was none too bike-friendly and I ended up walking a lot till the goat path became more of a single track and then into a decent trail.
Then by the Refuge Laval, the trail becomes tarmac and then it's a welcome descent nigh on all the way back to Briancon.
Lookinng down from the Galibier Valloire side
Col de Rochilles middle of picture
Trail up to the Col from the barracks
Path above and around the lakes
Strava log of the ride
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