Guide to Cycling and Running the Col du Galibier

Guide to cycling & running  the Col du Galibier 2,642m

HOW TO CONQUER THE COL

Whether ski touring, cycling, running or hiking, reaching the Col du Galibier, often featured as a stage in the Tour de France, is always an achievement - and then there's the descent. Discover the ups and downs from Col connoisseur, Gavin Baylis, who has cycled, run and ski toured up over 100 times (check out his Strava)....

 

Cycling the Mighty Col du Galibier 2,642m


I've actually lost count of how many times  I've been up to the Col du Galibier, especially Including ski tours, but it is well over 100.

The sign at the Col is iconic, the background of many a photo for those who cycle, run or ski tour up there. But in the winter, I have sometimes had to dig it out.


Col du Galibier in winter under snow
 

Having revealed it, here's the obligatory photo, below, with our STYLE ALTITUDE mascot Jack Russells, who have also conquered the Col many times in the snow. Check out the webcam to see the less snowy conditions on the Col du Galibier, today.

Col du Galibier in winter sign dug out
 

From the Lautaret side of the Col, you can actually approach it cycling 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 a (normal) 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 while 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 for a few hours in the morning. 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 descend back down to the Lautaret, all on closed roads.

I also take advantage of cycling up the road when they are still clearing it of snow, though this can be a little hazardous on the descent as there might be more debris on the road, and / or the road closed because of a landslide/avalanche, see below. 

Cycling the Col du Galibier but landslide / avalanche blocked the road
 

The road open to the tunnel with the snow plough clearing the snow from the final kilometre up to the actual Col: 

 
snow-plough clearing the Col du Galibier of snow
 

Below is 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:

Henri Desgrange Monument Col du Galibier
 

Cycling the Col du Galibier


The Galibier road can, in high season, get quite busy so the best time is before 10:30 and as ever in France, lunchtime can be quieter. 

I always try to be back home by 13:00 as there is often the threat of afternoon storms, though the forecasts are quite accurate at predicting these.

In 2019, when it was the 18th stage of the TDF from Embrun to Valloire, taking in the Izoard and the Galibier, there was a 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.

Stage 19 2019 Tour de France landslide
 

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 Harley Davidson / Honda Gold-Wing motorcyclists who want their photos by the sign. And even more frustrating, they tend to descend en masse in convoy at similar speeds to camper-vans.

Col du Galibier
 

The final kilometre 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

Cycling profile of the Col du Galibier from the Lautaret
 

From Valloire

Cycling profile of the Col du Galibier from tValloire
 

On either side of the Col near to the tunnel entrance (final kilometre) 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, the 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 cafes and restaurants in Valloire.

Café de la Ferme Col du Lautaret
 

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.

Pantani Monumnet Col du Galibier


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 1,950m.

It is also the route that the various mountain bike companies take clients down from the Galibier after they've driven them up there with a van and trailer.

Cycling on a MTB up there is quite tough. 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

https://www.strava.com/activities/1916255471

 

And then this is another tough run, 18km from STYLE ALTITUDE HQ in Serre Chevalier to the Lautaret. It's also a very good route for an MTB linking up with the Route Ancienne at 16.5km into it, but be warned you'll probably have to push your bike up the trail to the tunnel for the start of the Route Ancienne as it's steep.

https://www.strava.com/activities/7596222118

Col du Galibier Mountain Bike and Col des Rochilles - The Big One

So it's a long ride up to the Col du Galibier and then descent 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 the road back

This is quite tough.

Ride on the road up to the Galibier, though if you are super keen you can take the off-road route up through the valley and then the l'Ancienne Route du Galibier up to the Col!

It's a superb road descent down to Plan Lachat, and then the fun starts.

After the Col terrain it's none too bike-friendly so you can end up walking till the goat path becomes more of a single track and then into a decent trail.

By the Refuge Laval, the trail becomes tarmac for a welcome descent nigh on all the way back to Briancon.

Looking down from the Galibier Valloire side:

Galibier Col des Rochilles Nevache
 

Col de Rochilles, middle of picture:

Galibier Col des Rochilles Nevache
 

Trail up to the Col from the barracks:

Galibier Col des Rochilles Nevache
 

Path above and around the lakes:

Galibier Col des Rochilles Nevache
 

Strava log of the ride:

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