I’ve designated Briançon and Barcelonnette as French cycling hotspots – like Corvara and Bormio in the Dolomites – but this capital of the Maurienne Valley in the Savoie is definitely one too.
There are a lot of cols within cycling distance and a lot more further away, where opting for a car transfer seems the way to go.
In this post, I’ll list the cols and possible routes that are “around the corner” from our base camp.
The Maurienne valley roughly stretches from Aiton (near Albertville) in the north, to Bonneval-sur-Arc, at the foot of the Iseran in the south.
The A43 highway runs to most of it – up to Modane – but slow traffic (cyclists) will travel the D1006 and D1008 respectively.
The roads out of the valley go over the following mountain passes:
- The Col de l’Iseran toward the Tarentaise Valley
- The Col du Mont-Cenis – a fork of the Iseran – leads toward Italy
- The Col du Télégraphe and the Col du Galibier, connecting to the Col du Lautaret which leads west to Grenoble or east to Briançon
- The Col de la Croix-de-Fer and the Col du Glandon toward Grenoble
- The Col de la Madeleine toward the Tarentaise
- The Col du Grand Cucheron towards the Isère valley
That’s not including all climbs out of the valley, but the others are dead ends or loops.
The Croix de Fer and alternatives – besides the Glandon – were already covered in my previous post.
To the North
At the end of the valley, the Col du Grand Cucheron (1,188 m) can be climbed, but despite its name, that’s no match to either the Glandon or the Madeleine.
I will probably cycle it, but I won’t “discuss” it here…
Starting in Saint-Etienne-de-Cuines, some 10 km north from our base camp, the Glandon is almost 19 km of climbing.
And not the easy kind…
I mean, the almost moderate average of 7.3% doesn’t tell the whole story (does it ever?) because the final 9 km are tough as nails.
The part with the best views, often refered to as “hairpin heaven”, is also the part that will leave you out of breath, unless you’re Pogačar.
The only time I did climb this end of the Glandon, was during stage 4 of my “Tour de France” of 2014, after I climbed the Madeleine (from La Léchère) first on my way to our stop over for the other end (Croix de Fer, basically) from Allemond the next day.
A notable dead end side road of the Glandon leads up to Le Fremezan, which has a listing on CyclingCols. From what I could find, the road is all but gone at the start, but gets better higher up.
It’s “only” 7.7 km from Saint-Colombain-des-Villards, but at an average of 9.7% it’s guaranteed to wear me out enough to have an even harder time for the remainder of the Glandon, once I descend back…
It can also be seen as a separate climb, if you start in Saint-Etinenne-de-Cuines, which would make it almost 17 km long, at an average of 8.1%.
Opposite Saint-Etienne-de-Cuine, on the other side of the highway, in La Chambre, the Madeleine awaits you.
This is definitely the harder ascend of the Madeleine, as the altimeter gain is slightly less, but it’s 6 km shorter than the ascend from La Léchère.
The best thing about this climb, is its regularity – it’s “just” 8% everywhere, except for the first flatish km out of the La Chambre.
This end was also cycled during stage 3 of my “Tour de France” of 2014, the day before I tackled the Madeleine and Glandon.
I barely managed that ascend, as it was preceded by the Iseran (from Bourg-Saint-Maurice) and a “little” detour up and down the Mont Cenis from Lanslebourg…
There’s an alternative, also starting in La Chambre, by following the D76 to Montgellafrey. This ascend will join the “classic” route near Pré-Villet, or Saint-François-Longchamp (1650).
It’s nearly identical in length and average grade, but it has a longer (~3 km) section of ~10%, which makes it the slightly harder alternative.
Col de Chaussy
There are three ways up the Col de Chaussy
- From La Chambe, where the Madeleine starts also
- From La Tour-en-Maurienne (Hermillon)
- From Pontamafrey, via Les Lacets de Montvernier.
The climb from La Chambre, is actually a fork of(f) the Madeleine. After almost 5 km up, turn right onto the D77.
This climb is 15 km at 7% with almost 3 of those at or over 10%. Not an easy climb.
By comparison, the almost 16 km long alternative from La Tour-en-Maurienne at 6.4% may seem easier, but that’s a little deceiving, as it has a descend.
Still, all in all, it is the easiest of the three ways up.
The Lacets de Montvernier is one of those climbs on everyone’s bucket list. Probably because of the spectacular looking, rapid succession of hairpins.
At just under 4 km and an average of 7.6%, it’s not anywhere near the Alpe d’Huez and not even close to the Torri di Fraele, but it looks very similar to the latter.
Once in Montvernier, the climb to Chaussy continues for another 10 km, which is has in common with the climb from La Tour-en-Maurienne.
To the South
Most prominent and famous, is the Col du Télégraphe and Galibier combo.
The reason why this is listed as two cols, is because of the Fort du Télégraphe being situated near the summit of the first.
I’ve done this end during my “Tour de France 2014” stage 5, combined with the Croix de Fer from Allemond.
The Télégraphe is not to be discarded as a warm up for the Galibier. At 12 km long and an average of 7% with about half of those at 8%, it owns its own listing / ranking.
The Galibier itself is a lot tougher from this end than it is from the south (via the Lautaret).
After the 5 km descend – almost a false flat, with a drop of 125 metres – into Valloire, the ascend is 18.1 km long, with 1,245 meters of elevation, or a 6.9% average.
That may seem almost friendly, but the final 8 km of it averages around 8.4% and the final kilometre – the “optional” loop over the tunnel – has an average of over 10%.
Combined with the Télégraphe, this ascend is a formidable 35 km long, at an average of only 6%. Take out the 5 kms of descend and that becomes around 8%…
The dead end climb up to the Valmeinier 1800 ski station, is about 16 km long, 9 of which it has in common with the Télégraphe.
Taking the short descend into Valmeinier town out of the equation, the average while climbing is 7.3%.
With a maximum of 10% and a steepest km of 8.5% it’s definitely not an easy climb.
I may tackle it by its own, or “just” include the final 7 kms when I plan to get up either the Télégraphe, Galibier, or both, depending on my (final) schedule.
And when I say “schedule” I mean “I’ll surprise myself, when the time comes”…
I noticed two more climbs on the CyclingCols map:
These are “connected”, i.e. have about 13 km in common, and the climb(s) start just north of Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, or a bit further on towards Villargondran, near Le Bochet.
I’ll need to investigate these further after my Tour de France 2021 has started, as there seems to be more to climb than listed, but I’m not sure about the state of the road(s)…
So, in just two posts, I’ve described enough cycling fun to get me through the first week.
In my next posts, I’ll get to the (want to/must do) cols a bit further up and down or even outside the Maurienne valley.