The pass of the Col du Galibier (2,645 metres) is located in the southern region of the French Dauphiné Alps.
The tunnel at 2,556 meters used to be the only through road until 1976 – when the tunnel was closed for restoration, a loop around the summit, similar to the one over the Bonette, was constructed, reaching the ‘official’ summit of 2,645 meters.
With this loop included, it claims 9th spot in the highest paved European roads list and is listed as 5th highest mountain pass – without it, it’s ranked 11th and 6th respectively.
Like all passes in the area, it’s closed during winter, roughly between October and June.
I cycled up the Lautaret side from Le Clapier on June 9th, 2012 and found the final loop closed from the Valloire side – luckily, I could still cycle up from my end.
I revisited the Galibier from the north during my Tour de France 2021, when I cycled the Marmotte, albeit starting that in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
What makes climbing the Galibier hard, is the distance.
It can only be reached via the Col du Télégraphe from Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne and via the Col du Lautaret from either Briançon or Bourg-d’Oisans (Le Clapier).
The approach from the north, over the Télégraphe, is 35.1 kilometers long, starting in Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne.
At 12.1 kilometers in length, with an elevation of 852 meters (7%), the preceding Télégraphe is not to be mistaken as a merely a warming up for the Galibier.
After a short descend into Valloire, the actual ascend of the Galibier starts: 18.1 kilometers, with 1,245 meters of elevation, or a 6.9% average.
That may seem almost friendly, but the final 8 kilometers of it averages around 8.4% and the final kilometer – the loop over the tunnel – has an average of over 10%.
You may need a few seconds to recover, before being able to fully appreciate the incredible view you have from up there – I know I did.
About halfway up the final, some 4 kilometers from the tunnel, there is a monument in honor of Marco Pantani. It’s located at the right side of the road and you may miss it if you don’t know where to look, as it is a positioned in a field just off the road.
As soon as you reach the scattered buildings at Les Granges, you’re near it. If I remember correctly, it is just opposite the sign with the cow (reading Fromage Beaufort or something), before the road turns to the right again.
The Col Collective have produced a video of this ascend, starting in Valloire.
From this end, you can only get to the summit of the Galibier by first climbing the Lautaret.
To the summit of the Lautaret, the approach from Briançon (south-east) is 27.7 km long, with 876 meters of elevation at an average of 3.1%.
The ascend of the Lautaret from the south-west, starting at le Clapier, is 34.1 kilometers long, with 1,416 meters of elevation at an average of 3.9%.
Either average is a little deceiving, as from le Clapier there is a drop between kilometers 4 and 6, and like from Briançon, there’s a lot of false flat.
The final stretch of the Galibier itself, from either approach, is 8.5 kilometers from the summit of the Lautaret – with an altimeter gain of 585 meters (6.9%) it’s similar to, but a little easier than, the ascend from Valloire.
Also from this end, the final up the loop is steep, at an average of 11%…
In the last stretch towards the tunnel, coming from Le Clapier, there is a monument in honor of Henri Desgrange, instigator and first director of the Tour de France.
The memorial was inaugurated in 1949 and whenever the tour crosses the Col du Galibier, a wreath is laid on the memorial.