The Col Agnel / Colle Dell’Agnello is number three on the list of highest paved passes in Europe – the Cime de la Bonette not included – and with 2,744 meters it has also been the Cima Coppi in the Giro d’Italia several times.
A not too busy road, where you’re not constantly passed – at high speed – by motor bikes or cars. The pass out of the valley on the opposite side – the Izoard – is a lot busier for that matter…
The official start of the climb from the north / French side is in Guillestre. I got on the bike in Chateau Queyras – from there it is only a few kilometers to the real base of the climb, at La Casse / Ville-Vieile.
From there, you have about 20 kilometer of real climbing ahead of you, but the 20-kilometer ride from Guillestre through the “Gorges du Guil” would be a very nice warm up – the altitude gain of roughly 400 meters, is almost negligible.
With an average of 4.1% from Guillestre, the Agnel may not seem like a tough climb, but from Ville-Veille the average of 7.1% is a lot more “interesting”. The most difficult parts are right out of Ville-Veille and the last 5 to 6 kilometers, where the averages go up to a stinging 9%.
Furthermore, the ascent is actually reasonably ‘straightforward’ – only in the last five kilometers you get some hairpin sections and prettier pictures if you’re into that sort of views. Other than that, the views throughout the climb are often overwhelming in their wideness and the silence / absence of traffic is a relief…
Video from the Col Collective on the climb from Ville-Veille here.
In that part – from Chianale – the road winds up at an average of 10% to the top, over a distance of about 9 kilometers – definitely more difficult than the upper half from the other side.
I have not climbed this side myself*, because at the summit, I turned around and descended back to Ville-Vieille, in order to then climb the Izoard.
Looking at the profile of the south side of the Agnel and taking into consideration that I’m not a fan of “irregular”, I’m not sorry I skipped it at that time and preferred to go down in favor of the Izoard – as it was, that one was difficult enough for me…
* I did tackle the Agnel virtually, on CVT – that ride starts in Sampeyre, which adds another 10 kilometers. While these – like the ones between Casteldelfino and Chianale – are not too difficult, I experienced that they wear you out just enough to make the final almost insane.
Granted, many argue that virtual is too easy from the comfort of your home and doesn’t count at all. However, as I have stated (many times) before, I can assure you that a high end smart trainer, capable of mimicking big inclines – like my Tacx Neo – will give you an experience not far off from the truth.
No bad weather, no wind, sure, but the high RPE specifics of the environment during indoor cycling, like difficulties with cooling or sweating, do compensate for that.
At any rate, I was more exhausted when I finished that virtual ride, than when I got up the other end IRL…