Located in the Maurienne valley the col du galibier is one of the most famous and challenging mountain passes in cycling. Featured 57 times in the Tour de France it is named after the mighty peak of Le Grand Galibier that towers over the col. It is also a renowned hors catégorie pass and one of the hardest climbs in the Alps.
It has also been featured in the Giro d’Italia a number of times and on many occasion it has been the highest point of the race. For this reason it is a popular ride for road cyclists and is a great way to test your endurance. The most popular approach to the col is from the north via the Telegraphe and Valloire but you can also climb it from the south towards Bourg d’Oisans.
The road up the col starts out with a flat and wide alpine meadow on either side. As you continue the gradients pick up and the terrain becomes more rugged as you head higher and closer to the final climb. At this stage you will be rewarded with the first views of the peak of the Grand Galibier and it should help to lift your spirits after the tough climb ahead.
Once the climbing really begins you will be faced with a set of seven hairpin bends that average above 9%. It is almost like riding on a knife’s edge and you will have to focus hard as you try and keep your speed up. At this point the top of the Galibier should be in sight and if you are lucky enough to have a clear day you will be treated to the most incredible view of the Alps. It is almost as good as the view of the peaks from the summit itself and it makes the climb worth all the effort.
On the way up you will pass a couple of buildings and then enter a huge grassy bowl that is dominated by the giant peak of the Grand Galibier that gives the col its name. At this point the summit is in sight and if you are lucky enough (and fit) to reach here it will be one of the most memorable days of your life. At the top you will be greeted by the monument to Henri Desgrange and you can look back at the gruelling journey you have just made.
The Galibier is a massive climb and even by the standards of other high mountain passes in Europe it dwarfs them all. To put it into perspective it is more than twice as high as the Col du Tourmalet and about half as long. It takes a full hour to climb it from the bottom, so it is a very difficult challenge for any cyclist. In fact, it is so difficult that you would have to do a century ride on Box Hill in Surrey more than 16 times in order to equal the distance and vertical ascent of the col.