If we had to choose just one 9km of mountain to climb for the rest of our lives, the ride from Col du Lautaret to the top of the Galibier would be it. It combines some of the most stunning scenery in the world with serious cycling pedigree. We think the views on this route even outshine the more famous, north side (from Valloire). Ride it and you’ll never forget it.
Unlike many other mountain climbs that twist up narrow valleys or through forests, there’s a huge feeling of space, with no trees, few cars and huge views down valleys and across snow-capped mountain tops. It’s the sort of climb that makes the Tour de France what it is.
As Henri Desgrange said, “In front of this giant we can do nothing but take our hats off and bow”.
A word of warning. This is a ride of contrasts. From Bourg d’Oisans, the approach to the Col du Lautaret is along the busy main road between France and Italy. It’s not a lot of fun to ride. Once you’ve got through it, the traffic falls away as you hit the blissful 9km between Col du Lautaret and Galibier.
Looking for a return GPX route? Click here. For reference, you’re looking at roughly: distance 96 km and elevation gain 2,780 m.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
The scenery between the Col du Lautaret and Col du Galibier: far reaching views over green valleys flanked by grey jagged mountain giants. And one grey-silver road snaking through the middle, beckoning.
1. Bourg d’Oisans to La Grave: 0-29 km
The first five kilometres are entirely flat as you head southeast out of Bourg d’Oisans, along the valley road. As you turn the corner near the power station, the climb begins. It’s now pretty much uphill all the way to the top of the Galibier: this section to La Grave averages a reasonable 3.5%.
You’re on the main road between France and Italy, so avoid this route if you’re phased by traffic. Otherwise, let the scenery take your mind off things: the road snakes through massive cliffs of rock and alongside the sparkling blue Lac du Chambon.
2. La Grave to Col du Lautaret: 29-39.5 km
La Grave is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France and the tourist flocks are testament to that. If you’re with non-cyclists, they may be interested in a quick trip in the cable car to the summit of the Girose glacier at 3,211m (there you can go inside the glacier and view the ice sculptures). The La Meije glacier at 3,983m sits above you.
But, if you’re here to ride, you’ll be more focused on refuelling before pushing on to the top of the Col du Lautaret.
The road from La Grave to the Col du Lautaret is still the main road between France and Italy. So it’s not quiet. But on a sunny day it’s a pretty place, with superb views of glaciers clinging to the surrounding mountains.
Gradients are around 5% from La Grave to the summit of the Col du Lautaret. There you’ll find a car park and various buildings including a café and hotel.
3. Col du Lautaret to Col du Galibier: 39.5-48 km
As you turn off the main road, up towards the Galibier summit, you know you are following in the footsteps of cycling greats. This is one of the most feared and respected summits on the Tour. It’s 9km you won’t forget, and not just because of the pretty savage average 7% incline. The scenery is some of the most spectacular we’ve ever seen. Each hairpin offers new views over quiet valleys, glaciers and mighty Alpine ranges.
After 8km of hairpin climbing you get to the false summit of the monument to Henri Desgranges, the first organiser of the Tour de France. You can use the opportunity to catch your breath, and there’s the Chalet du Galibier restaurant too. Then dig deep for the final push as the road climbs steeply for the last kilometre, above the car tunnel. The views from the narrow summit are mind-blowing.
Your best options include:
This article shares our tips for the best cycling hotels and accommodation on/around Alpe d’Huez. Enjoy!
Read our tips for cycling in the Alps before you set out.
Or click here for our complete guide to planning a holiday in this region.
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