• Distance 48 km
  • Elevation gain 2390m Max 38% Ave 5%
  • Difficulty
  • Epic rating

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.

Highlights

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.

Road between Col de Lautaret and Col du GalibierBetween Col du Lautaret and Col du Galibier
Cyclist near top of Col du GalibierFinal push to the summit of Col du Galibier

Route notes

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.

Col du ChambonLac du Chambon
La Grave, en route to Col du LauteretLa Grave, just before Col du Lautaret

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.

View north of Col du GalibierView north of Col du Galibier, towards Valloire
Monument to Henri DesgrangesMonument to Henri Desgranges
Cyclist at top of Col du GalibierSummit of Col du Galibier

Café stops

Your best options include:

  • La Grave: lots of choices from cêperies to full-on restaurants.
  • Col du Lautaret: Café de la Ferme is a good option.
  • On the way to the summit: Chalet du Galibier, by the car tunnel near the summit of the Galibier on the south side.
Restaurant near Col du GalibierRestaurant on the north side of climb to Col du Galibier
Restaurant near Col du GalibierAnd another
Col du TelegrapheCol du Télégraphe, Valloire

Accommodation

We did this ride from our base at Chalet Ribot, at bend 12 of Alpe d’Huez, just above Bourg d’Oisans. We really enjoyed our stay: read more about Chalet Ribot here.

Want to see some alternatives?

Take a look at the suggestions in our ultimate guide to the Alps: Alpe d’Huez and surrounds.

Tips

  • If you don’t like the idea of cycling the main road to the Col du Lautaret, you could (dare we even suggest it?!), drive to La Grave and ride from there… It would be better to do that than miss out on this sensational climb.
  • There are a lot of tunnels (10?) between Bourg d’Oisans and Col du Lautaret. When we visited they were lit, but bike lights are still a good idea since in some sections the tunnel lights had broken and it was pretty dark.
  • Take care on the descent; it’s steep and the hairpins are tight. In 1935 a spanish rider, Francesco Cepeda crashed on the descent from the Galibier to the Lautaret. He suffered head injuries and later died.
  • If you’re with friends/family in a support car, they might like a visit to the attractive village of La Grave and also to the botanical gardens on top of the Col du Lautaret. The gardens face the La Meije glacier and have over 2,000 species of alpine and mountain flowers. They are meant to be one of the most beautiful high altitude gardens in Europe.
  • The car park on the top of Col du Galibier is small and very busy in the height of summer. It is usually pretty chilly too, so make sure you have extra layers with you. Once you’ve left the Chalet du Galibier near the car tunnel, there’s no shelter on the summit.
  • The Lautaret isn’t viewed as a major climb in the Tour (usually given a second cat ranking). It becomes major when teamed with the Galibier, which adds 8.5km of 8.8% gradient on top of the Lautaret.
  • The Galibier is often featured in the Tour, though more often from the north side. In 2011 the Tour climbed the Galibier twice to celebrate the mountain’s 100th anniversary of that first ascent in 1911. Stage 18 was from the south, stage 19 from the north.

What’s next?

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.

Clare Dewey

Clare Dewey is a road cyclist with a passion for travel. She set up epicroadrides.com to help make it easy for road cyclists to explore new places by bike.

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