Col du Galibier: Ultimate Cyclist’s Guide

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Planning on cycling the Col du Galibier?

It’s an epic feat that should not be underestimated. Though not the steepest climb, it is one of the longest, a seemingly never-ending battle of attrition that will slowly eat away at your legs.

Col du Galibier is the 4th highest paved pass in Europe, regularly featuring in the Tour de France, and for good reason.

With stunning panoramic views, long climbs, and picturesque valleys entrenched by mountains on either side, it is not one to be missed.

Located in the French Alps, the climb can be tackled from the north or south; both are incredible. Whichever side you tackle it from, you’ll likely get a 2-for-1 deal in the form of the Col du Télégraphe (from the north) or Col de Lautaret (from the south.)

In this Col du Galibier cycling guide, we’ll be covering:

  • History of the Col du Galibier
  • Guide To Cycling Col du Galibier
  • Col du Galibier: The Surrounding Area

Let’s dive in!

Col du Galibier: Title Image

history of the col du galibier

The Col du Galibier is a mountain pass in the French Alps, named after Le Grand Galibier, the 3228 m peak that towers over the pass.

First built in 1876, it connects Maurienne and Briançon via the Col du Lautaret and the Col du Télégraphe.

The Col du Galibier made its first appearance in the Tour de France in 1911. The climb was won by Emile Georget, one of the select few who managed to stay on their bike.

Since its inauguration in the Tour de France, it has appeared over 60 times, the most of any single col in the Alps (but fewer times than several cols in the Pyrénées). 

Roger Pingeon, the eventual Tour de France winner, is paced up the Col du Galibier at the 1967 Tour de France by domestique Raymond Poulidor. 
Roger Pingeon is paced up the Col du Galibier at the 1967 Tour de France by Raymond Poulidor.

At the entrance to the tunnel atop the mountain sits a monument to the memory of Henri Desgrange, the original organizer of the Tour De France.

During the 2011 Tour, the Col du Galibier was climbed twice to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its first appearance in the Tour de France. It again featured twice in the 2022 Tour.

It’s not just for the Tour de France though! In 2013, the Giro d’Italia attempted to climb the Col du Galibier on a foray into the French Alps. However, the stage had to be shortened last minute due to heavy snowfall.

Views near the summit of the Col du Galibier.

Guide to cycling col du galibier

As previously mentioned, you can tackle this beast from the north or south face.

#1: From the north (Via Col du Télégraphe)

  • Departure Elevation: 728 m (1880 ft)
  • Finish Elevation: 2642 m (8668 ft)
  • Altitude Gain: 2069 m (6788 ft)
  • Length: 34.8 km (21.6 miles)
  • Average Gradient: 5.9%
  • Steepest 100m: 13.1%
  • KOM: Tadej Pogačar, 1:26:55
  • QOM: Erica Magnaldi, 2:04:15

The northern side is the classic choice that most cyclists will undertake. It is my personal favorite out of the two.

Although you don’t officially start climbing the Galibier until you depart from Valloire, we will include the Col du Télégraphe, as it is a necessary entry requirement to get to Valloire in the first place!

Together they make up the full 34.8 km climb, but they are both noteworthy individuals. Think of the Télégraphe as a warm-up – or at least try to.

The climb up Col du Télégraphe begins as you depart Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne.

The winding climb is well-paved and steady. There are a couple of steeper ramps, but nothing that you’ll lose sleep over. The road is moderately busy, although this reduces to a trickle once you leave Valloire.

You won’t get much in the way of views until you reach the top of the Télégraphe, but instead, it gifts you with a dense green forest. The distance is 11.8 km with an average gradient of 7.3%.

View of the sign atop the Col du Télégraphe.
Ben Gibbons

After cresting the top, you’ll be pleased to hear that you have a chance to recover, in the form of a 4 km descent into the town of Valloire. Valloire has a great atmosphere, and you’ll likely be greeted with a few calls of “Allez, Allez!”

Take this opportunity to consume some food and water, or stock up at a local store. Slow down your breathing – Valloire is a well-renowned ski resort, and the air is thin, and you still have another 18 km packed with 1200 m of vertical ascent to go!

Climbing up the Col du Galibier at dawn.
Ben Gibbons

As you leave Valloire, the next 10 km is fairly forgiving, averaging 5.2%. Nonetheless, you would be remiss to believe that it will remain this way, as the full scope of the climb is hidden behind a couple of hairpins.

You’ll meander up to the Plan Lachat refuge, hugging the river Valloirette. If you can, take a second to soak up the great history of this climb.

The 2022 Tour was arguably won on this section, with Jonas Vingegaard and teammate Primož Roglič playing cat and mouse with rival Tadej Pogačar.

As you take the right-hand turn at the Plan Lachat refuge, crossing the Valloirette River, the real climbing begins. The road will instantly kick up to a tasty 9% and stay there for over 3 km.

One of the steeper ramps as you near the top of the Col du Galibier.
Ben Gibbons

Three strong switchbacks later and you’ll be lifted out of the valley. The landscape has followed suit, with trees and buildings replaced with sharp rocks and sparse grass.

You will soon find yourself in a grassy bowl, with 360-degree views of the spectacular Massif des Cerces mountains.

The views of the Massif des Cerces as you approach the summit of the Galibier.
Ben Gibbons

The end is now in sight, but you’ll still have to work hard for it. The final 2 km involves a set of seven hairpins, averaging above 9% until you reach the summit.

Congratulations, you’ve done it! You are sitting atop one of the most prestigious climbs in cycling history (not for long though, as it’s pretty chilly at the top!).

Road signs at the summit of the Col du Galibier, with bikes leaning against them.
Ben Gibbons

#2: From the south (Via Col de Lautaret)

The south face of the Galibier can be approached from either the east or the west. You have to summit the Col de Lautaret either from Briançon or Bourg d’Oisans. We’ll include them both here.

Although the south side of the Galibier is stunning, the Col de Lautaret from either side takes you up a fast, busy road. It is still a beautiful climb, but you have to have your wits about you.

If you are coming from Bourg d’Oisans there are also a few long dark tunnels, so make sure you have your lights.

If you want to avoid the traffic, I’d highly recommend the climb from the north. Otherwise, be sure to set off early!

Col du Galibier (From Briançon)

  • Departure Elevation: 1253m (4110 ft)
  • Finish Elevation: 2642m (8668 ft)
  • Altitude Gain: 1398 m (4587 ft)
  • Length: 34.8 km (21.6 miles)
  • Average Gradient: 4%
  • Steepest 100m: 11.7%
  • KOM: Julien Lodolo, 1:38:02
  • QOM: Lelle U, 1:58:38

The Col du Lauratet from Briançon is never steep. The climb averages 3% up until you hit the Galibier, with the steepest 100 m section just topping 7%. Nonetheless, long, straight sections make it mentally tough.

The road is wide, so despite the heavy traffic cars are able to overtake quite easily. You will be greeted with views of Monetier Glacier on the left, with equally eye-catching views of the Meije and the Galibier appearing on the right.

Once you hit the top of the Lautaret, prepare yourself! The next 9 km offers some of the most spectacular cycling in the Alps. Soak it in. It’s 9 km you won’t forget, and for all the right reasons (even if it averages 7%).

Stop and admire the monument to Henri Desgrange just before the tunnel, then dig deep for the final push as the road climbs steeply to the summit.

Col du Galibier (From Le Clapier)

  • Departure Elevation: 745m (33 ft)
  • Finish Elevation: 2642m (8668 ft)
  • Altitude Gain: 2012 m (6601 ft)
  • Length: 42.4 km (26.3 miles)
  • Average Gradient: 4.7%
  • Steepest 100m: 11.4%
  • KOM: Unknown
  • QOM: Unknown (comment below if you know!)

The southwestern approach from Le Clapier is a long continuous road up the Col du Lautaret. Near the start, you can expect some spicy gradients in the form of Saint Guillerme Ii and Hameau De Singuigneret.

The next 30 km of the Lautaret towards the village of La Grave averages around 3.5%. Save the legs though – it is a mammoth 42.4 km climb until the top of the Galibier.

In some places, the views are stunning. However, these are juxtaposed with long dark tunnels with the odd large truck.

The bottom line is, the Alps are a beautiful place to cycle, and even at its toughest you can let the scenery take your mind off things.

The road cuts through massive cliffs, snakes through beautiful villages, and runs parallel to the deep blue Lac du Chambon.

Like the side out of Briançon, the nicest part starts after you have summited the Lautaret. The next 9 km up the Galibier are truly breathtaking.

Two motorcycles ride up the Col du Galibier.

Col du Galibier: The Surrounding Area

If you are near the Galibier, you are in the midst of the French Alps. It is a cycling panacea. A playground for adults with bikes coupled with the odd loose screw.

There are endless villages, climbs, and hikes worth a visit for cyclists and adventurers.

One stand-out would be Marmotte Granfondo Alpes. It is an epic race, once a year, with over 7500 participants. It will take you face-to-face with the Glandon, the Télégraphe, the Galibier, the Lautaret, and finally, the legendary Alpe d’Huez.

Enjoyed this iconic climb profile? Check out more from the BikeTips experts below!

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As a qualified sports massage therapist and personal trainer with eight years' experience in the field, Ben plays a leading role in BikeTips' injury and recovery content. Alongside his professional experience, Ben is an avid cyclist, splitting his time between his road and mountain bike. He is a particular fan of XC ultra-endurance biking, but nothing beats bikepacking with his mates. Ben has toured extensively throughout the United Kingdom, French Alps, and the Pyrenees ticking off as many iconic cycling mountains as he can find. He currently lives in the Picos de Europa of Spain's Asturias region, a stone's throw from the legendary Altu de 'Angliru - a spot that allows him to watch the Vuelta a España roll past his doorstep each summer.

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