Col de la Croix de Fer is a climb located in the French Alps, amidst popular cycling climbs such as Alpe d’Huez. The climb is 29.5 kilometres long with an average gradient of 5.5%, climbing 1,472 metres throughout the climb to a height of 2,067m. Col de la Croix de Fer translates to English as ‘Iron Cross’ and this is what meets riders at the top of the climb and has stood there since 1912, when the road was completed. This climb has featured a couple of times on the Tour de France, including in 2006 and 2008.
When to ride Col de la Croix de Fer
The best time of the year to ride Col de la Croix de Fer is during the warmer summer months of April to October. Despite this, please be aware of variable weather conditions and preparation should be taken before your ride for the correct equipment and nutrition. Conditions will be significantly different at the bottom as those to the top given the large elevation change during the climb. The route also passes through four tunnels, which are susceptible to heavy traffic – please be aware of this and carefully choose what time you choose to take on the climb.
Riding Col de la Croix de Fer
There are are a number of different routes to ascend the Col de la Croix de Fer and the route we have chosen to highlight starts from the French town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. Other routes up Col de la Croix de Fer include from Le Chambre or Bourg d’Oisans.
Ascending the Col de la Croix de Fer from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is the north-eastern route, taking the D926 to the summit of the Col. The climb is an exciting mixture of steep climbs, typical Alpine hairpins and unexpected descents – challenging riders throughout.
Col de la Croix de Fer’s unrelenting nature hits you before you even “officially” begin the climb on this route at the Grand Opinel roundabout. Here we pass through three tunnels, all increasing in length and in quick succession. Though these tunnels are safe and well-lit, they can get busy with road traffic.
Once through the tunnels, you are approximately four kilometres in to the ride, with the average gradient varying wildly throughout this stretch between 6 and 9%. However, there is some slight relief on the way. Here, there is a descent of just over 2km to Pont de Merderel, followed immediately by a challenging 5km ascent with an average gradient of nearly 9%. The Col de la Croix de Fer keeps you on your toes!
Once again you reach the top of a long ascent, straight in to a descent of approximately 1.5km to Belleville. This soon flattens out, but the next 7.5km is the first section of the climb that isn’t overly challenging or overly relaxing as you head towards Saint-Sorlin-d’Arves, save for a brief 500m stretch approximately halfway through which has an average gradient of 7%.
That’s it for the easier parts of the climb though. Following a flat section at Saint-Sorlin-d’Arves an incredibly tough section begins with gradients reaching as high as 10.5%. Here, steep hairpins take over, challenging the mind and legs. After passing through eight more bends, you will eventually reach the summit of Col de la Croix de Fer via Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. Get a picture with the legendary iron cross, take in the beautiful Alpine views and get ready for the ride back down!