Col du Galibier is one of the top bucket list climbs of world cycling. The Galibier is one of the highest passes in Europe at 2,642m and its Tour de France history is matched by the stunning scenery. The climb is so often the second part of two cols following the (not to be underestimated) Col du Telegraph. After the fun descent you can turn left to Briancon and the Col d’Izoard or right to continue descending the Col du Lauteret and then to Alpe d’Huez. This is hallowed cycling country!
When to ride the Col du Galibier
This is one of the highest passes in the Alps and is closed through the winter. It normally opens in early June and closes again in November. The main summer holidays (mid-July to mid-August) is the hottest period but also brings higher levels of road traffic, as well as being a hotspot for motorbikes. Our favourite time to ride the Galibier is in June or late-August to mid-September. The Tour de France comes to town roughly every two years and is a great spot to watch the race go by. The Galibier is the penultimate climb on the Marmotte and takes place on the first Sunday of July each year.
Riding the Galibier
Starting in the pretty town of Valloire you are already at 1,500m, meaning you can experience all weather types from the beginning of the ride. The way up to Valloire goes over the Col du Telegraph, a punchy 12km at 7% followed by a 5km descent into town. The segment begins about 3 kilometres out of town and the first 10km is fairly straight forward as the road follows the river up the valley with gradients fluctuating between 3 and 8%. The views straight away are spectacular but be warned; there is no shade and on a hot day this can be energy-sapping.
With 8km to go, the road takes a sharp right turn and from then on the climb is steeper and the landscape more remote. Straight away the gradients go up to 8% and you climb quickly with wide views of the road you have ascended. After four tight hairpins you leave behind the valley views and ahead of you is the summit. The rest of the way up to the top averages 8.5km and the air is much cooler here above 2,300m – in June there is often snow by the side of the road. The final 2km is spectacular as the road squeezes in 10 hairpins and you can see the road below you for miles. The small amount of motor traffic typically takes the tunnel near the top (bikes are not permitted through this tunnel) and the last kilometre is mostly filled just with cyclists. This last bit is tough at almost 10% and seeing the summit is a very welcome sight! At the top there is a famous mile marker to get your photo taken with and a small car park. If you have any more layers to put on, this is the place to do it as the descent is almost always cold. The views down all the way to the Col du Lautaret are spectacular and the descent is long and fun, capping off a brilliant day on the bike over one of the world’s very best climbs.