Col du Galibier

The legendary Col du Galibier (2638 m), in the Dauphiné Alps near Grenoble is renowned for being one of the toughest Alpine cycling climbs. This iconic mountain road has been in use since the middle of the 18th century, providing the backdrop to salt smuggling, numerous mountain expeditions, and even a Spanish invasion.

When, in 1911, the organisers of the Tour de France decided to send the route over the stupendous, snow-clad mountain landscape between the Maurienne valley and Col du Lautaret, a cycling legend was born. Since then, the Galibier has become a firm fixture in the Grand Boucle. More recently, the mighty Col du Galibier has also become a renowned, if slightly intimidating, must-do climb for amateur cyclists.

The Climb in Detail

“Oh ! Sappey ! Oh ! Laffrey ! Oh ! Col Bayard ! Oh ! Tourmalet ! I will not fail in my work in proclaiming that beside Galibier you are but pale and vulgar beers.  There is nothing more to do but tip your hat and salute from well below!” Henri Desgranges 1911 – Tour Director 

The Ascents

The Col du Galibier can be ridden from the north and from Bourg d’Oisans or Briancon to the south: the three ascents, all over 30 km, present unique challenges. The northern route from Saint Michel de Maurienne crosses Col du Télégraphe (1566 m) first; from the ski resort of Valloire beyond Col du Télégraphe, the climbing begins again - over 13 km at an average gradient of 8%. From the south, there is a long, arduous climb from either Bourg d’Oisans or Briancon to reach Col du Lautaret (2057 m) before attempting the relatively short, final 4 km climb to the Galibier.

Desgrange's favourite 

The visionary founder of the Tour de France, Henri Desgrange introduced many climbs that became famous whilst he was in charge from 1903 to 1937, but Col du Galibier was undoubtedly his jewel in the Tour crown. There is a monument to Desgranges, on the summit: the dedication reads simply, ‘To the glory of Henri Desgrange (1865–1940), former director of the newspaper L’Auto, founder of the cyclists’ Tour de France.’

It’s place at the Tour de France

When the Pyrenees were first introduced to the Tour de France in 1910, Desgrange realised that for the race to survive, the only way was up. Thus the Tour visited the magnificent Col du Galibier in 1911. It has since provided the setting for some of the Tours famous moments including solo wins by Coppi, Pantani and Andy Schleck.

"It took the genius of Pantani to wake me up to the brilliance of the sport. Wheels whirrin’ up the Galibier in ’98. The Pirate King never cheated me, whatever was coursing through his veins. Anymore than Georgie Best cheated me by scoring wonder goals after suckin’ on a bottle of vodka. I didn’t care. They were magnificent, both." - Jonny Green

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Alpe dHuez / Oz En Oisans (GNB,CMF,TRN)
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