This wonderfully scenic but strenuous circuit is undoubtedly the most elegant way of cycling two of the most famous Tour de France passes.
The high passes of Savoie Mont Blanc deserve a special place in the affections of every keen cyclist, whether for their legendary status as part of the Tour de France or simply for the exquisite views they offer. Pride of place in the former category must go to the Col du Galibier, which has featured in the Tour more than 30 times since 1947. When started from St-Michel-de-Maurienne, the Galibier is a truly mammoth climb with 2100 metres of height gain in just 29 km of uphill cycling. To cap it all, the steepest gradients are right at the top, where tired legs and the high altitude make themselves felt the most. A winner in the latter category is more difficult to choose, as every pass has its merits. One day my preference might be for the Joux Plane, with its picturesque lake and unparalleled views of Mont Blanc; another day I might plump for the Cormet de Roselend … or the Croix Fry … or the Iseran … or the Colombière …
So what is so special about the two passes on this circuit?
In fact, the Col du Glandon has always been my favourite high pass in Savoie Mont Blanc, mostly because of the section above St-Colomban-des-Villards. Here the road is just a narrow strip of un-bordered tarmac that has retained much of the charm of the mule tracks of yesteryear. Even though the road surface is excellent, when cycling up the Glandon you feel like you are truly immersed in the landscape, not just riding past it. The first part of the climb is surrounded by thick forest so there is little to see, but the trees disappear above St-Colomban, making way for delightful meadows and revealing the craggy slopes and peaks of the surrounding Belledonne Mountains. Look behind you during the ascent and the wide depression of the Col de la Madeleine dominates the skyline across the Maurienne Valley. The Glandon is also a wonderful cycling challenge, a two-part ascent with a moderately steep initial section, a welcome respite at the halfway point, and an unrelentingly steep final section. Averaging 9% for 8 km and with gradients in excess of 12% just below the col, the climb above St Colomban will test the legs of even the fittest cyclists.
After a very short descent, another 2.5 km of uphill cycling has to be overcome to get to the Col de la Croix de Fer, although the 6% incline will feel like a breeze compared with the top of the Glandon. Seeing the striking pyramids of the Aiguilles d’Arves emerging over the horizon as you crest the Col de la Croix Fer is always a breathtaking experience and there is no better place from which to soak up the view than the café beside the pass. Suitably refreshed you will enjoy the sweeping descent through St-Sorlin and St-Jean-d’Arves even more, but, be warned, it is not downhill all the way back to St-Jean-de-Maurienne!
Cols du Glandon and de la Croix de Fer (approx. distance and height gain: 63 km, 1750 m)
St-Jean-de-Maurienne – Hermillon – Pontamafrey – Ste-Marie-de-Cuines – St-Colomban-des-Villards – Col du Glandon – Col de la Croix de Fer – St-Sorlin-d’Arves – St-Jean-de-Maurienne.
Update: May 2016
Du lundi au vendredi de 9h à 12h30 et de 13h30 à 17h30