Climbing Col du Galibier by bike
With over 1900 altimeters (6270ft) this monster climb is of the highest and also longest (31km or 19mi) cols in France. Like many cols, the Galibier can be climbed from both sides. But actually there's only one Galibier and that's the side from the Maurienne Valley, via the north side. In this route, you first have to defeat the Col du Télégraphe before continuing to the top of Galibier.
The Galibier is located on the border between northern Savoy and Southern Hautes Alpes (regions in France). Even the views are different on each side. On the Valloire side in Savoie there is a lot of greenery, with many pine trees and it is often cool and wet. The southern side is warmer, the grass is often dry and are larchs are filling the forests. The view from the top towards Oisans is stunningly beautiful. But also towards the north the view is never to forget with the giant Mont Blanc in the background.
Col du Galibier
Climbing Galibier via Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne (north side)
The first kilometers of the Galibier, which is in fact the climb to the top of the Télégraphe, are spicy with 4 kilometers (2,5mi) to 8-9% gradients. In total, it is 12 kilometers (7,5mi) to the top at an average of about 7% in which a height difference of almost 900 meters (2970ft) is gained to the top of the Col du Télégraphe at 1566 meters (5170ft).
Following a section of five kilometers (3mi) to an altitude of 1410m (4653ft) we reach the village of Valloire. Here, the second part of the climb starts to the Galibier's top with a relatively easy start, but a difficult last part when the hairpins twist up to an altitude of 2642 meters (8718ft) and the oxygen is decreasing further due to the high altitude. This makes the Galibier just so heavy, aside from the often snowy last kilometers, even in summer. This second stretch from Valloire is 18 kilometers (11mi) long and 7% on average.
Snow at the Galibier
While Valloire is often very hot, near the top you encounter the cold wind from Savoy. An extra jacket is no luxury, even in summer. Also make sure you replenish your water bottles in Valloire because once you leave this village you only come across a single farm and some sheep. The last miles to the top are really tough. You will feel your legs burn becaus of the height and the steepness, the bald moon landscape does not make it happier. There is little else in these last part than suffering.
The Galibier is in the pocket
Galibier height profile
Climbing Galibier via Briançon (south side)
The alternative climb of the Col du Galibier is departing from Briancon at about 1310 meters (4320ft) altitude. Taking this route, we first have to ascent the Col du Lautaret before continuing to the top of Galibier. Overall, the climb from the southern side is 37 kilometers (23mi) long, with the average increase of 3.7% and a 10% max, it is less extreme than the climb from St Michel de Maurienne. The total altitude to be climbed is 1350 meters (4455ft) with a very gradual rate of increase that rises sharply in the last kilometer.
Galibier south side
Lauteret height profile
Galibier height profile
When to climb the Galibier?
Due to snow blocking the pass, the usual opening period is from early june to end of october.
The Galibier is also part of one of the best known, if not the best-known, one-day race for cycling tourists: The Marmotte, or La Marmotte in French. Every year on July 14, many thousands of cycling fans leave for 108mi (174 km) long climbing race across the Glandon, Télégraphe, Galibier and Alpe d'Huez. The total height difference of the stage is a staggering 5000 meters (16500ft).