The highest climbs of Europe #9 - Col du Galibier

Saturday 06 June 2020 by Frank Jansen

In a Top-20 of highest climbs in Europe, only one can be the most legendary. It's not hard to find a winner: the Col du Galibier. The climb was included in the Tour no less than 60 times and even the Giro passed by once. If the Galibier is not on your palmares yet, you know what do to.

Col du Galibier

Picture 1 (Adobe Stock): View from the col on the north side 

Col du Galibier

Country: France
Height: 2642 meters


The Col du Galibier connect the departments of Savoie and Hautes-Alpes. You can climb it from three sides, always from another col. 

Les Trois Vallées is the largest ski area in the world. It's the Savoie's largest tourist attraction. The area is developing as a cycling area as wel. In 2019, a new col has opened, the Col de la Loze. It's only accessible for cyclists. Next to the Galibier, the Savoie hosts many famous cols such as the Col du Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col de la Madeleine, Col de l'Iseran and the Cormet de Roselend.

In the Hautes-Alpes, one can find the Parc national des Écrins. After the Mont Blanc mountain range, this is the highest mountain range in France. Likewise, this department has many famous climbs like the Col d'Izoard, Col Agnel, Col du Lautaret and the Col de Vars.

The north side

The most famous and by far the most beautiful side starts from Saint-Michel de Maurienne over the Col du Télégraphe. The Télégraphe is a nice and gradual 12 km climb. It's tempting to go all out here, which would be quite stupid. The descent is way too short to recover. In Valloire the actual Galibier climb starts. The area is rough and the view is marvellous. The last 8 km from Plan Lachat are hard. The altitude and distance will make you feel your legs. Gradient barely drop under 10%. Marmotte contenders suffer to the max here. 

The south east side

This col can be reached from Briançon, over the Col du Lautaret. It's far less interesting than the north side. The Col du Lauratet is never steep. Long, straight sections make it mentally tough. In fact, only the last 9 kilometres from the Lauraret are really beautiful. This part is steeper, too. Just under the summit you'll run into a monument for Henri Desgrange, founder of the Tour de France.

The south west side

The south west side (from Le Clapier) also follows the Col du Lautaret. From Bourg d'Oisans and Alpe d'Huez this route is easy to find. You're in for a 43 km (!) long climb. In La Marmotte, this is the final descent before the last climb, Alpe d'Huez. The climb can be crowed with cars and you will have to cross multiple tunnels. In some places, the views are stunning. From La Grava, La Meije beautifully stands out above all other mountain tops. Like the other side, the nicest part starts after the Lautaret. The Galibier is a real must do, if you're able to pick a side it should be the north side.

Cycling history

A more famous climb than the Galibier barely exists. The Tour dropped by 60 times! Even the Giro planned a finish (2013). And obviously everyone knows it's the killer climb in La Marmotte.

Many legends and stories has originated here. Supposedly, Bahamontes would have stopped to eat an ice cream after finishing the climb first. The true story is quite different, but let's forget that. Joop Zoetemelk secured his Tour victory after a dizzying descent. In 1996, the passage of the Galibier was canceled due to heavy snow. And hellish scenes in 1998 when Pantani struck in beast weather and left Jan Ullrich shivering. It yielded breathtaking television:

Gran fondos

Marmotte Granfondo Alpes

Passing by of La Marmotte 2012


Col du GalibierCol du Galibier north

Col du GalibierCol du Galibier south east

Col du GalibierCol du Galibier south west

Routes and loops

You can climb the Galibier from three sides, but what's nicer than to ride the the legendary Marmotton (the small Marmotte). This route follows the Glandon or Croix de Fer, followed by the Télépgraphe/Galibier combination. We prefer the Croix de Fer option, because it saves a few boring sections through the Maurienne valley. Le Bourg d'Oisans is the most well-known place to start, but every other spot will work equally well. Riding the loop the other way around is also a good option. Maarten Alfrink from La Douce Montagne rode here between the snowwalls, read his story.


Click in the images to download the routes.

The highest climbs of Europe, the list

9 Col du Galibier
France 2632
10 Colle del Nivolet
Italy 2632
11 Grossglockner
Austria 2571
12 Timmelsjoch /
Passo Rombo
13 Pass Umbrail Switzerland
14 Colle delle Fauniera /
Colle dei Morti 
Italy 2481
15 Nufenenpass /
Passo della Novena
Switzerland 2477
16 Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard /
Colle del Gran San Bernardo
17 Furkapass Switzerland 2436
18 Roque de los Muchachos Spain 2426
19 Hochwurtenspeicher Austria 2421
20 Col du Granon France 2413


Col du Galibier

Picture 2 (Adobe Stock): North side, last kilometre before the hardest part

Col du Galibier

Picture (FlickrRobbie Shade): North side, Plan Lachat

Col du Galibier

Picture (Wikimedia Commons - Panoramio): North side, the last 8 steep kilometres

Col du Galibier

Picture (Wikimedia Commons Michiel1972): North side, view to the last kilometres

Col du Galibier

Picture (Wikimedia Commons - BaldBoris): North side, 2 kilometres before the col

Col du Galibier

Picture (Wikimedia Commons - Magnus Manske): North side, view from the col

Col du Galibier

Picture (La Douce Montagne): Snow walls, end of May

Col du Galibier

Picture 9 (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols)South side, view to the monument of Henri Desgranges

Col du Galibier

Picture 10 (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols)South side, tunnel entry and last kilometre

Col du Galibier

Picture 11 (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols): The last hairpins from the south

Col du Galibier

Picture 12 (Adobe Stock): View to the south side, direction Col du Lautaret

Col du Galibier

Picture 13 (Wikimedia Commons - Bonzon): The col

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