Travel

Col du Galibier and Telegraphe – Twin Delight or Dismay?

By: Lee

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The Col du Galibier.  An absolute monster of a climb.  It is epic.  A true Tour classic.

looking down at a cyclist descending through hairpins on col du galibier
Hairpins on the Col du Galibier

Not Just Another Tour Climb

You can climb all the other ‘Hollywood Climbs’ such as Alpe D’Huez, and they are what they are, Tour regulars, popular with cyclists, and ascended daily by many. And these are not easy climbs.

But let’s be clear.  Most of these cols are not in the same bracket as something as monumental as the Galibier.

Riding the Galibier from Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne

The climb from Briancon is hard enough, but to climb it from the north, starting at Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, including the Col du Télégraphe, is 34.8 kilometers (21.6 mi) long, gaining 2,120 meters (6,960 ft) in height at an average of 6.1%.

Do not let the average gradient lull you into a false sense of security. There are some difficult sections. Given the length of the overall climb, you can be deceived into thinking it is slightly easier, given the average gradient suggested.

It is not.  You can grind your way up, but this climb needs respect, as you will find out. 

The actual climb to the summit starts at Valloire and is 18.1 kilometers (11.2 mi) long at an average of 6.9%, with a height gain: 1,245 meters (4,085 ft). The maximum gradient is 10.1% at the summit.

mountain views from col du galibier
View from the Col du Galibier

Tour History of the Col du Galibier

Let’s rewind a bit, though, and look at some of the histories of this climb because it definitely has some. 

The Col du Galibier was first used in the Tour de France in 1911. The first rider over the summit was Emile Georget, who, with Paul Duboc and Gustave Garrigou, were the only riders not to walk! 

The original summit was at 2556m until 2002, when the tour route went over the pass closer to the mountain peak at 2645 m.

So first, you must climb the Col du Télégraphe, and despite what you may hear, it is not easy and requires effort.

cyclist looking at the road whilst ascending the col du telegraphe and col du galibier
Getting ready for both the Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier

Starting with the Col du Télégraphe

The Télégraphe is 12 km at 7% – 8%, with the road surface open and wide as it winds up to the summit.  There is the obvious photo opportunity and a cafe for a stop and to replenish if needed.  I’d say it is a good shout to do so, as the next stage up to the summit of the Galibier is long, very long.

col du telegraphe summit sign with cervelo R3 bicycle

Following the Telegraphe summit, there is 4-5km to go downhill to the ski-station village of Valloire.  You could also stop here, as it’s a very picturesque place.

Riding the Col du Galibier

As you exit Valloire and start to see the ski lifts and stations, it gives you a real sense of how high up you now are. As you look a long, long way into the distance, you can see the Galibier, and you start to realise not just how much further you still have to go but also there is quite some more elevation to go and a sense of foreboding begins.

Steep road section ascending col du galibier
A steep section on the Col du Galibier

Honestly, I’ve wiped many memories from this day – it was just too painful to relive!

views of mountain peaks from col du galibier
Views from the Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier are (almost?) worth the effort!

Now, there will probably come the day when the pain of climbing the Galibier will have diminished, and I will finally be ready to be reminded of the achievement. At that point, I will be ready to get an art print of the Col Du Galibier and hang it up in my gallery of epic climbs!