Col du Galibier

The impressive road to Col du Galibier

Col du Galibier is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 2.645m (8,678 ft) above the sea level, located in the southern region of the French Dauphiné Alps, on the border of Savoie/Hautes-Alpes departments. It’s one of the most impressive climbs in all of the French Alps. High peaks, glaciers and over two kilometres of vertical climbing from the northern side. It's one of the highest mountain roads of the Alps.

The road to the summit is paved. It’s called D902 road. The Col du Galibier, in the northern Dauphiné, reaches a height (in the tunnel) of 2.645m (8,386ft) above the sea level, and ranks with the Col de l'Iseran, 200m (650ft) higher, as one of the highest passes in France, offering magnificent views on both the ascent and the descent. It is often the highest point of the Tour de France. The pass is traversed by the scenic Route des Grandes Alpes.

Is Col du Galibier open?

The pass links Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne and Briançon via the col du Télégraphe and the Col du Lautaret. Col du Galibier is located between the massif d'Arvan-Villards and the massif des Cerces.The road is usually open from 01/06 to 31/10. It's one of the highest mountain roads of the country. The pass is named after Le Grand Galibier, the mountain peak at 3.228 metres that towers over the Col. Remember to take into account the effects of altitude, which can be felt from 2000 m. Make no mistake. It's not a piece of cake. The pass was first made crossable for military purposes in 1879. A mule track had existed over Galibier well before that year. But in 1911, a semblance of a road was finished – the same year as the first Tour ascent. The pass is a true monument in cycling history. The first time the Galibier featured in the Tour de France, on July 10, 1911, only three riders got their crude single-speed bikes up the sloppy track to the summit without walking. From the top, a beautiful scenery awaits the visitor; within a short walking distance a viewpoint allows to admire and identify the surrounding peaks: Meije, Grand Galibier and even the Mont Blanc! 

Avoid driving in this area if mountain roads aren't your strong point. Stay away if you're scared of heights. In 1935, while descending the lower slopes of Galibier below Lautaret, Francesco Cepeda became the first cyclist killed in the Tour de France. At the south entrance to the tunnel there is a monument to Henri Desgranges, who initiated the Tour de France in 1903. This col is a part of La Marmotte, one-day cyclosportive event in France which climbs Col du Glandon, Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier and Alpe d'Huez.
The road to the pass was built in 1976. Before 1976, Tunnel du Galibier was the only point of passage at the top. The tunnel opened in 1891 and was in use 85 years, until 1976 when, because of its poor condition, it was closed and reopened in the summer of 2002. Between 1976 and 2002, with the oak-doored tunnel closed and suffering extensive repairs, it was built the new road over the summit, and riders had to take the D902B road. Until 1976, all traffic, including the Tour de France, passed through the oak-doored darkness of the summit tunnel.

There are four possible routes to climb de Col du Galibier. Starting from Valloire, the ascent is 18.1 km long with an elevation gain of 1.245 meters. The average percentage is 6.9 %. Starting from St Michel-de-Maurienne, the ascent is 34.9 km long with an elevation gain of 1.924 meters. The average percentage is 5.5 %. Starting from Col du Lautaret, the ascent is 8.52 km long and the elevation gain is 585 meters. The average percentage is 6.9 %. And starting from the Refuge du Lautaret, the ascent is 6.45 km long with an elevation gain of 616 meters. The average percentage is 9.5 %.

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