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The 5 Best Climbs In The Alps

Every year the Tour de France reminds us why cycling in The Alps is one of life’s great treats. The climbs are long, challenging and oh-so-rewarding, and the views and scenery more than match the quality of cycling. This really is a magical part of the world to cycle.

We often get asked where is best to stay in the Alps, or which are the best climbs to take on. So to continue our series through Le Tour we’ve listed our five best climbs in The Alps. Have we missed any of your favourites?

Remember to hire the bikes for your Alpine adventure through Bicilet!

Col de la Madeleine

  • The Tour has tackled the Madeleine 25 times since 1969…it really is one of the must-ride climbs in Europe. A stunning climb, the approach from the South (starting in La Chambre) is a steep 19km at 8%, summiting at the 2,000m mark. No doubt, this is one of the hardest climbs in the Alps, but in my view is also one of the best. It has 40 hairpins (we stop counting…), and the road surface is great. The biggest challenge is the length and altitude – it takes c.1 hour for the pros to climb (at race pace), so will likely take the average Joe close to twice that. If you want a big day out, however, why not combine it with other nearby climbs? (The Croix de Fer, Glandon and Toussuire are all close)

Alpe d’Huez

  • No list of climbs in The Alps could be complete without the infamous 21 hairpins of the Alpe d’Huez. There are harder roads nearby, but the Alpe has reached near mythical status amongst cycling fans. Often used as a summit finish, it has been the scene of many GC showdowns in the Tour. It starts steeply, hitting 10% in an instant – and soon you will be looking down into the valley, simultaneously feeling the presence of the roads to come directly above you. Each hairpin is numbered, so you’ll be able to count your way up (interesting side note – this is often attributed to the Tour de France, but was really done to help Snow Ploughs count their way up).

Col d'Izoard

Col d’Izoard

  • This really is a glorious climb. Much higher (it peaks at 2361m) and wilder than the Alpe, the scenery at the summit of the Izoard is magnificent. It can be climbed from either the North or South, but we prefer the original, more challenging route from the south. The climb starts later, but it is worth pushing off in Guillestre, from where you are soon into an impressive gorge, in which you can enjoy the winding road, with the river Guil below. You’re then into some luscious meadows and woodland, winding up the valley, before a steep ramp into some trees, before then coming out into the barren Casse Déserte. It will be tough at this point, but make sure you enjoy the view – it really is like no other.  

Col du Galibier

  • At 2,645m, and one of the centrepieces of this year’s Tour (and many before), this is a must-ride climb. It can be climbed from both sides, but the traditional climb starts in Valloire to the North. You’ll need to do the Telegraphe first though, so be ready for a big day out. To give you some perspective, Valloire is about the same height as the Grand Colombier. From there, it starts off relatively steadily (mid-single digits) before pitching up to high single digits for the last 7-8kms. The last kilometre is really tough though – the 10% will test whatever reserves you have left. Again, admire the view…if you feel able!

Col du Glandon

  • One of the most captivating mountains in The Alps, this is a tale of two climbs… The first half of the climb is a relatively consistent 7-8%, following some winding streams up the mountain. It levels off slightly through St Columban des Villards, before the second half of the climb comes – with a sting in the tail! Out of the village it starts steeply, before settling into something steadier. Don’t relax though – the last 2-3kms are a really tough 11%, as the road zig-zags to mount the valley wall. You’ll see the wall coming before you start climbing. You are rewarded, however, with some of our favourite views in the Alps – stretching to Mont Blanc.

Some other highlights…

  • If five is not enough for you, then why not check out these climbs too?
    • Col du Télégraphe – the gateway to the Galibier – but a climb worth it in its own right. A tough, but consistent climb, it’s a good one for getting into a rhythm on. You then have a c.5km descent before the Galibier starts! (
    • Croix de Fer – Runs parallel to the Glandon, and is often climbed in tandem. There are amazing views at the top... Our preference is to climb the Glandon and then head across to the Croix de Fer (for little extra effort) to reach the summit. (
    • Col de l’ISeran – the highest paved mountain pass in the Alps, at 2,770m, starting in the ski resort of Tignes. Amazing views reward the high-altitude effort! (

Just a quick note – if you are looking to cycle some of the famous climbs, do plan ahead – a lot of the climbs will not be open until Mid-May, and close again in October. Also, remember to pack a lightweight jacket when cycling, it gets pretty cold at 2,000m+, even riding in the mid-August sun!

Henry: 20th Jul 2017 10:35:00