Col de l’lseran (2 770 m) – Breathless
It’s wild, intimidating, lonely, epic, it will leave you breathless and you must do it. It is one of the most remote and beautiful climbs you can do, it is also one of the toughest because of the altitude and the constant gradient. The highest and most remote of the Maurienne Valley and the Alpes, the pass is 2770m allowing it to connect the Maurienne valley to the Tarentaise. If you start from Bonneval-sur-Arc, you will only have 1000m of elevation to climb to reach the summit of the pass. But, many cyclists consider that the real departure is in Lanslebourg.
So you will first have to cross the small Col de la Madeleine (1750m, the little sister to the 20km Col de la Madeleine at 2000m ), which smacks you straight away without a warm-up with 10%, then you ride 7 km of false flat on to Bessans and to Bonneval-sur-Arc. As you approach Bonneval, you can see the ramps above you. You can see the road zig-zagging ever upwards. The 13kms may only average 7.8%, but there is plateau one-third of the way up to where the road flattens out. This is only a brief moment to catch your brief and mentally prepare for the final push.
The climb can be broken into 3 sections. The first 4kms the road is constant 8-9%, then you come to an opening in the pass, a small valley with a stream, and farm sheds. Then it is another constant drag to the summit. The final 2kms is roughly marked when you cross a small bridge, so save your legs then fight for the final right-hand bend when you see the sign on the road marking the summit. You will climb the wildest and picturesque side of the pass within the Vanoise National Park, you will see glaciers and whistling marmots. It has been classified “out of category” since 1992.
At the top, the view opens opposite towards the Grande Sassière (3747 m) and the Tsanteleina on the right (3608 m). On the Maurienne side, we see the Albaron (3637 m) above Bonneval. The pass is dominated by the Pointe des Leissières (3041 m) above the church and the Aiguille Pers (3428 m) on which we find the summer ski slopes of Val d’Isère. The Col de l’Iseran has only been crossed a total of 7 times by the Tour de France, including 5 since 1947. In 2019, it made a comeback during the snow neutralized stage 19: St-Jean-de-Maurienne to Tignes.
A road less traveled is always the best one to take on a bike.