Le Col du Glandon (1 924 m)
The col that goes on and on and on. Just when the finish is approaching and the air is getting thinner, the legs are straining, you must climb the final 3 km stretch at 10%. If this doesn’t finish you, you will be rewarded with some of the most beautiful views in the French Alpes. The Iron Cross can also be reached a further 3kms up the road if you have the energy. The Glandon is a wonderful mix of agony and ecstasy. 20kms of climbing at an average of 7.2%, with a 3km wall at 10% to reach the summit. You’ll be climbing on a smooth ribbon of tarmac, through some of the most scenic and spectacular landscapes in the Maurienne Alpes.
The route of the Glandon pass was opened in 1898 and has been linked to that of the Col de la Croix de Fer since 1912, allowing direct access to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. The pass is named after the Glandon river which you follow as you make your way up the pass. As you look up the torrent becomes more wild, the landscape opens up into green mountain pastures and you wonder where the road goes and can it be passed.
In the summer of 1944 (July/August), while the main forces of Germany were landing in Provence, a small mobile group of French mountain soldiers from Oisans temporarily repelled another German attack near the pass; a memorial can be seen to mark the achievement.
Unlike most of the cols in the Maurienne and the Alpes, due to its altitude and location. It is only open from June to October. Those brave enough to ride the col in late May/early June will ride through walls of cleared snow and ice at the top. Any time of year it is always fresh or cold at the top, so always pack a wind jacket. At the summit pass, the view opens to the valley of Olle, which flows to Grand’Maison Dam and the Oisans Valley. Then, 3 km to the east looms the Col de la Croix de Fer, surmounted by the Etendard peak (3464 m) and Its eternal snow.
Love them or hate them, as you ride on and on towards the summit of the Glandon, you will be counting those little yellow and white markers on the side of the road that tell you how many kilometers remain and the average gradient for that kilometer. Sometimes it’s best to put your bike computer in your jersey pocket and try not to look at the markers.
The Col du Glandon has been crossed a total of 15 times in the Tour de France.
Col de la Croix de Fer (2 067 m)
The Iron Cross, even the name is intimating. You’ll need legs as strong as iron to tackle this giant of the Maurienne. This is a classic pass as it connects the Maurienne Valley and Oisans, with it’s famous Alpes d’Huez. Featured many times in the Tour de France and the Marmotte Gran Fondo. Starting from St Jean de Maurienne you tackle the northeastern slope. The climb starts at the “Grand Opinel” roundabout. At 30kms long, the average gradient is deceiving due to the undulating route with some downhill and flat sections that hides the steep gradients ahead.
Topped by the Etendard peak (3664 m) and its glacier, the Col de la Croix de Fer gives you a magnificent view of the Aiguilles d’Arves and the Arvan valley on one side, and the peaks of the Sept-Laux massif on the west side. The pass overlooks the village station of Saint-Sorlin–d’Arves / Les Sybelles which marks your final assault to the summit. You have 7kms at 8%, made up of 8 ramps or turns to make before the summit, when you pass the small lake you are nearly there. An interesting fact, the col was formerly called Col d’Olle because it’s located at the source of the L’Eau d’Olle river, it owes its current name to a magnificent iron cross which sits at the top of the pass.
The Tour de France has used this pass 20 times since 1947. Until 1986, it was classified as a Category 1 climb, then in 1989 it became an “out of category”. This pass was crossed twice during the Tour de France 2015, on stages 19 and 20. The last appearance was in 2018.