It would be understandable if some Tour de France fans believed there was a shortage of mountains in France. Because the same few climbs seem to show up every Tour. Sometimes twice in a single year.
Col du Tourmalet will be climbed for the 77th time in 2011 - after being climbed twice last year. In 2011, Col du Galibier will make it’s 58th and 59th appearances. Col d’Aubisque it’s 72nd. Alpe d’Huez makes its 26th appearance since 1976.
Col du Galibier - not again? flickr
While the above are all undoubtedly wonderful climbs, there are dozens of deserving locations that have been largely ignored by Tour organizers.
Here are 5 climbs with little or no Tour de France history that deserve better. They are all interesting, challenging, and beautiful.
1. Col du Grand Colombier
Don’t confuse this Jura mountain giant with it’s more famous but easier Alps cousin: Col de la Colombière. Colombe means "dove" but there is nothing peaceful about the inclines here. With consecutive full kilometres averaging 13% and 15% this is not for the faint of heart.
There are four sides up to Col du Grand Colombier. All are very steep with plenty of gradients in the teens. The shortest variant above has a stretch of 22%.
For details of all four side see here.
Local cyclists compete to become a "grand master" of the Confrérie des Fêlés (brotherhood of the crackpots) du Grand Colombier after cycling all four sides of this crazy mountain on a single day. (Your author is a lowly "member", managing just two sides).
Col du Grand Colombier has become the feature climb on the last day of the pro cycling event: Tour de l’Ain held every August.
2. Mont du Chat
Le Cycle Magazine once called Mont du Chat perhaps the toughest (paved) climb in France. I think there are harder, but it’s fairly brutal.
The route starts on the edge of Lac du Bourget - the largest natural lake in France - just north of Chambéry. The finish is a telecommunications tower at the summit directly above the start. There are only a few hairpins as this monster heads up with ever improving views of the Lake below.
Sadly, this climb has only appeared once in the Tour de France. In 1974, "Poo Poo" Poulidor dropped 5x champion Merckx going up only to be caught on the even steeper descent.
3. Col du Granon
Col du Granon, has appeared only once (1986) in the Tour, but at more than 2400 metres is still the highest mountain top finish in Tour de France history (Galibier will break this record in 2011). Just north of Briancon, surrounded by high alps, this steep, narrow road winds up to an old military barracks.
The great views and steep slopes means a stiff neck is a certainty while descending.
4. Plateau des Glières
This plateau at the north edge of the Alps was a major base of the French resistance in WW2 and the site of the Battle des Glières where 122 resistance fighters were killed after being surrounded by 5000 Nazis. It is now home to "le monument national de la résistance. "
The climb itself hairpins steeply up the massif des Bornes with great views of a cliff waterfall and the valley below.
President Sarkozy makes annual pilgrimages to the national monument to remember the resistance. A Bastille day mountain-top finish to this most patriotic of French locations would be an event.
The Glières national monument above represents the sun held in a hand (and not a rounded headed guy waving).
5. Col de l’Iseran
Col de l’Iseran is the highest paved col (mountain pass) in France - and Europe (Cime de la Bonette is not a col).
The un-developed south side is steeper and a beautiful, thrilling road. It’s an astonishing climb. The north side from Bourg-St-Maurice is far less steep but it’s the longest top to bottom climb in France at almost 50 kms. Above Val d’Isère the road seems to literally go over the Alps.
Iseran has in fact appeared 7 times in the Tour de France (but only twice since 1963) . Still, this stunning giant deserves a larger place in the pantheon of legendary Tour climbs along side Galibier, Tourmalet, and the Alpe.
Every time Galibier gets climbed I think of the missed opportunity to showcase Iseran.
A final word:
The Tour has added some interesting new climbs recently. For example, it’s exciting to see the gigantic Col Agnel make its second Tour appearance this summer - although it will appear too early in the stage to be noticed by most. Still, it’s a good sign.
When I see the 2012 route announced, I am hoping to see the usual suspects spurned in favor of lessor known but equally deserving alternatives like the 5 climbs listed above.