Few things are more annoying than driving along a French autoroute with me as I endlessly point up at mountains yelling the names of cycling climbs high above (ask my wife). If we were heading south from Annecy towards Chambéry, near Aix-les-Bains, I would look left and yell "Mont Revard," then looking right "Mont du Chat!" At this point you might yell bull-shit. Because looking at the forested massif rising above Lac du Bourget it seems impossible that a bike could reach the top.
In 2007, Le Cycle magazine called Mont du Chat possibly the toughest climb in France. An exaggeration perhaps, but it's relentlessly 10% and above, with few hairpins for encouragement, finally reaching the telecommunication tower at the summit (locals will call this Relais du Mont du Chat. The west side that the Tour will climb is even slightly tougher.
Local Knowledge: Cat Mountain? Chat means Cat in French, but this is not the origin of the name of this mountain. Do you really think a thousand years ago people were naming places after cats? The old French word Chas - pronounced like Chat (the "s" and "t" endings are silent) - means "eye of the needle" and describes the distinctive massif when viewed from the north.
Mont du Chat 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 an equally steep descent. I believe they are going in the opposite direction this time, but it's worth noting that the final descent of this stage is ..... insanely steep.
I hold the record for the ugliest jersey to ever cycle Mont du Chat (Lac du Bourget below, Mont Revard across):
Geologists will debate where the Jura mountains end and the Alps begin, but a good rule of thumb is anything west/north of the Rhône river is a Jura. And all three of these gigantic climbs are certainly in the Juras. From Les Lacets du Grand Colombier (appeared in 2016 TdF) one can see Lac du Bourget and Mont du Chat in the distance. River and canals below.
Back in 2011, at a round-table of Podium Café editors we felt we could stay silent no more and published an editorial highlighting the gross injustice of excluding from the Tour de France some of the greatest climbs in France. Top of the list: Grand Colombier and Mont du Chat. Well done Monsieur Prudhomme, better late than never.
Grand Colombier is becoming a Tour de France favourite. Long used as the feature climb in the Tour de l'Ain, this will be Grand Colombier's 3rd Tour appearance (2012, 2016). This is the place in the article when I remind you that this is NOT Col de la Colombière - an Alp a few dozen kms away.
Local cyclists compete to become a "grand master" of the Confrérie des Fêlés (brotherhood of the crackpots) du Grand Colombier by cycling all four sides of this crazy mountain on a single day - it's roughly as much climb as all three sides of Ventoux (your author is a lowly "member" of the club, managing just two sides). This is cycling country: every second Saturday of the month June-Sept. The road is closed to motorised traffic from the Culoz (Lacets) side.
This stage will be another recent example of the Tour slowly eroding its reputation for not using steep roads. All three climbs are full of 10% and above. Amazingly, the Tour will climb the super steep 4th side of Grand Colombier with a stretch at 22%, and consecutive full kilometres averaging 13% and 15%. Ouch.
And while the summits might not seem super high (Chat 1504 metres, Colombier 1501m, Biche 1310m), remember that these climbs start far lower than most Alpine roads. Almost half a vertical kilometre lower than Alpe d'Huez for example.
Col de la Biche may be the little brother of the group but it is a challenge in its own right with several full kilometres averaging 10% or more. I assume it's hors categorie. It is in the same massif as Grand Colombier just to the north. Here is a loop using both climbs.
Local Knowledge: Look on an official French IGN map and you won't find Col de la Biche, instead it is called Golet de la Biche. Golet being an old word for col sometimes used in the region. Separately, a Biche is a female deer.
One of the reasons these three climbs are so much fun by bike is that they are so quiet. None of these roads are short-cuts to the far side of a mountain (Mont du Chat even has a car-only tunnel down below: Tunnel du Chat). Golet de la Biche in particular is deserted, I've cycled it and seen zero cars. A pleasure.
A Final Word
The Jura mountains are full of challenging quiet roads perfect for cycling and these are three of the toughest and quietest. And if this hasn't convinced you to come visit, every summer I hold hay surfing classes in the shadows of Grand Colombier: