Start Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, Savoie, France, 45.2157, 6.4749; Finish The Col du Galibier (2545m), 45.0640, 6.4081
Nearest town Name of the town nearest to the start of this route
Terrain Very good quality road surfaces due to it being a frequent stage in the TdF. The roads are wide and pleasant to cycle without too much bad traffic.
Seasonal variations The Galibier itself often has a dusting of snow in July and August so this is strictly summer only. The downside of that is you are likely to be hot on much of the ride but the summit is almost always cold.
Bike Hire Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne is not such a tourist spot. It may have bike hire but I haven't been able to find it. Valloire certainly does offer bike hire both road and mountain.
One of the great cols of the Tour de France included here with the prequel up the Télegraphe giving over 2000m of climbing and finishing at 2645m.
The Col du Galibier (2645m)
This superb col is almost as big as they come. The sustained climbing effort over first the Télegraphe, and then the Galibier itself, is a major trip for any road-biker. Although never desperately steep it is unrelenting and a bigger undertaking than other giants like Mont Ventoux from Bedoin.
The scenery is spectacular and follows the familiar pattern for a lot of Alpine road climbs - start in the trees (and usually extreme heat) and wind upwards higher and higher until you cross the tree-line. Then things usually get even hotter. With the Galibier though you actually get so high that it starts getting cold again. On our ascent the temperature was 35 degrees at the base of the Télegraphe and 5 degress on the summit of the col. Choosing the correct clothing for this can be quite tricky especially since you want to be as light as possible. A good windproof layer is essential, something with a bit of warmth in it will be very welcome on the descent.
The route itself is easy to follow since it is extremely well signed, and if you can't follow those then follow the other road-bikers.
This route card, together with the Croix de la Fer and Alpe d'Huez, make up the three big climbs on the Marmotte tour. This annual event starts in Bourg de Oisans at the foot of Alpe d'Huez, then takes the huge road loop round the afore-mentioned climbs before dropping down to the Col de Lautaret and back down through La Grave to Bourg de Oisans. To top it all off you finish up Alpe d'Huez. Although the event is on a single day, the course itself is a target for road-bikers all summer long. Having ridden all three major climbs of the Marmotte on separate days I under no illusion as to how hard this massive circuit is! A route card will follow if I ever get round to it.
45.2077, 6.4723 Start in Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne. If you need a warm up then park some distance out of town since the climbing starts pretty well immediately in the village.
45.1990, 6.4435 Most of the Télegraph climb is in the trees which offer some respite if it is hot. The angle isn't too bad on this section but it is fairly unrelenting. At the col the valley opens out ahead of you giving a distant glimpse of your journey to come.
45.1641, 6.4260 The next section descends to Valloire which comes as a slightly annoying distraction with its roundabouts and traffic. As you leave the village the angle is very gentle allowing you to ease yourself back into a rhythm.
45.1158, 6.4217 The immense valley provides great scenery around you while ahead you see it rising up blocking the way. A good section to get some tempo into your riding.
45.0855, 6.4349 The first big zig-zags are visible from a distance away and also mark a significant increase in angle - up to 10% to 12% on this section. This is the main section of the climb and one to take a steady approach on since it goes on for a looooong time.
45.0658, 6.4081 As the final section looms over you the road opens at a hotel and the entrance to the tunnel. This was the only way over until the final summit zig-zags were built in 1976 while the tunnel was restored. Now both ways are open but don't even think about taking the tunnel option if you are on a road bike!
45.0632, 6.4081 The summit col - a remarkably constricted piece of land to finish a stage of the Tour de France as they did in 2011. There is no cafe here, just the endless descent back down. Don't linger here long if it is cold.