Briançon Climbing Weekend: Day Three

Sunday, our last day in the Alps, was long, so stay focussed. This could take a while!


The only thing I really knew I had to do this day was climb the Col d’Izoard, the highest, most famous climb in the area that I hadn’t done before. So that’s what I did.

The sign at top says there was going to be a race in a few days, which for a second made me think I should extend our stay. But saner heads prevailed (after checking my bank balance) and I decided that 3 days was enough.

The climb of Izoard starts right in Briançon, just on the edge of the center of town. This meant no warm-up, but it was, to be honest, pretty easy going for a long while. This is the large valley where Briançon sits, looking southwest.

I love the signposting on these big cols, but sometimes they might be trying a bit too hard. The good news is that you have no chance of getting lost once you are on the climb itself. This is the 15C church above the town of Cervières, 9km up the road. The church is basically the only building to have survived the heavy fighting and bombing that took place here during the liberation of Briançon, in August 1944.

The road really doesn’t do anything painful between here and the next place of habitation, Le Laus, a tiny hamlet with a very inviting café / restaurant (sorry, no photo).

From this little place the road finally starts behaving like a real climb and heads into the forest for a long series of switchbacks that are, to someone in the shape of his life, very enjoyable indeed!

Then, just as I was reveling in self love, someone in better shape than me passed by. I remain satisfied though, since he was the only one the rest of the day, and besides, I need to have motivation for next season!

A few kilometers further the trees disappeared and the summit came into view, just above the Refuge Napoleon, with it’s ‘good tartes, fast service, at all hours’…fast service – believe it when I see it!

At the summit I found two young guys to take my photo, somehow getting the whole monument in, but cutting me in half, not to mention my whole bike. They tried.

And finally a panorama of the summit itself, populated by cyclists, motards, and even roller bladers!

OK, not finally. Sorry. When you climb the cols in this area you will see references to the ‘Touring Club de France’, an organization started at the end of the 19th century to promote tourism, particularly to the upper classes (this ended when paid vacation was brought in before WWII and The Great Unwashed were also allowed to take trips). This organization was instrumental in opening up whole areas, previously isolated, to the tourist franc, and helped in creating – or at least improving – the many roads that now cross the highest passes in France.


And so it passed, I had a great descent back to Briançon, called Shoko away from the fort she was visiting, and made plans for the rest of the day: namely the Col du Lautaret.

This pass, made famous for what it is at the foot of (coming later..) more than anything else,  is a long (26km) roll up an unattractive and busy highway. But by ‘unattractive’ I mean ‘busy’, I guess. There were some sights to see.

But the overriding sense you get (in August, anyway) is ‘busy’.

Shoko wasn’t impressed by the traffic, but she powered up the road anyway…

…and climbed her 2nd col of the weekend.

I include the following photograph to highlight the struggle I’ve been having looking cool on the bike. How is that some people just fit on their machines and always look natural, while I look like the ‘before’ photo, where the ‘after’ is me sitting on my ass after the bike slips out from under me? It’s a serious question. Appearances are important in this sport…

I left Shoko to slowly freeze at this café…

…and turned right at the signs above, for my last ascent of the day.


Some of you will know that I have climbed the Col du Galibier before. For those who don’t, you now do and you can read about it by clicking on the link up there. However, this was a new side for me, having climbed from Valloire last year. It started like this.

That glacier is much bigger than it looks.

The road, for the most part, really wasn’t steep (6-7% for the first 6km) and I kept up a good pace, slowing occasionally to make sure the camera would be steady enough.

I remember well this descent from last year. It’s always fun to do descents like this because, even if you fall off the edge, you’ll just roll, as opposed to drop. It gives you a bit more confidence.

Around 2km from the top, I guess, it all unfolds in front of you. The summit is up there, where you would think it should be.

1 km from the top is this monument to Henri Desgrange, a famous pro rider from the very early days, and a more famous organizer of the Tour de France.

The last two km are around 9%, so not nothing, but I had lots in the tank still, amazingly, so I powered up that last click as if it were my first. I felt so damn good at top, I did a spontaneous (à la Steepclimbs) bike lift.

This was my first time basing myself in one spot to do any amount of cycling (I’m naturally a touring type, so usually go for the ‘A to B’ style of travel) and I found it extremely satisfying to just wake up and climb on the bike, knowing I had a long list of mountains to climb from my front door. Briançon has been used as a start town 22 times in the Tour de France and the same number as a finish town. Although I haven’t seen it used in their tourism literature, I think the city can start claiming ‘cycling mecca’ status and not be afraid of hyperbole.

I’ve got one more weekend like this planned in my calendar, this time with John for a ‘business trip’ of sorts. More on that next month!

15 thoughts on “Briançon Climbing Weekend: Day Three

  1. Bravo Shako and Gerry! These recent few posts have been a positive delight to read and view. I drink in all the views that your photos give us. Thanks much!

  2. Excellent write up as always and congratulations on some excellent climbs. Special recognition to Shoko, who did quite well. I am reminded of the scene in Pulp Fiction where Samuel L. Jackson says, “My wife is a vegeterian. That pretty much makes me a vegeterian too.” I think the same can be said of cyclists.

    The challenge of looking good with your bike on photos perplexes me as well. Anything other than modestly standing behind your machine with one handle on the saddle and the other on the handlebar, and I look like a doofus. I guess I should take that feedback and reflect a bit…

  3. Bravo Gerry. Col d’Izoard ranks as one of the toughest climbs I’ve done. It’s never ending and unrelenting. I was introduced to it during a race and it is tough! How depressed were you when you got to ‘the moon’ with the slight descent, only to see what still hung over your head to climb?

    • Unfortunately (or fortunately..) I did the other side of Izoard, so missed all the desert fun. I think the Briancon side if much easier than the one you did. I was tempted to descend the other side and see what all the fuss was about, but not THAT tempted.

  4. Nice job with the pictures! I must say, it feels great to heave the bike up in the air like that. I hope to one day hoist it at the summit of Galibier.

    Those are all magnificent climbs, but Galibier is truly the standout. I can only imagine how that glacier looked in person. One day .. one day ..

    • You wouldn’t be wasting your money on this type of vacation, Aaron, but I don’t need to tell you that! The great thing about Europe is that everything is so close, too, so for example, Alpe d’Huez, Croix de Fer, Glandon and Madeleine are literally down the road from Galibier. Very compact and user friendly mountain range.

  5. Gerry, thank you for posting these rides, they make great reading – I have a feeling that the number of your followers is going to increase.

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