The col du galibier is one of the main climbs in the region and a highlight for most cyclists who visit here. It’s not as steep as the stelvio or gavia but it’s a long climb with a lot of climbing. You can approach the Galibier from several places, but from Valloire it’s a nice and quiet road, only partly used by motorists (most of them are parking or going on to Briancon). You have stunning views of the mountains in the Ecrins National Park all over the climb.
During the first few kilometers the slope is fairly easy, allowing you to warm up and get into your climbing rhythm. As you progress the landscape changes and the road starts to become more serious. Once you’re above 2,000m you’ll feel the effect of altitude, your breathing will be labored and your legs will have less power. It is also often very windy at this height. Despite the challenges of this high mountain pass the spectacular views make it well worth the effort.
At the top of Galibier you’ll see a large tunnel, at the entrance of which is a statue honouring Henri Desgrange, the man behind the Tour de France. He introduced many climbs to the race during his time as Tour de France organizer from 1903 to 1937, but Galibier was undoubtedly his most important achievement. It was the first time a race had reached this height and it was a huge challenge for riders on their crude single-speed bicycles.
On the south side of the summit you’ll find a small chalet that serves food and drinks. There are several picnic tables where you can enjoy a break and take in the stunning scenery. The view is particularly impressive from the north side of the summit, as you can see all the way down to the valley floor and beyond to the glaciers in the north.
If you’re climbing the Galibier in summer it can be quite busy with cars on the pass, so it is best to start early and cycle before lunchtime. There’s a little cafe at the summit and another one just below the tunnel.
As you descend you’ll be rewarded with some stunning views of the summit and all the surrounding peaks, including Meije. The descent is fast and bumpy, with plenty of hairpins to negotiate. It can be a bit dangerous if you’re not careful, but you’ll be rewarded with some of the most incredible views of the Alps that you’ll ever see.