Cycling Col de la Croix de Fer from the west.
Ride 30.7 kilometers gaining 1,513 meters at 4.4% average grade (6.1% climb only).
An epic climb made famous by the Tour de France.
Col de la Croix de Fer from the east and west completely follows the same route as Col du Glandon but for the last 2.5 kilometers at 5.3% average grade. Both are famed climbs which have been included in the Tour de France many times.
Here are the basic statistics for the three Croix de Fer climbs, together with the overlap information for Col du Glandon:
- Col de la Croix de Fer West: 30.7 kilometers gaining 1,513 meters at 4.4% (6.1% climb only)
- Col du Glandon West: 29 kilometers gaining 1363 meters at 4.1% (5.6% climb only; all overlapping Croix de Fer West).
- Col du Glandon East (Saint-Étienne-de-Cuines): 20.2 kilometers gaining 1,461 meters at 7.3% (all overlapping Croix de fer North).
The approach to Col de la Croix de Fer from the west begins by riding north on D526 at the 30 kilometer sign (start of the TdF climb) just after crossing the Romanche River and Route D44. The jewel of this climb is the earthen dam, coupled with the beautiful blue waters of Lac de Grand Maison, the glacially formed lake we ride by from kilometers 22 to 26.
FIRST SEGMENT - START TO LAC DE GRAND MAISON (KM 22.2)
Pass Lac du Verney from kilometer 3.5 to 5.6
The actual ascent doesn’t commence until the seventh kilometer, with the initial seven kilometers having an average gradient of 1.1%. We start our route at at the 30 km marker because this point marks the commencement of the Tour de France route and its kilometer markers.
This route services both Col du Glandon and Col de la Croix de Fer (the Iron Cross).
Scenes along the first half of the climb.
We descent 700 meters and 4 hairpins at kilometer 14.8 (photo top left)
SEGMENT 2 - LAC DE GRAND MAISON
We reach Lac de Grand Maison at kilometer 22.2 and ride along its northern edge for the next 3.7 kilometers. The first 2.2 kilometers are uphill, averaging 4% grade while the last 1.5 kilometers are at an average -3.6% grade.
This earthen dam is among our favorites, distinguished by its picturesque surroundings, prominent visibility upon approach, and the conspicuous series of five hairpin turns ascending its face
We can ride right up to the dam, although there is a gate blocking the road across it. After observing several hikers walk across the dam, we did venture out onto it.
The Lac de Grand Maison is a man-made reservoir located in the Rhône-Alpes region of France, specifically in the Isère department. The lake was constructed between 1978 and 1985 and is positioned in a mountainous area that is renowned for its picturesque surroundings. It was formed by the damming of the Eau d'Olle river and is primarily used for hydropower generation. Due to its elevated location, the lake is also a popular destination for hiking and offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
The reservoir is at 1,698 meters elevation.
SEGMENT 3 - NORTHERN END OF LAC DE GRAND MAISON (KM 25.5)
TO THE FORK TO COLS DU GLANDON OR CROIX DE FER (KM 28)
We are bordered by gentle hillsides as we climb the 2.4 kilometers at 6.6% to the fork for Glandon or Croix de Fer.
Stay right at the fork and continue on to Col de la Croix de Fer (or, ride up 150 meters to Col du Glandon then back down to the fork, turn left and hear on up to Croix de Fer).
FORK AT KM 28 TO COL DE LA CROIX DE FER
2.6 kilometers at 7% to the Col.
The Col de la Croix de Fer signs are on the route for this climb that begins from the west. On our eastern approach the kilometer markers are for Col du Glandon but for the last 2 kilometers up to Col de la Croix de Fer.
Stunning scenery and old road monuments over the last 2.6 kilometers.
The reservoir Eau d’Olle is visible to the west as we finish the Croix de Fer climb.
Eau d’Olle is one of the predominant features on the western approach to Croix de Fer.
We see the 3 peaks of Aiguilles d’Arves (3,514 meters/11,529’) as we approach the col.
Points of interest at or visible from the Col de la Croix de Fer
Looking back towards Col du Glandon near the finish of our climb.
The Col sign, iron cross and cafe are at the finish of the climb.
We had a very nice lunch at Chalet du col de La Croix de fer at the finish.
The Les Sybelles photo op frame is to the left just before the summit when riding from Saint Jean de Maurienne
You can also hike 50 meters up to a World War I memorial.
TOUR DE FRANCE
Gino Bartali and Louison Bobet -- Croix de la Fer TdF 1948.
Photo: Silvano Bottaro, Pinterest
It was on the Croix de Fer on Stage 18 (July 22) of the 1986 Tour de France that Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault distanced themselves from the all others and dueled for the stage win. Hinault, in search of what would have been a record sixth Tour victory, was trying to make up three minutes lost the day earlier to Lemond on the Col d’Izoard on Stage 17. He attacked on Col du Galibier and Croix de Fer but could not shake Lemond and the two crossed the line in the same time with Hinault winning the stage, but Lemond the tour.
Greg Lemond on the Croix de Fer in 1989 (his second of three TdF wins).
Photo: Steve Selwood
Vincenzo Nibali took heat for looking back at disabled Froome on TdF 2015 Stage 19, then attacking.
Col de la Croix de Fer has appeared in the Tour de France 21 times between 1947 and 2023.
© PJAMM Cycling.
Wikipedia has a good summary of this popular pass:
“Col de la Croix de Fer (English: Pass of the Iron Cross) (el. 2067 m.) is a high mountain pass in the French Alps linking Le Bourg-d'Oisans and Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
The approach from the northeast from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is 29.5 km at an average gradient of 5.5% with some sections at 9.5%, and the one from the southwest from Rochetaillée 31.5 km at an average gradient of 5.75% with short sections in excess of 11%. When coming from Rochetaillée, the road forks 2.5 km before the summit, leading to the Col du Glandon. There is also an approach from the north from La Chambre via Col du Glandon which is the hardest: 22.7 km at an average gradient of 7.0% (this is the route used for the 2012 Tour de France).
The pass has featured in the Tour de France nineteen times since it was first passed in the 1947 tour when the race was led over the summit by Fermo Camellini. It was crossed on Stage 11 of the 2012 race, between Albertville and La Toussuire-Les Sybelles. In the 2015 race it was passed twice in the two finale mountain stages stage 19 between Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire - Les Sybelles, and from the other side in stage 20 between Modane to Alpe d'Huez. The route for stage 20 was changed in June 2015 caused by a landslide in April so Col de la Croix de Fer substitutes both Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier” (Wikipedia - Col de la Croix de Fer).