The hardest road bike climbs in France
Photos clockwise from top left:
#1 Col de la Loze (Meribel); #2 Col de Portet; #3 Mont Ventoux (Bedoin);
#4 Col du Madeleine (La Chambre); and #5 Col de la Croix de Fer (Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne).
Also visit our France Top 10 Most Epic Bike Climbs page.
The Big Climbs of the 2020 Tour de France:
Stage 8 September 5, 2020: Port de Balès + Col de Peyresourde
Stage 9 September 6 Col de Marie Blanque
Stage 15 September 13 Col du Grand Colombier
Stage 16 September 16 Col de la Madeleine + Col de la Loze
Today the Tour finishes on Col de la Loze from Meribel:
On September 16, 2020 (previously scheduled for July 15), Stage 17 (Grenoble - Col de La Loze) the Tour de France will feature for the first time France’s hardest bike climb. Christian Prudhomme’s Comments:
“Only a great champion will be able to win at the Col de la Loze! The stage profile invites the favourites of the Tour to be audacious. They don’t yet know the road that will take them on that day to the Col de la Madeleine and have no idea of what to expect once in the resort of Méribel. They’ll still have an extra 7 irregular kilometres to climb with several passages at over 20%.” LeTour.fr
Stage 17 Update: Colombia’s Miguel Ängel López won stage 17 feeling at home above 2,000 meters (his home in Colombia is at 2,500 meters). Race leader Primož Roglič extended his advantage while López moved into podium position at number 3.
Cycling France: The most historic cycling venues with the most famous climbs in the world. The hardest bike climbs in France are spread throughout several parts of the country. Not surprisingly, seven of ten are in the French Alps (half are in the incomparable Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne climbing zone), with one in the Pyrenees, and two of the three routes to the Mont Ventoux summit round out the French Top 10 Bike Climbs list.
Also visit our Most Famous Bike Climbs page to read more about some of the amazing bike climbs France has to offer. Also note that we have used the Fiets Index to rank all bike climbs on the PJAMM website.
#1 Col de la Loze
The most difficult road bike climb in France.
Cycling the hardest bike climb in France
Ride 22 kilometers gaining 1690 meters at 7.7% average grade.
This magnificent climb is located in the heart of French Ski Country, in the Graian Alps subrange of the French Alps, and was opened exclusively to cyclists in the summer of 2018. Col de la Loze is one of the best cycling experiences in Europe, since its last six kilometers are on a winter ski run, which, during the off season, is dedicated exclusively to cyclists. Col de la Loze is ranked the hardest bike climb in France.
On July 15, 2020, Stage 17 (Grenoble - Col de La Loze) the Tour de France will feature this mountain climb for the first time. Christian Prudhomme’s Comments:
“Only a great champion will be able to win at the Col de la Loze! The stage profile invites the favourites of the Tour to be audacious. They don’t yet know the road that will take them on that day to the Col de la Madeleine and have no idea of what to expect once in the resort of Méribel. They’ll still have an extra 7 irregular kilometres to climb with several passages at over 20%” (LeTour.fr)
#2 Col de Portet
Cycling Col de Portet
Ride 16.3 kilometers gaining 1405 meters at 8.6% average grade.
This is the only Top 10 French bike climb located in the Pyrenees. The climb is a World 100 (#81), and rightly so. We ride 16.4 km, gaining 1599 meters, to an elevation of 2209 meters, at a challenging 8.6% average grade. Along a one kilometer stretch after the giant hairpin at kilometer 1.5 there is a sheer cliff to our left (above photo group, top right). Terrifying . . . at least to me!
The Tour was here . .
Col de Portet was the Tour de France Stage 17 finish on July 25, 2018, its first appearance in the Tour. While the stage was a very short 65 kilometers, 38 kilometers of that was uphill. The stage began in Bagnères-de-Luchon and first climbed col de Peyresourde, then Col de Val Louron-Azet, before reaching the much more challenging Col de Portet. On July 25, Nairo Quintana broke away early on Col de Portet and won the stage. On this day Chris Froome would lose more time (+1.35 v. .52) to Geraint Thomas, the ultimate winner of the 2018 Tour de France.
#3 Mont Ventoux, Bedoin
Ride 21.5 kilometers gaining 1615 meters at 7.5% average grade.
One of the “Big Four” in our estimation, Mont Ventoux is on the same world renowned footing as Alpe d’Huez (although no climbs can match the fame of Alpe d’Huez), Tourmalet, and Stelvio. The traditional route up Mont Ventoux from Bédoin is extremely challenging (a Top 100 World Climb), scenic, and quite unique in the upper third of the climb with its barren limestone mountains looking more like desert than alps.
Well, they don’t call it the Bald Mountain for nothing . . .
One of the features of cycling Mont Ventoux that separates it from many of the other exceptional French and European climbs is that its unique radio tower at the top is visible throughout the climb. At times it seems this tower just refuses to grow any bigger no matter how fast we pedal! SportActive.net explains that this distinctive red and white building, resembling a lighthouse, was built in 1968 and is used as a meteorological station as well as to broadcast television signals.
Iconic radio tower atop Venoux is visible as we ascend the mountain.
The Tour de France has included Mont Ventoux in 17 stages from 1951 through 2020, and it has been the finish on 11 of those, most recently in 2016. “Mont Ventoux has become legendary as the scene of one of the most grueling climbs in the Tour de France bicycle race...Its fame as a scene of great Tour dramas has made it a magnet for cyclists around the world” (Mont Ventoux).
Charly Gaul Stage 18 1958
Photo: Cycling Passion, Charly Gaul on Mont Ventoux Tour de France 1958.
#4 Col De La Madeleine South
19 kilometers with 1480 meters at 8%.
Ride 18.8 kilometers gaining 1,477 meters to 1,957 meters at 8% average grade.
Col de la Madeleine South has been included in the Tour de France 26 times between 1969 and 2020. In the 2020 TdF, it will be Stage 17. This climb is a tale of two routes -- the southern approach of Col de Madeleine is very strenuous and a Top 100 World Climb, while the northern route is less difficult but extraordinarily beautiful. Although each is a little more of one than the other, both climbs are considered challenging and beautiful. If one finds themselves in the French Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes Region and certainly in the Savoie Department of eastern France, this is simply a must-do set of climbs. However, it is the southern approach which is ranked as the fourth toughest bicycle climb in France.
Col de Madeleine from La Chambre (south).
Col de Madeleine is one of the many exceptional HC climbs in the Saint Jean-de-Maurienne area (in our opinion one of the greatest climbing areas in the world -- Col du Galibier, Col du Télégraphe, Col de L’Iseran, Col de Glandon, Alpe d’Huez). Add that it has been featured in the Tour de France 27 times from 1969 (admittedly late on the scene) through 2020, and you have a true bucket list extraordinary climb!
Two cafes at the top.
#5 Col de la Croix de Fer North
Cycle 23 kilometers gaining 1610 meters at 7% average grade.
This is a wonderful and scenic climb near St Jean-de-Maurienne. There are three routes to the Col de la Croix de Fer (meaning “Pass of the Cross”), but it is the northern approach that is by far the most difficult of the three. The climb is often featured in, and thus made famous by, the Tour de France (19 appearances from 1947 through 2020).
The northern approach to Croix de Fer overlaps the entirety of Col du Glandon East, which is 12.1 miles and 5,000’ (Croix de Fer continues on another 1.8 miles/492’/5.3% from Col du Glandon to its summit).
#6 Col du Granon
Cycle 11.4 kilometers, with 1100 meters at 9.7%.
Col du Granon has been featured in the Tour de France only once, but wow, did it make a splash in 1986! It was on the Col du Granon that Greg Lemond worked with Swiss rider Urs Zimmermann to open a gap on his teammate, Bernard Hinault, and wrest the yellow jersey from him by finishing 3:21 ahead of Hinault. As we know, LeMond never gave the jersey up after that, and that year became the first American to win the Tour de France.
Cafe at the top.
#7 Cols du Télégraphe & Galibier
Cycle 35 kilometers, with 2075 meters at 5.5%.
We stitched together two of France’s most famous climbs to create France #7. We believe this is fair because there is only a 160 meter descent between Col du Télégraphe and the beginning of Col du Galibier, and that minimal descent is made up for in the first 2½ kilometers of the Galibier climb -- leaving another 15.5 kilometers and 1090 meters of climbing after that to the Col du Galibier.
Col du Galibier is part of the Route des Grandes Alpes, a tourist itinerary that begins in Thonon-les-Bains and travels over many of the most spectacular passes in France and Europe, which also includes Cols de L’Iseran, d’Izoard, and Bonette; the alternate route includes Croix de Fer and Madeleine.
Emile Georget, Col du Galibier, 1911.
Photo: Emile Georget
Included 32 times in the TdF since 1947 (post war Tour era) through 2020.
#8 Mont Ventoux - Malaucène
Cycling the mighty Bald Mountain from Malaucène.
Ride 21 kilometers (13.2 miles) gaining 1,522 meters (4,995’) at 7.2%.
There are three routes to the top of this mighty mountain (Map), although the route from Bédoin is by far the most popular and well known. The cycling climb of Mont Ventoux from Bédoin (#3 France) is also the most challenging of the climbs at 12.6 miles, 5,335 feet, and 7.75% average grade. Malaucene (#8 France) is not far behind in difficulty at 13 miles/5,230 feet/7.2%, while Sault is the “easiest” at 15 miles/4,779 feet/4.9%.
#9 Cime de la Bonette
Often (incorrectly) considered the highest road in Europe, (Pico de Veleta in Spain holds that honor -- by a good stretch), this is the more challenging approach to Col de la and Cime Bonette at 23 km / 1,632 m / 6.9% from the north, versus 25.5 km / 1,553 m / 6.1% from the south. The pass itself (just below Cima Bonette) is the second highest in Europe, behind Col de L'Iseran, but if we take the loop to Cima Bonette at the pass, we gain another 81 meters which tops out above L’Iseran.
Col de Bonette is part of the Route des Grandes Alpes, and has been featured four times in the Tour de France through 2020, but not since 2008 (1962, 1964, 1993 and 2008).
Federico Bahamontes was the first TdF cyclist over Col de La Bonette (1968, Stage 18).
Bahamontes was also first over Bonette in 1964, Stage 9.
Photo: Bettina Verbeek, Flickr.
#10 Col du Glandon East
#10 on the France Top 10 list.
Cycle 19.6 kilometers, 1530 meters at 7.4%.
Col du Glandon from the east and west overlap with Col de la Croix de Fer. Croix de Fer West overlaps Glandon West entirely and then climbs another 2.7 kilometers and 151 meters to its col. Croix de Fer North overlaps Glandon East entirely and then climbs 2.7 km and 151 meters to the Croix de Fer col. A map of the Glandon and Croix de Fer ascents is located here.
Through 2020, Col du Glandon has been included in the Tour de France 13 times since it was first introduced in 1947. After 1947, Glandon was not included until 1977, and has been included sparingly thereafter (averaging once about every four years, 13 times in the 43 years). The Glandon climbs are in the Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne climbing zone.
 We have chosen to use an objective index to quantify and rank climbs, The Fiets Index (developed by the Dutch cycling magazine Fiets). The actual formula is: [H^2/D*10] + (T-1000:1000; but only if greater than 0)
H = ending elevation minus starting elevation in meters.
D = total distance traveled in meters.
T = Height in meters.
Note: Only add T-1000 if that number is greater than zero.
 Note that officially the TdF has featured Ventoux 16, not 17 times. This discrepancy is the result of Lance Armstrong being stripped of all TdF conquests, the 2012 TdF is removed from the books, including Mont Ventoux’s Stage 13 which was won by David Millar of Great Britain.