Unless you are a local cyclist, you have probably never heard of Mont Colombis (1734m)…! Not many people have, but for those in the ‘know ‘ and the connoisseurs of the French cycling world, it has earned the reputation of being one of the toughest road climbs in France, if not ‘THE’ toughest.
It is a pretty mountain situated in the Southern French Alps decorated with telecommunications masts on it’s summit and it is thanks to these masts there is a road! The climb is short but steep at 12km long with an average gradient of 9%. It is the perfect challenge for hill climbing cyclists and the reward at the top is a magnificent panoramic view over the Ecrins National Park, the Durance Valley and the beautiful turquoise waters of the Serre Poncon lake.
It is a relentless climb and it’s straight in, starting in the village of Remollon at around 674m of altitude. The first section takes you through the vines and orchards and with a gradient of 8% to wake you up! You then arrive at the quaint and very alpine, perched village of Theus (910m) where it steepens quite sharply to about 10% gradient. You can stop for some fresh mountain water at the fountain here.
As you continue you will pass the famous geological site of the ‘desmoiselles coiffées’ with it’s array of large boulders balanced precariously on thin pillars of rock. A welcome distraction from the pain and worth a stop to catch your breath and take some photos.
The road gets gradually steeper and steeper, reaching up to 16% gradient through a shaded forest. With your lungs burning, your muscles pushed to their limit, and your body crying out to you to stop, the final 1km sign appears. Enough to motivate you to reach the summit and appreciate your well earned reward of some of the best views in the Alps!
You may wonder, why it has never featured in the Tour de France?
The only reason there is a road winding it’s way up to the top of Mont Colombis is to service the telecommunications masts situated on it’s summit. It is a no through route – it’s just up and down the same way. For a huge event like the Tour de France and all the fan-fair it brings with it, there is not enough space at the top to manage the logistics of hosting an arrival and it is too dangerous to organize a route that goes up and down on the same road.
With it’s close proximity to the Serre Poncon lake and the popular Tour de France host town of Gap, you can include the Mont Colombis as a final challenge at the end of your tour of the lake or from the mountains surrounding Gap. There are numerous cycling routes in and around the area, including several famous Tour de France cols and routes, such as the Col de Noyer, Col de Manse, Col d’Izoard and the 100th anniversary time trial route overlooking the Serre Poncon lake. Within striking distance you also have Alpe D’Huez, Mont Ventoux, Col du Galibier and more! The area is a perfect base for a full on Alps cycling week.
Sally Guillaume is Director at Undiscovered Alps.