Just inside the top 25 of Europe’s highest mountain passes, the Col d’Izoard (2,360 m) is located in the French Hautes-Alpes department.
It is part of the “Route des Grand Alpes”, running over the part of the D902 between (north-east of) Barcelonnette and Briançon.
That part first goes up and down the Col de Vars, runs through the famous Gorges du Guil from Guillestre and then up and down the Izoard to end in Briançon.
The Col d’Izoard has been in Tour de France stages no less than 36 times, lately in 2019.
In 2017’s stage 20, the Izoard was the only time the stage actually finished on its summit.
While Warren Barguil won that stage, more memorable and perhaps more impressive, at least for me, was Annemiek van Vleuten’s win in La Course, the one day women event.
While Barguil was actually slower on the ascend than runner up Romain Bardet, van Vleuten was only beaten by a handfull of (other) guys, out of the entire TDF peloton.
Several memorable moments have occurred on the Col d’Izoard, particularly the “expeditions” by Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet, among others.
Just past the equally famous Casse Déserte, after the short descend and just before the final 2 kilometers of the climb start, there is a memorial for Coppi and Bobet.
As there’s hardly – I couldn’t find anything useful – info on the renowned Casse Déserte, I’m just throwing in one of my own (well, Paula shot it) pictures.
Other than the TDF itself and the other French stage course “Critérium du Dauphiné”, the Giro d’Italia also included the Izoard in a stage 5 times, the last time in 2007.
The climb up the Col d’Izoard from Briançon to the summit is 19 km in length, with an elevation of 1,175 m, or an average gradient of 6% and a maximum gradient of 11%.
Up to Cervières the ascend of the Izoard is not too challenging, apart from a few stretches in the first 5 kilometers and about 2 km in the middle.
The “fun” starts past that village, whereas from Le Laus you’re done freewheeling.
The final 8 kilometers, you’ll climb 605 meters – on the upside, this part has (all) the hairpins and the views near the summit – where you can find the Refuge Napoléon to descend back to and have a snack – are overwhelming.
Which is why there’s usually a photographer in one of the last hairpins, where the shot has the Peygus range as a spectacular backdrop.
Speaking of photgraphers: I have never (i.e. all three times I did those) seen one in the final kilometer(s) of the other end…
I’ve only done this ascend once, during stage 1 of my Tour de France of 2017, when we were located in Briançon.
For the southern ascend, you can start in Guillestre from where the total distance to the summit of the Col d’Izoard is just over a whopping 31 km, at an average gradient of 4.3%.
Don’t be fooled by that average, though, as the first 16 km or so are hardly more than a warming up through the Gorges du Guil.
There’s a sneaky “rond point” (roundabout) around a war memorial that’ll get you out of the saddle, before you come to the the split between the D902 and D947 (direction Agnel) where you’ll turn left.
From there the ascent is just over 14 km long, gaining climbing over 1,000 m at an average gradient of 7.1%, a maximum of 12% and 4.4 km over 10%.
I have experienced (twice) that the part through the valley between Arvieux and La Draye can be as though as, or even thougher than, the final 7 km after you turn out of that valley.
Besides the grades being deceptive, the wind can be a factor to reckon with. I have stayered behind Paula in the car because it gave me some shelter from that in the steeper bits, especially between La Chalp and La Draye.
As mentioned above, this also is the ascend passing through the Casse Déserte, which gives you a few hundred meters of downhill before the final. The Bobet – Coppi monument is to your left, just before that final.
I’ve been up this end in my Tour de France of 2014 (stage 11) and 2017 (epilogue).
In 2014, I combined it with the Agnel and started the Col d’Izoard from the D902/D947 split; in 2017, I rode the full distance from Guillestre and the last two kilometers after I descended a bit from the summit after I climbed the other end (stage 1a), just to see the monument.
I had totally missed that in 2014 as I had no idea it was even there.
Since I passed it again during my last stage, I could’ve saved myself the trouble as it was freezing cold.
Oh well, better safe than sorry, right?