The Col de la Croix de Fer (2,067 meters) connects the Isère and Savoie regions. The area – on both sides – attracts many cyclists, as there are many famous climbs to be found, besides this one.
In Isère – centered around Bourg-d’Oisans – these include the Lautaret, Les Deux Alps, la Bérarde and “the most famous of them all”, the Alpe d’Huez.
In the Savoie region, centered around Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, you’ll find – among others – the Glandon, Télégraphe / Galibier and the Madeleine.
At the time I published this page, the Croix de Fer had featured in the Tour de France 17 times since 1947, most recently in 2017.
In 2015 it was included in 2 stages: stage 19 via the Col du Glandon from la Chambre and stage 20 from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
The latter stage was the result of an alteration, since the original stage route over the Télégraphe / Galibier was blocked because a landslide had made descending the Lautaret unsafe.
In stage 18, the climb from Rochetaillée was included too, but that took the left turn over the Glandon…
The northeastern approach from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is 29 km long, with an average gradient of 5.2%.
There are a few flatter sections in the route, totalling some 9 kilometers, including just over 100 meters of descend.
This is compensated with 14 kilometers at averages of 8.4%…
Just past the last and longest of a series of 3 tunnels, you can make a scenic detour, by taking the right turn over the D80B, direction Saint-Jean-d’Arves (la Tour / la Chal) / “Route Panoramique”, rejoining the “classic” route at Malcrozet.
I barely managed the classic ascend in 2012, when I was recovering from a bad crash – the Alpe d’HuZes team trained in the area for a few days and some of us combined this with the climb up the Alpe d’Huez.
At the time, it had only just opened up, but the summit was snow covered and freezing cold, the descent a menace to anyone’s health.
Still, the views higher up are fantastic and this climb should be on your “to do” list and I revisited it during my Tour de France 2021 stage 4 and the epilogue (panoramic route).
Pictures of 2021’s Tour here.
The approach from the southwest starts in Rochetaillée – after a flat warm up of some 3.5 kilometers and a short sprint up the barrage du Verney, the actual climb starts.
From there it’s 28 kilometer in length, with a moderate average gradient of 4.6%.
However, this side has one more serious drop of 100 meters and a lesser drop of 50 meters.
Taking those into consideration, the average gradient rises to 6.8%.
The toughest parts are just before Le Rivier and after the longer drop, crossing the Olle.
The long 8 to 9% straight after that, is followed by another (very) short drop, after which it goes up 9, 10% again…
This part, leading up to the barrage and the breathtaking view on the Lac de Grand Maison, is also the only part were you will find some picture worthy hairpins, other than the three in the descend just before it.
After the Lac, there’s another short downhill, before the last part of the climb.
About 3 kilometers before the summit, you’ll pass the left turn up the final meters of the Glandon.
Although the average gradient on the “home stretch” is only just over 6%, the wind can make those final kilometers of the Croix de Fer quite hard.
I climbed this end in 2014, including the short detour to the top of the Glandon – I descended by car to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne to continue my ride up the Télégraphe and Galibier…
During my Tour de France 2021, this climb was combined with the Mollard in my prologue.
Picture gallery 2014 here and 2021 here
Video from the barrage by the Col Collective here.
Col du Mollard
Another route leads over the Col du Mollard.
You can chose to start in Villargondran and take the D80, or take the D110 out of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
The latter joins the route over the D80 at Albiez-les-Vieux and both join the classic route at Belleville, some 14 kilometers from the summit of the Croix de Fer.
The descend to the connection with the Croix de Fer is some 6 kilometers…
Taking the D110, the Mollard is 17.7 kilometers long, at an average gradient of 6%, although two-thirds of it is close to 8%.
The 20.9 kilometers long ascend over the D80 averages 5.5%, is more regular and it has only a few stretches that are steeper
The Mollard can also be included when going in the opposite direction, i.e. not descend the full length of the Croix de Fer, but take the fork over the Mollard at Belleville.
This is also often the case when a Tour de France stage goes on to pass over the Galibier or heads for Modane. This climb is some 6 kilometers long, at an average of 6.8%.
I tackled the Mollard twice during my Tour de France 2021, after the Croix de Fer during my prologue and from Villargondran during stage 6.
Pictures of those ascends, you can find in the (2021) gallery mentioned above.
Col du Glandon
This alternative, starting north of Saint-Jean-de-Maurinne, in Sanit-Étienne-de-Cuines, goes via the Glandon.
At 22.7 kilometers and an average of 7%, 5 kilometer at 9% and a steepest kilometer at 11.4%, this is probably the hardest ascend.
The final 2.5 kilometers of the Glandon are often referred to as “hairpin heaven”, but they are also painfully steep, averaging 11%.
After the summit, at around 20 kilometers, it connects to the Croix de Fer for the final from Rochetaillee.
I took this route in 2014 – but only up to the summit of the Glandon – on my way to our one night stopover near Vaujany.
It was preceded by the climb up the Madeleine (from Feissons-sur-Isère) and even while I did read the profile card before, it still managed to completely wear me out…
During my Tour de France 2021, I ended up at the Glandon summit coming from the Croix de Fer (stage 4) for the descend, and climbed the “short” end from Saint-Étienne-de-Cuines during stage 2.
And also for these efforts, you can find pictures in the galleries mentioned above.