On the northern end of the Aravis mountain range, at an altitude of 1613 m, the col links the town of Cluses to the north-east with Le Grand-Bornand and La Clusaz to the south-west.
Climbing the Col de la Colombière
The Col de la Colombière is shorter and less steep when climbed from Le Grand Bornand than from Scionzier, the village on the other side. “Only” 11.7 kilometres from Le Grand Bornand with an average gradient of 5.9%, it is is 16.3 km from Scionzier, with a deceptive average grade of 6.8%. In our Alpine Cols week we climb it twice, once from Scionzier on Tuesday and once from Le Grand Bornand on Thursday.
From Le Grand Bornand
This relatively easy climb begins in Le Grand Bornand, an Alpine village with lots of character. The climb has little variation in gradient apart from the final kilometre, which is much steeper at 9%.
The road heads off straight up the valley, then switches back and forth in a couple of hairpin bends before it reaches the head of the valley. It curves around, hairpins again and climbs steeply to the summit in front of impressive rocky cliffs.
The views from the summit are splendid, and there is a restaurant and a parking area for hikers.
Scionzier is in the Arve valley, next to the better-known Cluses. Although some say the Col de la Colombière starts in Cluses, the real climbing starts at the exit from Scionzier. There are two distinct sections to this long and tough climb.
The first section is in the forest, climbing along the flank of a valley and gaining almost 400 m over 6 km. The grade increases steadily, first 3.5%, then 4.5%, then 7%, to finish with 2 km at 8.5% before the road levels out to a gentle 2% – 3% on the intermediate plateau.
From Le Reposoir the sharply steeper road takes a few loops to gain height quickly, and then clings to the NW side of the valley, climbing steadily. With 4 km to go it rounds a shoulder and the vista opens up to reveal the distant summit. The chalet is clearly visible as one climbs in low gear up the 9% and 10% grade.
The landscape is rocky and mountainous, and it is with a real sense of achievement that one finally arrives at the summit.
The Col de la Colombière in the Tour de France
The Col de la Colombière has been crossed 20 times in the Tour, 14 times from Le Grand Bornand (usually on the way to Morzine via the Col de Joux Plane) and 6 times from Scionzier. The first person over was the Spaniard Fernando Manzeneque in 1960 from Aix-les-Bains to Thonon-les-Bains. The second time saw British cyclist Barry Hoban first over on his way to win the 19th stage from Grenoble to Sallanches-Cordon in 1968. Famous climbers to be first over the Col include Luis Herrera in 1985, Richard Virenque in 1997 and Marco Pantani in 2000. Floyd Landis was first over on the infamous 2006 stage where he regained the yellow jersey, only to be tested positive for testosterone and thrown out of the race.
The Tour last visited the summit of the Colombière in 2010, when Christophe Moreau was first on the 9th stage. The lead changed several times as riders attacked during the climbs to the Aravis, the Saisies and the Madeleine. The stage was won by Sandy Casar, and Andy Schleck took the yellow jersey. Schleck wore the jersey until the 15th stage, from Pamiers to Bagnères de Luchon in the Pyrenees, where he lost it to Contador after a controversial mechanical incident with his chain. 18 months later Contador was disqualified for his test for clenbuterol, and Schleck was declared winner of the 2010 Tour.
David Millar writes movingly in his book Racing through the Dark about his battles on this epic 2010 stage. He had been injured in a series of crashes earlier in the race, but after a rest day decided he was better and didn’t need to take any more pain killers. As he writes,
“This turned out to be a mistake … From the lowest slopes of the Colombière, I was adrift, unable to stop my rapid slide out of the back of the bunch and into the convoy of following cars. Worse, every time I lifted myself out of the saddle to try to pedal a bit harder, my back began to spasm and there were stabbing pains from my ribs … I was dropped on my own – the first rider to go. There were just under 180 km remaining in the stage and four mountains to climb. I was unequivocally, irredeemably, f***ed.”
After an astonishing show of determination, climbing the Colombière, the Aravis, the Saisies and the Madeleine all alone, Millar made the finish line just before the cut-off, going on to finish the Tour in Paris.
Tour de France 2016
The Tour will cross the col de la Colombière for the 21st time in 2016, on Saturday July 24th during the 20th stage from Megève to Morzine. The stage is 146km long, and passes over four major cols, the col des Aravis, the col de la Colombière, the col de la Ramaz and the col de Joux Plane.
The Tour will be in our local area for three days in total. Thursday July 22nd will be Stage 18, a 17km hill time-trial from Sallanches to Megève, including the fearsome Côte de Domancy where Bernard Hinault won the World Championshipo in 1980. Friday July 23rd will see another tough mountain stage, from Albertville to Saint Gervais, passing over the col de Tamié, the col de la Forclaz de Montmin, the col de la Forclaz de Queige, the Signal de Bisanne, the col des Saisies and the climb to Saint Gervais. All these climbs figure regularly or occasionally in the Alpine Cols training weeks.
Come and see the Tour for yourself during our Tour de France week: stay with us at the Beauregard 4* in La Clusaz, ride stages 18, 19 and 20 and watch the riders go by for an unforgettable experience!