Cycling Col de l’Iseran – France

Bourg St Maurice – Col de l’Iseran 40km

The Col de l’Iseran, at an altitude of 2,770m, is the highest sealed mountain pass in Europe. It is a popular challenge for cyclists in summer.

Riding Notes

The ride starts in Bourg St Maurice (807m), continues through the ski town of Val de Isere (1,837m)and onward up the Col de l’Iseran. The first stage of the ascent is at a medium gradient and passes a couple of lakes. The route steepens after leaving Val de Isere and the open scenery makes for enjoyable riding.

Our Experience

We started at Bourg St Maurice but unfortunately an electronic sign confirmed our fears that the top section of the pass was closed due to snow (the manual signs all said open). We were well underway and this was our last shot at riding so we kept on going in the mist and rain. The road had a good gradient and was enjoyable until the nerve racking tunnels (a few were without lights and asphalt). We conquered the lower section (1000m climb) to Val de Isere, which is a flash ski resort in winter but very friendly in mid summer. We were greeted by a mid-summers festival complete with Swiss men in lederhosen playing enormous swiss horns – they sounded amazing.

The snow level was only just above the village and we decided not to climb the barrier to complete the ride – we could envisage ending the trip lost in a blizzard wearing riding gear! We sojourned in the town for the night (and celebrated Di’s birthday). The next morning we set off for the upper section of the pass in bright sunshine – worth the wait.

Mark followed a couple of racing bikes up the hill and made the 1000m climb in 1 hr 19 min, Susan took a more leisurely pace to enjoy the views but still got up in 1 hr 45min. The views from the top were amazing but it was pretty alpine and our hands almost froze off on the ride down with the wind chill!

On the way up we were overtaken by a handful of road cyclists. These guys were amazing and Mark couldn’t believe he was being overtaken while riding at 16km/hr+ up a steep and steady incline. We thought we were fit but some of these guys were absolute machines. Others on their ultra-lite road bikes looked a bit dejected at being overtaken as we clunked past with our motley collection of suspension, bag racks, sneakers etc.


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