A Guide to Cycling the Col de la Colombière

Climb statistics and gradient profile

Gradient profile for Col de la Colombier from La Grand Bornand

Length: 11.9km / 7 mi

Average gradient: 5.9%

Start point: 923m / 3,028ft

Elevation at top: 1613m / 5,292

Category: Category 2

Nearest town: Le Grand Bornard

Facilities at top: Yes – Food and Water

When to ride: May to October

Road condition: Good Asphalt

Nearest climb: Col des Aravis

Number of approaches: 2

Through road at top: Yes

Suggested route – explore this loop via Chamonix

Ride distance: 158km / 98mi

Elevation gain: 3,714m / 12,185ft

We have put together a challenging cycling route from Chamonix which incorporates both the climb of the Col de la Colombière with the Col des Aravis. This route begins and ends in Chamonix, however depending on where you are staying you can adjust this to start and finish anywhere in the Chamonix Valley.

Downhill start and then the first climb to Megève

The first section of this ride is predominantly downhill. You depart the Chamonix Valley and then divert off the main road to take a switchback descent to the village of Vaudagne. From there you descend further still until you reach the spa town of Saint Gervais Les-Bains. Pay attention to these roads as this downhill section will be all uphill for your return trip. After the downhill, you will be straight into a long steady climb to the ski town of Megève. You will be on a mix of quiet forest roads as well as the busier main valley road until you reach the town itself. Megève serves as a good place to resupply with food and water before embarking on the next section of the route which includes the climb of the Col des Aravis.

Col des Aravis

The Col des Aravis is situated on the Route des Grandes Alpes and connects the departments of the Savoie with the Haute Savoie. The climb has been a regular feature in the Tour de France with 41 appearances. This approach from Flumet is the more difficult side to ride the Col. The early section of the climb is gentle and includes a short downhill as well. Once this is over the real test begins and whilst the average gradient for the entire climb is 4.9%, there are stretches of double-digit gradients which are very challenging.

Once you reach the four tight switchbacks the summit is quite close. Normally it can be a hive of activity with motorists, motorcyclists, cyclists, and hikers alike. There are also a number of restaurants and cafés where you can choose to restock if you require more food and water. On a clear day, it is possible to see Mont Blanc from the summit and the views are indeed spectacular. After taking in the view you will now get to enjoy a long descent of 11.7km / 7.3mi right to the base of the climb of the Col de la Colombiere.

Col de la Colombière

Just before reaching the village of Le Grand Bornard, the climbing begins again. Riding the Col de la Colombière from this southern approach is more forgiving, with an average gradient of 5.9%. This however is the third climb on this route and by now the legs will start to feel fatigued. You will be thankful for some easier stretches on the earlier sections of the climb. Once you reach the small ski village of Le Chinaillon the gradient starts to bite with more regularity and the final kilometers to the top may feel quite slow. Once you reach the summit you again have options to refuel at a restaurant and bar before you begin the next descent to Clusaz. There is a short and sharp climb of 4km / 2.5mi at over 8% hidden in this descent so be aware of this.

An uphill drag all the way back to Chamonix

From the bottom of the descent of the Colombière at Clusaz, you are now left with a long uphill section to round out this cycling route. The stretch of road between Clusaz and Saint Gervais Les-Bains is more of a false flat but with this much climbing already during the day, every incline will be felt. Once you reach Saint Gervais Les-Bains you can choose to shorten the ride by boarding a train back to Chamonix. Otherwise, the final challenging climb will involve another 579m /1,896ft of elevation at an average gradient of 4%. There are steep sections hidden in this climb – which you may remember from descending them at the beginning of the ride. Once you reach Chamonix no doubt you will be pleased with your efforts to complete this challenging circuit.

Variations to this route

This is a long and challenging route. You could choose to shorten the route by taking the train from Chamonix to Saint Gervais Les-Bains instead. This will leave you with a cycling loop which will still include three challenging climbs and a total distance of 100kms/ 62mi and 2057m / 6,749ft of climbing. Being a loop you could choose to do this in either direction.

A Guide to cycling in the Chamonix Valley

If you are not familiar with the Chamonix Valley, our destination guide will help you plan everything you need for your cycling holiday. The guide includes information such as:

  • a map of the Chamonix Valley with climbs and towns marked
  • detailed descriptions of road cycling routes including downloadable GPX files
  • where to base yourself depending on which mountains you would like to ride
  • cycling hotels and lodges in the area
  • a list of bike hire outlets
  • outline of how to get to and from the Chamonix Valley
  • non-cycling attractions and activities in the region

Click below to discover more and start planning a holiday in the Chamonix Valley.