Distance: 89 kilometres (23.6km x 2 + 21km x 2)
Time: Around 5-6 hours depending on your pace
Difficulty: Difficult – two category 1 climbs
Summit: 2,247 meters
Elevation: 2,155 meters (1005m + 1150m)
Average & Maximum Grade: 5.3% / 10%
It’s a wonderful, exhilarating, rewarding and very satisfying experience to reach the summit of any col (mountain pass) in the Alpes on a bike. It’s even sweeter when you can do it from both sides, back to back, on the same day. It is such a great feeling to get to the top of climb and see other cyclists celebrating that they’ve made it to the summit, all the time knowing that you’ve been here not once, but twice. In a row.
[more info after the photo gallery]
About the Col
It’s a long drive from Vence to Colmars-les-Alpes in the Southern Alpes, about 2 hours and 10 minutes. But, it’s a drive I didn’t mind making because I wanted to climb the Col d’Allos. Luckily, I left very early on a Sunday morning or the drive could have been much longer. I climbed the southern side of the col (from Colmars), zoomed down the northern side into Barcelonnette and then climbed back up again to the summit. A long, but very wonderful day.
Col d’Allos was the last big, well known climb in the southern Alpes (that it is reasonable to drive to do in one day from Vence) that I had yet to conquer. It has been featured many times in the Tour de France, as early as 1911 and as recently as 2015. I set off from Vence early, just before 7:00AM. Being a Sunday morning the roads were pretty clear with hardly any traffic at all. This can make a big difference, especially on the mountain roads where it is very likely you’ll get stuck behind a truck or slow moving vehicle and not be able to pass for quite some time. I travelled up the M6202, took the D6202 through Puget-Théniers, caught the D4202 out of Entrevaux and followed the D908 up through Annot and Beauvezer to Colmars-les-Alpes.
Colmars-les-Alpes is a beautiful, historic little village situated near the end of the Verdon valley. It is from there that most people mark the beginning of the southern side of Col d’Allos. A very small town with a population of under 400, the “old town” is a magnificent fortified village, all made of stone and completely intact, even today. There are also two ancient nearby forts used for protection as far back as the 1600s. I’ve spent time exploring the village on a different trip and it’s definitely worth a visit on its own.
The South Side
The day I climbed Allos it was beautiful, warm and sunny, perfect for riding in the mountains. The ascent from the south side is 23.6km (14.6 miles) with an average grade of 4.45% and a total ascension of 1005 meters (3,445 feet). I can tell you right now though that the average grade on both sides of this col are a bit misleading. On the south side the initial 4 or 5 kilometers are very, very easy, maybe 1 to 2% at the most. This really throws the overall average off considerably.
The south side can basically be divided into three parts:
1. From Colmars to Allos, about 7.6km. Here the grade is quite easy, anywhere from 1% to 3%. Allos is really nice, nestled right at the foot of the mountains, lots of pine trees everywhere. This is where the real climb begins, just after you pass through Allos.
2. From Allos to the ski village of La Foux-d’Allos, another 8.7km. Here the grade kicks up considerably, averaging 5% to 6%.
3. From La Foux-d’Allos to the summit, the final 6.8km. Here the grade reaches its maximum, about 7% most of the way. The final 2.5km consists of three very large switchbacks up the side of the mountain to the summit.
The road on the south side is very good. Nicely paved, wide and well maintained. It gets a bit rougher near the top, but that’s to be expected due to all the snow and cold weather which is really tough on pavement. Every kilometer is marked with a very nice sign showing how much farther you have to go to the top, the altitude and the average grade for the next kilometer. It’s always great to have these signs along the way (as you do on almost every climb in France!)
It took me about an hour and a half to reach the summit, riding at a very steady, but fairly easy pace. There was still a fair amount of snow on the sides of the road even in early June. I took some photos, ate a bar and put on a vest for the ride down the northern side. It was surprisinlyg warm at the top of the col, but I was pretty sweaty from the climb up, so the vest was a good idea. A fast descent down and then a stop in Barcelonnette, which I had never been to. Great little town! Bought some bananas, water and Orangina, ate a bar and a banana and then was on my way back up to the top from the other side.
The North Side
The ascent from the north side is not quite as long as the south side at 21 km (13 miles) but the total ascension is more at 1150 meters (3,773 feet), which means the average grade is definitely more (5.5%). Again, the average grade is misleading as the first four to five kilometers are basically flat or 1%, which really skews the rest of the climb. The final 16km average mostly 6% and 7% with a couple kilometers at 8%. It’s obviously a bit harder due to the increased grade and shorter distance and ideally, I would have done this side first, but since I am staying closer to Colmars it didn’t make any sense to drive to Barcelonnette. The north side is also a bit more scenic, though both sides are nice. There is a wonderful little patch of very thick pine trees about 7km into the climb from the north side.
There were a lot of cyclists on the mountain the day I was there and I passed a bunch going up and coming back down. Good to be on a ride where there were lots of other riders. I felt strong and had no difficulties doing both sides of the col.
A side note: the south side of the Col d’Allos is reserved for cyclists only from 8AM to 11AM on every Friday in July and August! How cool is that?
Another side note: I’ve also I climbed both sides the Col de la Cayolle (though on different days) which is not too far from the Col d’Allos. The south ascent for the Col de la Cayolle begins in Saint-Martin-d’Entraunes, but the north ascent, just like the Col d’Allos, begins in Barcelonnette. It turns out there is another col, the Col des Champs, that connects Saint-Martin-d’Entraunes with Colmars! I decided to drive home via this route to see about the possibility of doing a Allos, Cayolle, Champs loop sometime. The Col des Champs looks great! About 18km on the east side and 12 on the west. The east side road is wonderful, very well paved and very wide. The west side is a complete disaster, very narrow, full of holes and debris, just horrible. But, beautiful. It would be a lot of work, but I think it’s doable, doing all three cols in a big loop.
Important Notes: This is a category 1 climb, and you’re doing it twice. If there is any sign of rain I would suggest leaving the ride for another day as you don’t want to be caught in the rain here. As always you’ll want to make sure you have a good bike and plenty of water. The best time to make this ride in the summer is early in the morning when it’s the coolest, the best time in the winter is early in the afternoon when things have warmed up a bit. You’ll want a helmet and sunscreen no matter what time of the year you go. If you are riding alone make sure someone knows where you are going and what time you should be back. I always wear an identification bracelet that I got from Road ID.
Where: Start in Colmars (Google Maps)
When: June through September – Check to make sure if the pass is open!
Phone: Office de Toursime – 04 92 83 41 92
Climb By Bike: climbbybike.com/climb/Col-dAllos/5812