Distance: 21.8 kilometers
Time: Around 2-3 hours depending on your pace
Difficulty: Difficult – HC
Summit: 2,350 meters (7,710 feet)
Elevation: 1,480 meters (4,856 feet)
Average & Maximum Grade: 7% / 13%
The “cols” which get most of the attention in France are those in the Northern Alpes (Galibier, Glandon, Croix de Fer, etc.). Many of these are fixtures in the Tour de France and they are breathtaking, no doubt about it. I’ve ridden most of them over the years and their stature in the world of cycling is well deserved. However, if you are cycling in the Alpes do not overlook the cols in the southern part of the mountain range. There are numerous cols within an hour or two drive from my home in Vence, including Allos, Cayolle and Bonette-Restefond. Le Col de la Lomarde is another one. The climb begins in the beautiful little mountain village of Isola (not to be confused with the ski village Isola 2000) along the Tinée River in the Tinée valley. It’s about an hour and a half drive from either Vence or Nice. It’s a wonderful climb with gorgeous scenery all the way up and a spectacular view of both sides of the mountain range from the top, which straddles the French/Italian border. The summit lies at 2,350 meters (7,710 feet), only 292 meters (958 feet) lower than Galibier.
[more info after the photo gallery]
About the Climb
I climbed the Col de la Lombarde for the first time in June 2013. The mountain is accessible from two sides, the south side from France and the north side from Italy. I did the climb from the south side. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day, a few clouds scattered across the sky. The Col had just been opened in the past few days. I had passed through Isola on my way to St. Dalmas le Selvage the week before and the Col was closed at that time. The climb itself is right about 22 kilometers if you start in Isola. It’s not an easy climb (it’s considered an “HC” climb, is rated as the 62nd most difficult mountain climb in France by climbbybike.com and a 7% average grade is nothing to sneeze at) and ranks right up there with some of the more famous climbs I’ve done in the Northern Alpes.
The first three kilometers are definitely the toughest, averaging about 9% and spiking up into the 10%-11% range frequently. In some ways, it’s good to get this part out of the way first. The road is well paved, well maintained and nice and wide. It is marked at every kilometer with a nice sign indicating the distance left to the top and the average grade for the next kilometer, though I found the average grade ratings to be a bit inaccurate from time to time. After the first three kilometers the grade falls a bit to about 7% most of the time, though there are some definite spikes here and there. At kilometer 17 you will pass through the ski resort of Isola 2000 (so named because of the altitude). From there it’s about 4 more kilometers to the summit.
Just outside of Isola 2000 there’s a nasty little stretch that reaches 13%-14%. It doesn’t last long, but long enough to really put me through the ringer the day I was climbing! It’s tough to maintain that type of grade for very long, especially towards the end of a climb. Not too far outside of Isola 2000 you will pass above the tree line and the day I was there you could still find a lot of snow on the sides of the road. It was fairly warm, especially with the sun shining, so I didn’t have a need for any extra clothing on the way up.
As I said, the view at the top is really quite spectacular. There’s no “station” or restaurant or really much of anything at the top like you’ll find at some cols. So, don’t plan on getting any food or replenishing your water at the top. The actual sign for the col is wooden and pretty plain. There were a couple of hikers and a handful of motorcyclists at the col the day I was there. Coming back down I put on some finger liners as my hands were getting really cold. I didn’t need a jacket, though I had a light one with me.
It took me right about two hours to make the climb. I rode at a nice, steady, comfortable pace, enjoying the scenery and not trying to kill myself. I stopped once for a very short rest about halfway up. Coming down was about 30 minutes. The road is clean and smooth so I was able to speed down as fast as I wanted. There are a few tunnels, none of which were lit, though none of them are very long. On the ride up that was no problem at all, but going down I definitely slowed considerably for the tunnels as they are long enough to make seeing what’s in front of you very difficult.
All in all, a great day, a great climb. I would definitely bring friends to this col in the future as it is well worth the effort and I plan to go back myself this summer.
Col de la Lombarde has been climbed only once in the Tour de France, in 2008, from the Italian side (not the side I climbed from).
Important Notes: This is an HC climb, the most difficult there is. 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.
What: Col de la Lombarde (south side)
Where: Start in Isola (Google Maps)
When: June through September – Check to make sure if the pass is open!
Phone: Office de Toursime – 04 93 23 23 00
Climb By Bike: climbbybike.com/climb/Col-de-la-Lombarde/6160