How to climb the Col de la Croix de Fer (video)
A mainstay in the Tour de France, the Col de la Croix de Fer is a mammoth climb that has pushed both amateur and pro riders to their limit.
The Col de la Croix de Fer has tripped up many a rider over the years. This is partly due to its deceiving average gradient of 4.7 per cent, which when extrapolated over the 27.5km slog to the summit delivers a variety of sharp prolonged ascents that are nullified on paper by a few kilometres of descents.
The Croix de Fer can be tackled from the north or the south side, with the southern ascent of the col starting from the Barrage du Verney just above the town of Allemond.
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The Croix de Fer itself has been crested 18 times in total during the Tour de France to date, and was tackled from both sides during the 2015 edition
You can use the first few kilometres to gently spin your legs to warm up and get into a steady rhythm before the climb begins to rise into its forest surroundings. Where you will slowly wind your way up a steady if not all that steep six to seven per cent ramp before reaching the small settlement of Articol.
Just after the first of many short sharp rises in gradient, you'll continue to snake your way up to Le Rivier d’Allemont, which is the last chance to stock up on fluids or food before your recommence you grind to the top.
The misleading average gradient will hit you with full force after a few sweeping downhill kilometres and hairpins after Le Rivier, as you are then greeted with a wall that may will feel like you are pedalling through treacle. This is the steepest section of the climb with parts that can reach over 12 per cent.
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Once over the psychological barrier of the steepest part of the climb you continue to weave your way up towards the Barrage De Grand’Maison, which leads to the climb opening up out of its woodland for the first time into a vast and dramatic valley. From here onwards the gradient to the summit is far kinder, and you are rewarded with spectacular views back down towards the dam.
Keep right as you reach the turn off for the Col du Glandon, and hug the left side of the valley for the final 2.5km slog to the top.
1300m of climbing after you first started your ascent, the sight of the Croix de Fer sign is a highly gratifying moment.
As you join a multitude of cyclists to grace this mythical ascent, which will include the riders on stage 17 of the 2017 Tour de France en route to further climbs up the Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier before the downhill finish into Serre-Chevalier.
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Paul Knott is a fitness and features writer, who has also presented Cycling Weekly videos as well as contributing to the print magazine as well as online articles. In 2020 he published his first book, The Official Tour de France Road Cycling Training Guide (Welbeck), a guide designed to help readers improve their cycling performance via cherrypicking from the strategies adopted by the pros.
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