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The Greatest Cycling Climbs – Col de la Croix de Fer

Written by Robyn Oppenheimer on 21st May, 2019

Another iconic ride which has to make our list of best cycling climbs, is the Croix de la Fer.  The Croix de la Fer has appeared 16 times in the Tour de France but it’s not as well known as the more celebrated climbs in the region. That’s a little bit why we love it.


Situated in the French Alps, the Croix de la Fer rises out of the valley and provides a great loop for riders to ride both this climb and the Glandon. For those intent on an epic day, you can combine it with the Galibier to the east or descend the Col du Glandon en route to Bourg d’Oisans and Alpe d’Huez.

The climb is quiet and as you rise higher and higher, the soft sounds of the waterfalls that fall into the valley are the only noises you will hear.

Cycling the Col de la Croix de Fer, The Greatest Cycling Climbs – Col de la Croix de Fer

Why the Col de la Croix de Fer?

With monumental climbs such as Alpe d’Huez and the Galibier on its doorstep, the Croix de la Fer can feel a bit unloved. Indeed, it is often considered as a warm up to Alpe d’huez or the Galibier but do not underestimate this climb in itself.  Our favourite approach is a relentless, epic Alpine ride that takes you high above the valley en route to the Iron Cross that makes the climb so recognisable.

Cycling the Col de la Croix de Fer, The Greatest Cycling Climbs – Col de la Croix de Fer

The Stats

There are several paths you can take but our preferred route starts in Saint Jean Marienne.   The climb to Col de la Croix offers no gentle warm up, it is steep from the beginning as you ascend high up into alpine meadows and past picturesque villages and waterfalls of melting snow.

If you’ve started from St Etienne de Cuines the traffic can be heavy as it’s an area that provides access to all the surrounding mountains. You will also pass through three tunnels, but once you arrive at Saint Jean Marienne, you’ll find repetitive steep climbs followed by quick descents. Many have described this route as a rollercoaster climb, meaning it’s tough to get into a rhythm and so the average gradient of 5.1% is a little deceptive. The final kilometres, after the Saint-Sorlin-d’Arves ski station are technically the most difficult.  You’ll summit by the famous iron cross where the picture perfect Alpine views are breathtaking.  The Iron Cross was erected when the road was completed in 1912 and gives this col its famous name.   Ride this on our Alpe d’Huez weekend. 

An alternative route is a 22km climb from La Chambre. This was used in the 2012 Tour and was the setting of one of the most exhilarating battles to the summit, between Pierre Rolland and Fredrik Kessiakoff.

Off the Bike

You may want to bring your own snacks as food options are limited at the top.  There is a little café at the top of the col – remember to take some cash with you, as they don’t accept credit cards.

Cycling the Col de la Croix de Fer, The Greatest Cycling Climbs – Col de la Croix de Fer

If you have been inspired to cycle the Col de La Croix de Fer, why not give our cycling specialists a call? Our specialists can help you build your perfect cycling holiday.  Whether you want to join a training camp, use an electric bike, or ride our GPX routes independently, we are able to tailor your trip to you.