The “cols” which get most of the attention in France are those in the Northern Alpes (Galibier, Glandon, Croix de Fer, etc.). However, if you are cycling in the Alps do not overlook the cols in the southern part of the mountain range. The Col de la Lomarde is a great example. The climb begins in the beautiful little mountain village of Isola along the Tinée River in the Tinée valley. It’s about an hour and a half drive from 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.
I climbed the Col de la Lombarde for the first time on June 21, 2013. 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 on June 10th 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 and is rated as the 35th most difficult mountain climb in France by climbbybike.com) and ranks right up there with some of the more famous climbs I’ve done in the Northern Alps.
The first three kilometers are probably 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 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 col.
Just outside of Isola 2000 there’s a nasty little stretch that reached 13%-14%. It didn’t last long, but long enough to really put me through the ringer! 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. The actual sign for the col is wooden and pretty plain. There’s a big stone monument for something, I’m not really sure for what. 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. Coming up that was no problem at all, but going down I definitely slowed for the tunnels as they are long enough to make seeing what’s in front of you impossible.
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.
Lombarde has been climbed once in the Tour de France, in 2008, from the Italian side (not the side I climbed from).
Distance: 21.8 kilometers / 13.55 miles
Summit: 2,350 meters / 7,710 feet
Elevation: 1,480 meters / 4,856 feet
Average grade: 6.9%
Maximum grade: 13%