Izoard Pass – Col de l’Izoard

The Col de l’Izoard, located at an altitude of 2,361 meters, is in the Hautes Alpes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It connects Briançon on one side to Château Ville Vieille on the other with its lake of Souliers. The pass makes the junction between the Queyras valley where the Guil river flows and the Briançon valley and the Cerveyrette gorges.

The pass is not accessible by car between November and May-June, between the hamlets of Brunissard, in the commune of Arvieux, and Le Laus, in the commune of Cervières. It is part of the itinerary for crossing the Alps: the Route des Grandes Alpes. Motorcyclists and motorhome drivers particularly appreciate it.

The Col de l’Izoard is a stage of the Tour de France and is particularly known as the Casse Déserte for its rocky area which offers a lunar panorama.

Ride the Izoard Pass by bike

A stage of the Tour de France, the Izoard Pass is also part of the Embrunman Triathlon route as well as the Tour d’Italie Giro and the Criterium Dauphiné.

You can ascent the pass by bike from Briançon, on the north side. It will take you about 19 kilometers to reach the summit with an average slope of 6%, 9% for the maximum, and 1,185 meters of difference in height. It is also possible to start from the south side, at Guillestre, which is considered as the most mythical passage. With more than 31 kilometers to cover, an average slope of 4.4% (11% maximum) and 1,440 metres of difference in altitude, you will need to be well trained.

The Tour de France has passed over the Col de l’Izoard 36 times since 1922. It is the Belgian Philippe Thys who was the winner of this event that year. Over the years, the pass has become a real reference for the Tour. Several champions have made their legend on the pass such as Gino Bartali, Coppi, Bobbet, but also Eddy Merckx, Greg Lemon, Lance Armstrong… The Izoard pass has moreover obtained the label Route du Tour which reinforces the tourist attraction of the site. Every year, the pass continues to attract many visitors, passionate about the great loop.

History

The Izoard pass road, which winds its way up and down the mountain, dates back to the XIXth century. It was built on the initiative of General Baron Berge. The pass was considered by the army as a strategic passage because of its proximity to the French-Italian border that had to be protected. Troops had to be able to pass from one valley to the other quickly and easily. A stele, inaugurated in 1934, pays homage to the general and to the troops behind the construction of the road over the Col de l’Izoard.

The pass serves several towns and villages such as Arvieux, La Chalp, Brunissard, Saint Véran… Once at the top, you will have a breathtaking view of the Ecrins massif and the Pelvoux, Queyras, the Swiss Alps and Savoy.

Almost at the top, at 2,290 meters of altitude, is the Napoleon refuge. It is an essential stop on the Route des Grandes Alpes. In the past, the guards had the mission of bringing help and assistance to people in difficulty who were surprised by the weather. Built during the reign of Napoleon III, following a bequest from Napoleon I, the refuge welcomed travellers in its rooms and restaurant. In season, you can reach the refuge by the Route des Grandes Alpes and by hiking trails. Out of season, the closed road becomes an itinerary for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing…

The Casse Déserte (deserted junkyard)

The Casse Déserte is a fascinating landscape. Cyclists are particularly exposed to the wind because of the lack of vegetation. This area is composed of scree and yellowish cargneules, a carbonated sedimentary rock. This tourist curiosity is the result of a transformation that took place during the formation of the Alps mountain range more than 40 million years ago.

This almost lunar landscape is located at the exit of the forest, 2 kilometers from the south side of the pass. It contrasts with the rest of the ascent. La Casse Déserte has become a mythical place of the Tour de France marked by the exploits of Louison Bobet and Fausto Coppi, cycling champions. One can see a stele in their honor enthroned on one of the rocks.

Events

The Departmental Tourism Committee, in partnership with the Hautes Alpes General Council, regularly organizes the Reserved Passes operation (“Opération cols réservés”) during which the ascent of certain passes, including the Izoard Pass, is not authorized for cars. Thus, during one morning, a pass is reserved for cyclists for given hours. At the foot and at the top of the pass, refreshments are offered free of charge.

Sélection de cols en Région Sud

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