See the map above, is the white road running north-south familiar? Well done if you named the Col du Galibier in the French Alps, better still if you mention the Télégraphe and Lautaret passes too. Only many common mapping services don’t label these mountain passes so if you’re looking online these famous places they can be hard to find.
The Roads to Ride series here get used by some as help to pick a destination but once you’ve picked one road, what about all the other nearby ones? A quick departure from pro cycling to some tips for mapping your rides in the Alps and beyond.
Back to the map at the top and the Col du Télégraphe isn’t on Google Maps. You can search and Google will take you to the spot but it’s not labelled as a col, a mountain pass, if you zoom in and out on Google Maps. Which is a small problem if you’re pouring over the map and trying to plan a route and wondering which of the famous climbs you can ride. It’s the same with other online maps too, for example use Strava’s beta Route Builder uses mapping which doesn’t even have a label for the mighty Col du Galibier itself.
ViaMichelin maps cover the French territory much better and show many of the passes on the roads. The terrain is illustrated more and the roads graded red, yellow and white by their status – cyclists should prefer the yellow and white – and more mountain passes are shown along with extra details like chevrons on the road to indicate gradient as you can see on the screengrab above. You can also see the Télégraphe and Lautaret named too in the screengrab above. You can browse these maps online and buy paper copies which are too big for a cycling jersey but ideal to spread across a kitchen table when you’re planning your ride. It’s a French company but has good online maps for Italy, Spain and beyond but the French ones are the most detailed. The downside is you can’t plot a route with this.
Another great resource is the Club de 100 Cols’s online directory of mountain passes called ccWay. Go there, click on the right flag for the country you’re riding in at the top of the page and then keep the Google Maps and “Routier” selections, type in a place name where you want to go and use the polygon selection tool to highlight an area on the map, then go for the KML export option and hit the export button. Open the file you’ve generated in Google Earth and you’ll see all the cols around, probably a lot more than you’d expect. As you can see on the screengrab above you can see the Galibier, Télégraphe and Lautaret but also Le Col at 1,522 metres above sea level and the Collet du Plan Nicolas at 2,406 metres. However they are not named, just a code and the altitude (you have to be a member of the club and/or buy a catalogue for the full list). Still ccWay is useful as it gives you an electronic copy of passes to paste over a map.
During the ride: many cols have signs. Obvious for the obvious climbs. But others can be smaller, maybe on a small pole for walkers to see rather than for passing traffic.
After the ride: You can also use ccWay after a ride to see which cols you rode, either retracing your route from memory around Google Earth or if you use a GPS bike computer then you can export the ride file to a mapping service and overlay the area you rode with the ccWay data.
Missing climbs: a final note that often a race renames the landscape. Many categorised climbs are just a line painted across the road by the race for a day rather than a location known to locals. Sometimes a race will climb a mountain pass but the actual KoM point isn’t at the same point as the pass. Strava segments can be the same too, you could bust yourself to get up the Galibier faster than Warren Barguil and stop at the top to take in the view… only to learn when you get back that the segment ends a few metres beyond the pass so your time spent idling at the top counted before you crossed the virtual finish of the segment once you got going again.
Some of this will be obvious to readers who regularly visit these areas, some of it not of interest. But for readers wanting plan a trip to the mountains Google and other online maps often miss plenty of the sport’s big mountains as well as the fun smaller ones too. This matters sometimes, especially as many mapping tools Strava use these maps so many people will be plotting an mountain adventure but won’t be able to see some of the famous places. Instead the traditional Michelin maps work well and the extensive ccWay database is a useful resource too.