Route Mapping The Cols

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.

Maps aren’t the only tool, there are websites that list the cols like CyclingCols or Will’s Cycling Challenge.

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.

Passo Stelvio

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.

60 thoughts on “Route Mapping The Cols”

  1. If I’m going to stop at the top of a climb I always go beyond the ‘top’ just in case the Strava segment doesn’t match the reality.

    I suppose that sounds a bit sad, but if I am going to get a sense of where I stand in the great pantheon of cycling athletes it’s a bit annoying to find your sight seeing has relegated you to back of the virtual peloton.

    Just as a KOM is second to actually getting a jersey a virtual laterne rouge is even less glamourous.

  2. The Michelin maps (including the online ViaMichelin) are also great in that they indicate “scenic routes” with green highlighting. This can be seen in the Galibier / Télégraphe map above. Panoramic lookouts are also noted. These are very useful when choosing your routes for beauty as well as their physical challenge. I’ll also admit to having cut up many a Michelin regional map and folded the relevant portion into my jersey pocket when cycling in France. The detail is excellent despite the scale (1:200 000 I think?), and can often help you triangulate your position without recourse to phone maps or GPS. The maps have a nice waxy coating which is durable enough to survive a week of exploring whatever beautiful area you’re lucky enough to be visiting…

  3. Great read.

    I use Viewranger on my phone (other mapping services are available) and you can download cartographically rich maps from IGN (in France), OS (in UK) etc. Then create route in Strava (other services are available) export as .GPX and overlay on the Viewranger Map.

    Maps are ‘raster’ some zooming is limited but you can download different resolutions. Much richer than Google Maps.

    Open Street Map is another option.

        • Ah ah ah ah ah ah, suuure o__O

          A bit like Padania and the rest of Italy ^__^

          (Southern Shark Nibali winning UCI-sanctioned “Giro di Padania” in 2012, what a moment!, avenging fellow Sicilian Visconti and Masciarelli from Abruzzo which Basso from Varese had beat the year before – I’ve got to say that it was a good race, just as the Volta tends to be).

          • Nope. Catalunya is country since decades, it even has an own language.
            While “Padania” never was a thing. like Wakanda, it only exists in fantasy world.
            You better stick to cyling themes, where you are an expert. Stay away from politics and history.

          • Padania was a joke, both politically and in my comment. Catalunya isn’t. But it’s not a country, either.

            Every province of Italy has its own language. In the North, you might often see roadsigns around (not something I really approve, as I consider it just cynical demagoguery – the defence of local languages being a different subject). That doesn’t make them a “country”. And most of them have existed as different political entities way longer than they’ve existed as parts of Italy. In fact, during history lots of them have been a specific and separated political entity much longer than Catalunya ever was; the latter, after all, has been a part of “Spain”, and willingly so, much longer than it ever existed separately (or tried to get away). And that’s very far from surprising, given the economic advantages they enjoyed along most of their history thanks to such a situation. Specific rights on american colonies included, but let’s not forget the exploitation of cheap workforce and an internal *quite much* protected national market.

            But… come on, the mere way you use that adverb, “even”, speaking of the language, just shows how little information is have available to you about the whole problem.
            By the way, I’ve long and happily lived there while I was teaching at the university ^__^

            I love cycling, but no peer-reviewed journal has published me on that subject (yet? 😛 ) while that already happened for the Catalan conflict. Nothing special, sort of an informative article (much needed, I’d say), still on an academic publication whose selection criteria, albeit far from perfect, tend to be better than websites’ comment sections – not aimed at you, inrng.

            But you’re nearly right. Catalunya might become a country, or a nation, in a couple of generations time. If things go on shifting. They’ve been trying hard since when late XIX century nationalism was rampant everywhere.
            The making or faking of a nation: let’s be frank, most if not all of them started like that.
            My point is simply that Catalunya *still* isn’t a country (how could it be, when the majority of its own population doesn’t recognise it as such?).
            The whole process usually takes centuries, not just “decades” – as you yourself wrote very appropriately above. Just be patient, undercooked countries are a crooked affair. “Al dente”, at most.

  4. In Tenerife, (then go to the Viewer).

    Not exactly what inrng is suggesting above (which would correspond pretty much, for example, to the Touring Club maps in Italy), but you can find there *extremely* detailed and easy-to-navigate maps with altitude and lots of other info.

      • Indeed! 😉
        But that way you might lose some of the best climbs in the island, which are on a separate mountain ridge, far North-East (Anaga)… a bit like Masca but way less trafficked, with many more available climbs and, nowadays, still much more *authentic*.
        DISCLAIMER: (Climate) Conditions May Vary. I guess that if people wanted to take the risk of ending up riding through mist & rain under a gray sky, they’d stay at their home country, in most cases; yet, with a little luck, it’s a rewarding experience.

          • Well said!
            And if the legs feel good, don’t skip Teno Alto before descending to Buenavista, although it’s a dead end and the asphalt is horribly rough (at least it was the last time I went up there some years ago). The Garachico hairpins and the Tierra del Trigo killer wall are worth a visit, also.

        • anaga is nice, favorite climb on tenerike would be arafa to tje esperanza road.

          Tenerife is overcrowded and climbs are too ‘easy’ (and unscenical) – switched to la Palma in 2015 and have been there every spring since. Writing this from Los Llanos where ive been for the past 3 weeks (going home tomorrow). Roadbiking is seriously steep here and altitude on paved roads exeeds Tenerife – where else van you ride to the top of a monutain and continue on the ridge of a 2400m caldera rim.

          This year ive been mixing up with gravel/ XC trails and hikeing…

          • The climb you name, from Arafo, is called “Los Loros” by locals and it’s technically one of the most significant, if not the most significant, in Tenerife, indeed.
            And I’m equally aware that, again, from a merely technical POV, La Palma’s got several climbs going all the way to the top of the island which are way more interesting (some of them probably would be among the hardest in Europe, unlike Tenerife’s).

            Yet, if you ever come back to Tenerife, I’d suggest you might try getting to La Esperanza from Radazul through El Chorillo and Machado. It’s challenging enough, although not terribly long (but you can still go on all the way up to Izaña, then): 10 km, 10% avg., 20% max. The good news is that once you leave the first couple of kms behind you’ll barely see any car. Not hugely scenic, anyway (in fact, the Radazul part is pretty ugly).

            Anaga’s got a lot of *very scenic* climb: obviously once you crest the very top of La Palma, the sight is impressive. But, except perhaps for that very moment, I wouldn’t say that climbs are *far* better than Los Batanes, Chinamada or Afur in panoramic terms.
            Surely enough, if you just go through the Cruz del Carmen to reach Pico del Inglés, you’ll just enjoy a couple of “miradores”, but the best prizes are off the beaten track.
            Afur is also a notable climb, 10 km, 7.5% avg., 17% max (right where it starts), but those two kms you face halfway through before getting to the TF-12, constantly *over* 10-11% make sure you don’t miss the Alps that much.
            Taganana is also hard with *great* views but it’s shorter (6.5 kms, 8.4% avg., 14% max, although the key point is those 4 kms averaging 10.2%), yet its main problem – you’re right about this one – is traffic. I really wouldn’t suggest it as an option anymore, until some sort of limited access to car will be enforced in Anaga (my personal dream…).

            The pro recently discovered some steep wall around Chío, then they go up to the top on that side (a decent part of it was resurfaced), but I like that better when descending: watching La Gomera is great, but I prefer varying views.

  5. Viewranger and Ordnance Survey are great for route planning and working out where you are on a ride.
    Geodistance is quite good as well for working out distances (I dont plot a gps route to follow on a ride)

  6. I’ve spent some time trying to find good and open sources of cols to use for routing and found most of the sources mentioned here. ccWay seems to be the best but you’re limited in how many points you can download in a single transaction.

    I’ve wondered whether it would be possible to automate a collection of cols by combining road data with a digital elevation model. Does anyone know if this is feasible? Or is the definition of a col too flexible?

    • Often you know one when you see it, a low crossing point over a ridge but others can be harder to identify or label and there are historical curiosities etc. Sometimes it seems the definition of a col is a hill some are prepared to die on, I remember discovering ccWay and think there was a note on the site about the “Col de Romme” (on the route of Stage 10 of Tour de France this July) not being a col and there had been a considerable argument over this.

      • I know it’s not exactly what you mean, but if you want to automatically collect/track cols you’ve ridden:

        There is an Apple iPad/iPhone app made by a French cyclist/developer: see

        I reviewed it here: and three years later it is still well supported.

        It links with your garmin rides and gives you riding stats, details for each ride, etc. But also identifies and tracks every col you’ve passed and marks them on a map – it’s well done. It’s global, and the developer will happily add and col missing. Frequent updates.

  7. With a little practice, a carefully gated A4 photocopy of the Michelin map makes a really useful pocket support for those times when the Garmin goes AWOL. Do it in colour, fold and seal in a ziplock bag and it’s the ultimate get you home guide. Just be warned – those short – ‘direct’ – white roads don’t get the benefit of gradient chevrons, so the shortest route home ain’t necessarily the easiest!

  8. I’ve always used ViaMichelin maps in France. For Italy I use the Touring Club Italiano. Not as accurate as the French but beautiful to look at. Typically Italian. 🙂 (I can say that because i’m part Italian)

  9. Quäldich for alps especially german speaking part. helpful that there is often a weitten description with information and photographs. So you get infos about traffic and surface quality. Opentopo is the most beautiful obline map with good info about height and road type. Surface quality most often included (if you like to take minir roads) openstreetmap is often more accurate about surface than official maps i learned, since with minor roads they not always care if its asphalt o not. Is has that information. Maybe accuracy differs frim region to region. My experience 95% correct.

  10. Have used the online michelin maps many time they are very good, just had a quick look at Marakesh Morocco where i am riding home from next week (wish i had not the climbs look brutal for a fully laden Touring bike).

    I have recently used Komoot which makes a stab at telling you about the surface of the road and how busy it is as well.

    Will let you know whow accurate it is

  11. Michelin route maps (the paper variety) are all you need. Plan your route and take a picture of the area on your smart phone before you set off, ensuring you have plenty of juice left in the battery and you’re good to go.

    Often it’s the road less travelled, however, that’s the most enjoyable. I struggled to get around the road blocks in Bourg D’oisans last year henthe TdF was in town and decided to ride down the towpath next to the river to get to Allemond. It was only a short detour but one of the highlights of the trip – off road, no crowds, fantastic setting – flying!

    The route around the back of the Alpe is a great ride too. Off the beaten track, you can only really map this out with the Michelin maps and some understanding of chevrons… >>> 🙂

  12. First, thanks INRNG! Long time reader, my cycling and general knowledge has been greatly increased over the years.

    I finally feel that I have might have something useful or interesting to add…

    Hopefully the website name is a misnomer, but this site is a good resource for interesting roads, including Cols and has global information –

    Keep up the great work please!

  13. Just checking the Dauphine route over the Col du Mont Noir on viamichelin, because we’re going there a couple of weeks after, and the top part is only marked as a very low grade road. IIRC it’s a bit better than that, although some of the forestry roads in the area are pretty scratchy. So local knowledge is always best.

    +1 for the comment about the green “scenic” roads in viamichelin – always very useful.

  14. I’ve had a ViaMichelin atlas of France for at least twenty years and it’s a constant companion while watching the Tour stateside. Thanks for the link to their website. First thing, I zoom in on the Col du Telegraphe to check the level of detail available only to find it’s in the wrong place! Definitely wouldn’t get the Strava segment if you stopped there! Scroll down to the Galibier and find that it’s labeled twice, once on each side of the actual col. No matter, I’ll still spend hours exploring virtually!

  15. On a related note, I’ll be in Nice this summer and am planning a day of riding while the wife and kids go shopping or to the beach. Your writeups on Col d’Eze and Madone have been very helpful in my planning. Thanks for the work you do.

  16. is excelent for inspireaton – it maily covers alps and peranees – not much in southern italy or spain.

    When planning a longer tour i start out with physical maps – you need florspace or a huge diningroom table to map a trip from bologna to Reggio Calabria…

  17. The strava global heat map can also be really useful in deciding what routes are popular in a region. Just need to also street view a bit to ensure the data isn’t ‘corrupted’ by people using strava on MTB or hikes.

    In Australia (and starting to be around the world) the ‘Climbing Cyclist Wiki’ is a wonderfull resource as well with accurate climb information.

  18. I added cols to the turn-by-turn directions for (my route-planning site) last year, so you get things like,6.4073&to=45.0941,6.4318 which shows ‘Col du Galibier (2642m)’ in the instructions. Next step is to add them to the maps themselves!

    ( is a route-planner designed to favour quiet roads, so it’s less useful for getting the miles in along N roads but ideal for country touring.)

  19. The ‘climb by bike’ & ‘cycling cols’ websites is pretty useful for mapping cols etc and cover many countries. Quite like the profile graphics on ‘alpes4ever’

  20. Another very interesting post!

    For France, another very useful website is:
    You can view all the passes of a “Département”. Example for the “Hautes-Alpes”:

    Another tool provided by the “Club des Cent Cols” is here:
    You need to know the “Code” of the pass. Example for the Galibier:

  21. Here are a few mapping tools I use when route planning (none nothing to do with me except #6):

    1. I love they have detailed French IGN maps and EVERY col from the club des cents cols listing – click a button or two and have great maps filled with every col in France. You have to pay for detailed Swiss maps though. But a great planning site. Often after a ride, I upload a gpx route to verify and find every col I visited.

    2. A superb site made by a crazy Dutch cyclo tourist (and a nice guy) –

    Can search and link to endless cols. Great overview maps to see nearby stuff when visiting a location. Most climbs include profiles.

    3. . another very well done mapping site of endless cols with profiles. Fairly active community with comments.

    4. Suisse à Vélo – official Swiss site. includes endless signed routes including the 9 national paved routes and three great national mountain bike routes. Switzerland signs routes VERY well (unlike most places).
    The site includes links to zoomable detailed maps that are usually very expensive anywhere else. (see above).

    5. Quite a few sites help us plan routes and make GPX files to load onto our bike GPS. Personally, I prefer for making routes. And for embedding routes. But quite a few sites do a decent job of both.

    6. Finally, thanks to the comment higher up. I have overview maps of all the rides I have done in various regions with links to detailed posts with pics/maps/photos etc.

Comments are closed.