Croix de Fer - Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne

France

The ‘pass of the iron cross' is popularly featured in the Tour de France. An absolute gem.

In the Savoie region of the French Alps, with potentially five variations of riding routes, climbing from the classic east side, Col de la Croix de Fer is a near 30km climb with 1650m vertical. Linking Le Bourg-d'Oisans and Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, the ride starts at the fringe of Saint Jean-de-Maurienne, the birthplace of Opinel knives, after crossing a river at 564m altitude.

The climbing starts immediately with 300m of altitude gained during the first few kilometres.

At 6km, there is a sustained climb with 9% average gradient.

Depending on 'state of mind', at this point, the markers on the side of the road can be demoralising – as it's steep with a long way yet to go.

Then descending to a river, only to lose nearly 100 metres of that hard work; the road gently sweeps around bends and hugs close to the granite – passing through hamlets with old buildings.

At 13km the road levels (even, descends a little). Featuring a section with a series of tunnels – the tunnel, La Cliettaz, is particularly both extraordinary and timeless.

After meeting the village La Villard and passing a high-steepled church in Planchamps, the skies broaden – with lakes and vast velvety lush and green scenery. This is Alpine country in the truest form.

At the final 6km, after leaving the ski-town Saint Sorlin d’Arves, this is where the real grinding begins – with wide beautiful views and hairpins, it is an uphill battle further above the treeline. And, one final kick to the iconic Croix De Fer cross and a chance to replace the calories lost.