Alpe d’Huez - stage 20
Alpe d’Huez - stage 20
There aren’t many climbs in cycling with a more storied history than Alpe d’Huez. With its 21 switchback bends, each named after a former winner (or winners) on the mountain, every part of the climb is iconic from the way it kicks straight up from flat to ten per cent at the bottom, to the church at bend seven (or ‘Dutch Corner’) to the astonishing views of Bourg d’Oisans below.
So many important moments in the history of the Tour have happened on Alpe d’Huez. Fausto Coppi was the first rider to win on the Alpe in 1952 at the end of a mammoth 266km stage starting in Lausanne. Since then, the list of winners on the climb reads like a who’s who of cycling and the name of the stage winners are immortalised on signs at each of the 21 bends.
In recent times, stage 16 of the 2004 Tour was one of the more memorable ascents, as the organisers decided to run an individual time trial up the mountain. As a concept it was brilliant, but the one issue it did raise was safety and, more specifically, the safety of France’s favourite maillot jaune, Lance Armstrong. As Armstrong was leading the race, he’d be the last to start, giving the crowds all day to work themselves up (i.e. drink a lot of beer) for the arrival of the Texan, and many were worried that a repeat of the infamous Eddy Merckx punch in 1975 was an inevitability.
As it turned out, the worries were unfounded as Armstrong made it to the top unscathed and recorded the second fastest ever ascent of the mountain in the proces,s just one second behind Marco Pantani’s 1997 stage win. Although, at the risk of re-hashing covered ground, neither of those times stands without a significant asterisk next to them.
In fact, the vast majority of the record ascents of Alpe d’Huez have come with large question marks. Just check out the Wikipedia list and you’ll see what we mean.
But that’s in the past and this year the winner of the 2015 Tour de France will effectively be crowned at the summit, with only the finale stage in Paris to come. The Alpe arrives at the end of a stage which scales the Col de la Croix de Fer from the opposite side to stage 18. All in all, the peloton will cover just 110km, which should make for fireworks as this is the last opportunity for the mountain men to make their mark in the race. You can find the profiles of all four Alps stages in the gallery below. Enjoy!