The word ‘iconic’ is often over-worked in cycling, but its application to the wiggling climb up Alpe d’Huez is entirely justified. Alpe d'Huez regularly features on the Tour de France, and has racked up over 30 appearance on the Tour since its first introduction in 1952.
The road is instantly recognisable from the air, with 13.8 kilometres of tarmac navigating 21 hairpin bends as it slithers its way from Bourg d’Oisans to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps.
First included in the Tour de France in 1952, Alpe d'Huez provided the location of the Tour's first ever summit finish. Now a regular and popular feature of the French Grand Tour, it's hard to believe that in 1952 the climb up the mountain didn't prove a success for race organisers - the sea of spectators spilling onto the road that we are used to seeing now did not exist.
It took 24 years before organisers used Alpe d'Huez again though, when in 1976 both the sport and the resort had rapidly developed. Since then, the climb has made Tour champions, and broken the hearts and bodies of many others - and not just racers. The climb has become a ‘must do’ ascent for cyclists, and is a mecca for bike-bound pilgrims every year when the snow melts away.
All 22 hairpins are named after the winners of stages, and by 2001 all 22 hairpins had been named. Consequently, naming restarted at the bottom of the mountain, with Lance Armstrong's name replacing the race's first winner in 1952, Fausto Coppi.
Alpe d'Huez stats
Location: Alps, France
Average gradient: 8.1 per cent, with the steepest part 11.5 per cent
Maximum elevation: 1850 metres
Fastest recorded ascent: 37 minutes and 35 seconds by Marco Pantani during 1997 Tour de France
Alpe d'Huez photos
Alpe d'Huez first featured on the Tour de France in 1952, and after being deemed a failure in its first appearance, it has now become one of the race's most popular and iconic magnets for spectators.
The stage last featured on the Grand Tour in 2018, where Geraint Thomas took the stage win.
There are more cameras now, but the scene on Alpe d'Huez remains the same: fans grabbing a glimpse of their favourite riders and a party atmosphere.
It is estimated hundreds of thousands of fans often gather on Alpe d'Huez during the race, offering encouragement and support up the painful climbs and hairpins. However, this sometimes isn't without controversy, with heavy police intervention required on occasions.
At the 1986 Tour de France, Bernard Hinault said he would help Greg LeMond to win the Tour, however, his actions suggested otherwise throughout the race. In an apparent sign of truce, the pair crossed the finish line arm in arm, making it one of the most iconic photographs in Tour history.
For pedants sake, Hinault crossed the line fractionally earlier and won the race, though LeMond eventually secured the overall victory.
Marco Pantani, Richard Virenque and Jan Ullrich fought it out on stage 13 of the 1997 Tour, but it was Pantani would win the stage. Meanwhile, Ullrich went on to win the GC for the first and only time in his career, with Virenque claiming the King of the Mountains title.
Pantani won on the Alpe for the second time in his career with this 97 win, attacking three times with only Ullrich able to match him. The German lasted until 10km were left, before the Italian rode alone to win the stage and climb the mountain with a record speed.
In 1999, Giuseppe Guerini led the Alpe d'Huez stage comfortably and was only a few hundred metres from the finish line when he collided with a spectator who had stepped into his path to take a photograph.
Unperturbed, Guerini managed to get back on his bike and finish 21 seconds ahead of second-placed Pavel Tonkov, in what is perhaps one of the most bizarre Tour de France moments.
Stage 18 of the 2013 Tour de France, the 100th edition of the race, included a double ascent of the Alpe d'Huez climb for the first time ever. Riders reached 1,765m on the first passage, climbed Col de Sarenne in between, before continuing to the traditional finish on the second climb in what proved an especially gruelling stage.
Christophe Riblon prevailed in 2013, having chased down Tejay van Garderen over the second ascent before winning the stage by over a minute.
Geraint Thomas became the first, and to date, only rider to win the Alpe d'Huez stage of the Tour de France while in the yellow jersey when he crossed the line first in 2018.
Steve Kruijswijk had been on a 70km solo attack, but Thomas, along with Tom Dumoulin, Chris Froome, Romain Bardet and Mikel Landa, was able catch him two-thirds into the climb. With around half a kilometre left of the race, Thomas dropped the remaining riders to create history, setting himself up for an extended lead in the GC.
Tour de France stage winners on Alpe d'Huez
1952, Stage 10, Fausto Coppi
1976, Stage 9, Joop Zoetemelk
1977, Stage 17, Hennie Kuiper
1978, Stage 16, Hennie Kuiper
1979, Stage 17, Joaquim Agostinho
1979, Stage 18, Joop Zoetemelk
1981, Stage 17, Peter Winnen
1982, Stage 16, Beat Breu
1983, Stage 17, Peter Winnen
1984, Stage 17, Luis Herrera
1986, Stage 18, Bernard Hinault
1987, Stage 20, Federico Echave
1988, Stage 12, Steven Rooks
1989, Stage 17, Gert-Jan Theunisse
1990, Stage 11, Gianni Bugno
1991, Stage 17, Gianni Bugno
1992, Stage 14, Andrew Hampsten
1994, Stage 16, Roberto Conti
1995, Stage 10, Marco Pantani
1997, Stage 13, Marco Pantani
1999, Stage 10, Giuseppe Guerini
2001, Stage 10, [Lance Armstrong]*
2003, Stage 8, Iban Mayo
2004, Stage 16, [Lance Armstrong]*
2006, Stage 15, Frank Schleck
2008, Stage 17, Carlos Sastre
2011, Stage 19, Pierre Rolland
2013, Stage 18, Christophe Riblon
2015, Stage 20, Thibaut Pinot
2018, Stage 12, Geraint Thomas
* result annulled due to doping conviction
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Nigel Wynn worked as associate editor on CyclingWeekly.com, he worked almost single-handedly on the Cycling Weekly website in its early days. His passion for cycling, his writing and his creativity, as well as his hard work and dedication, were the original driving force behind the website’s success. Without him, CyclingWeekly.com would certainly not exist on the size and scale that it enjoys today. Nigel sadly passed away, following a brave battle with a cancer-related illness, in 2018. He was a highly valued colleague, and more importantly, n exceptional person to work with - his presence is sorely missed.
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