The word ‘iconic’ is often over-worked in cycling, but its application to the wiggling climb up Alpe d’Huez is entirely justified, with this fearsome climb set to make its 30th Tour de France appearance in the 2018 edition.
The 13.8-kilometres of tarmac slithers its way from Bourg d’Oisans to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez in the French Alps, navigating 21 hairpin bends along the way. From the air, the road is instantly recognisable – as is its relentless turns and gradient when you are travelling up it or watching a race unfold on its slopes.
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Although Alpe d’Huez is a regular fixture of the Tour de France now, it wasn’t used in the race until 1952, providing the location of the Tour’s first ever summit finish. It’s hard to believe that it wasn’t branded a success by the race’ organiser at the time – the sea of spectators spilling onto the road that we are used to seeing now did not exist.
The climb wasn’t used by the Tour again until 1976, when 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.
Alpe d’Huez stats
Location: Alps, France
Average gradient: 8.1 per cent, 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
Bernard Hinault looking in control on Alpe d’Huez during the 1981 Tour. Although he won overall by a sizeable margin, the stage to Alpe d’Huez was taken by Peter Winnen, who would eventually place fifth behind Hinault.
Scotsman Robert Millar paces Z team-mate Ronan Pensec up Alpe d’Huez during the 1990 Tour de France. Gianni Bugno won the stage. Despite Millar’s efforts in the Alps, Pensec would lose the race lead to Claudio Chiappucci after the following day’s time trial
Greg LeMond on the Alpe during stage 17 of the 1989 Tour de France. The stage was won by Gert-Jan Theunisse, and LeMond would lose the race lead to Laurent Fignon before sensationally snatching it back on the final stage in Paris.
Marco Pantani, Richard Virenque and Jan Ullrich fight it out on stage 13 of the 1997 Tour. Pantani would win the stage, and Ullrich would go on to win the race for the only time in his career with Virenque claiming the King of the Mountains title. All three riders would later be embroiled in doping scandals.
Pierre Rolland became the first Frenchman in 25 years to win atop Alpe d’Huez when he won stage 19 of the 2011 Tour de France. Rolland was born three months after Hinault’s win in 1986, and was released from domestique duties by team leader Thomas Voeckler to take a famous stage win.
Thibaut Pinot won Tour de France’s most recent visit to Alpe d’Huez in 2015, taking a spectacular solo victory on stage 20 after dropping out of GC contention early in the race.
The most recent winner of a bike race into Alpe d’Huez was Team Sky’s Peter Kennaugh, who won stage seven of the 2017 Critérium du Dauphiné. However this stage entered the ski resort via the back road, climbing the hors-categorie Col de Sarenne before a short second category climb into the town itself.
Alpe d’Huez Strava segment
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
* result annulled due to doping conviction