When Saturday July 25
From Modane Valfréjus
To Alpe d’Huez
Impact on overall: 5/5
Where are we?
It’s the final day in the Alps, and the Tour’s penultimate stage, so you can bet your bottom dollar that there’ll be some almightily pleased riders at the top of Alpe d’Huez, once they’ve got their breath back.
The Alpe is one of the Tour’s most celebrated climbs, and with good reason, having hosted a series of memorable battles between some of the world’s very best riders since it was first included on the route in 1952.
The pure majesty of the mountain on race day, packed with fans, makes it feel almost like a church to the sport of cycling. Each of the famous hairpin bends are numbered, counting down from 21 at the bottom to one at the top, each with a plaque bearing the names of the stage winners — seven of them ‘doubled up’, as the Tour has had 28 stages finish here in the 63 years since it was first used.
What’s on the route?
Alpe d’Huez is certainly the climax to this short and sharp stage, but would have been supported by two of the Tour’s other big guns, the Col du Télégraph and the Col du Galibier, if it wasn’t for a landslide that forced organisers to scrap the climbs just a week before the Grand Départ.
With emergency repairs taking place on the Tunnel du Chambon between the Galibier and Alpe d’Huez, riders will now take on the Col de la Croix de Fer instead, which the Tour already takes in via a different road on stage 19.
The Hors Categorie climb will still be a tough test to a weary field three weeks in to the race, though there are downhill and flat points for respite along the 29km ascent.
From there, the riders face a circa 30km descent into the valley, with a few bumps along the way. Once they see the town signs for Bourg-d’Oisans, however, they’ll know what’s to come: Alpe d’Huez.
Again, like many other climbs when taken in isolation, Alpe d’Huez is not the toughest climb on the planet (although certainly tough enough), but coming at the end of a stage, as it almost always does (in 2013, it was climbed twice during stage 18), it is a difficult test and always highlights the race’s very best climbers. And if by stage 20 the polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey hasn’t yet found its rightful owner, then this race within a race could really come alive on the slopes of the Alpe.
Geeing the riders on at the side of the road on Alpe d’Huez will be a considerable contingent of fans from the Netherlands, who will mainly congregate on ‘Dutch Corner’, next to the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges church. Why? Because from 1964 until 1992, the church had a Dutch priest, and so fans decided to make that section of road a home from home. There may be even more fans than usual there with their mobile disco and good-natured drinking games this year if their appetites (and thirsts) have been sufficiently whetted by the Grand Départ almost three weeks before in Utrecht.
And there’s another Dutch connection, too: they are the most successful nation on the Alpe, with eight stage wins there by Dutch riders, versus the next most successful nation — Italy — with seven wins.
This year, the Alpe is the culmination of another of those short, and hopefully action-packed, stages at just 110 kilometres long — but you can expect a lot for your money. Expect an early break at the start of the stage to attack the Croix de Fer with gusto, and to possibly start Alpe d’Huez with some kind of an advantage, too. But watch as it surely will be whittled away by the race’s very best; when it comes to this climb, more than any other, the Tour’s top riders want to race here and win here. Few will be prepared to allow a break of lesser lights to conquer the Alpe.