The Alpe d’Huez is a mountain located in the French Alps, in the department of Isère, southeastern France. It is one of the most well-known and iconic climbs in cycling, famous for its 21 hairpin turns and steep gradient. The Alpe d’Huez climb is 13.8 kilometers (8.6 miles) long and has an average gradient of 8.1%, with a maximum gradient of 13%.
Alpe d’Huez has been a regular feature of the Tour de France since 1952 and has become one of the most popular climbs in the race, attracting large crowds of spectators every year. With the Mont Ventoux it is one of the icons of the Tour.
According to legend, the bends of Alpe d’Huez were numbered to serve as a marker for snowploughs and to allow them to know where they were on the climb to the resort. It was two “locals”, an artist and a hotelier from the Alpe, who convinced the Tour organizers to first go through the resort in the Northern Alps. It is also said that these bends were installed to indicate to tourists the approach to the station.
Fausto Coppi, the first winner
It was at the end of a 266 km long stage that the Italian Fausto Coppi won, on July 10, 1952, the first ascent of the climb to the Alpe in the Great Loop. A true star in the history of cycling, he won his second Tour de France that same year.
Coppi was an Italian cyclist who is widely regarded as one of the greatest cyclists of all time. He won his first Giro d’Italia in 1940, and went on to win the race five times in total. He also won the Tour de France as well as numerous other races and set several world records throughout his career.
Coppi was known for his smooth, elegant riding style and his ability to climb mountains with ease. He was also a master of time-trialing, and set several world records in the discipline during his career. Coppi’s achievements made him a national hero in Italy, and he remains one of the most beloved sports figures in the country’s history.
2023 Cycling Holidays in the Alps and Pyrenees
Each of the 21 bends is named after at least one rider
The 21 bends or hairpin turns on Alpe d’Huez are each named after a rider who has triumphed on the climb. The names of the riders and the years they won are painted on plaques at each turn. The 21st bend is named after Italian cyclist Fausto Coppi, who won the Tour de France in 1949 and 1952. Other riders honored with bends on Alpe d’Huez include Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Lance Armstrong, among others. The naming of the bends after Tour de France stage winners is a way to pay tribute to the history and tradition of the race and to the great riders who have contributed to its legacy over the years.
The Dutch Corner
The Dutch Corner is a section of the Alpe d’Huez climb that has become famous for the large number of Dutch fans who gather there to cheer on their favorite cyclists during the Tour de France. The Dutch Corner is located near the top of the climb and is easily recognizable by the sea of orange-clad fans waving Dutch flags and cheering loudly.
The Dutch Corner has become a popular meeting place for Dutch fans who travel to the Tour de France each year to support their country’s cyclists. The fans often camp out for several days before the race arrives, setting up tents and creating a festive atmosphere with music, food, and drinks. On race day, the fans line the road and cheer on every cyclist who passes by, but they reserve their loudest cheers for the Dutch riders.
The Dutch Corner has become such a well-known feature of the Tour de France that it has even been officially recognized by the race organizers, who now include it as part of the route’s official roadbook. The Dutch Corner is a testament to the passion and enthusiasm of cycling fans, and it adds to the unique and colorful atmosphere of the Tour de France.
Striking images and drama!
The stage finishees at Alpe d’Huez are always striking, strong images. We remember, for example, 1986 and the arrival hand in hand of Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond, both teammates of La Vie Claire. We also remember the Michel Pollentier scandal: in 1978, he won the yellow jersey at Alpe d’Huez but was then sanctioned for trying to rig an anti-doping control.
There have been several cycling scandals on the Alpe d’Huez over the years. One of the most notorious occurred during the 1998 Tour de France, when it was revealed that a large number of riders had been using performance-enhancing drugs during the race. Several of the top riders were implicated in the scandal, and it cast a shadow over the entire sport.
It still holds the record for the fastest ascent of the 21 bends. It was in 1995 that the Italian Marco Pantani managed to climb to the station in 37 minutes and 35 seconds. Winner of the 1998 Tour, his career sadly ended against a backdrop of doping. Lance Armstrong holds the second place from the 2004 Tour de France, in 37 minutes 36 seconds.
An often decisive stage
It’s not the hardest climb of the Tour – average gradient of 8% over almost 14 km – but it is often decisive. It is said that whoever passes Alpe d’Huez in yellow keeps his leader’s jersey until the Champs-Elysées. Of the 29 arrivals, there are only seven counterexamples. However, this year the Tour continues for more than a week after passing through Isère and could well hold other surprises for the riders.
Other cycling races & events
The climb to the summit of Alpe d’Huez has also been featured in other cycling races, including the Marmotte, Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de l’Avenir. Events open to amateurs include THE CLIMB Alpe d’Huez, a cycling event comprising a 15km individual time trial, and the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon with a finish at the summit.
A cycling mecca
Not exclusively for professional cyclists, Alpe d’Huez has become a popular destination for cycling tourists, with many cyclists traveling from around the world to ride up the iconic mountain. The town of Bourg d’Oisans, located at the base of Alpe d’Huez, is a popular starting point for cyclists who want to tackle the climb. Many cycling services are available in the area, and the café terrasses are thronged with cyclists making their way to or from the climb!
Not just cycling
The Alpe d’Huez ski resort is located near the summit of the climb and is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding in the winter months. Part of the Grandes Rousses massif, above the Oisans it is an excellent ski location