View from the summit looking north and down at Refuge Napoléon du Col d'Izoard.
Photo: Photo: Erwan Tréguier
How important is Col d’Izoard to bicycle racing? Earth from the I’zoard was placed in the legendary Fausto Coppi’s tomb in Castellania, Italy, upon his untimely death from malaria at age 40 in 1960. Clearly this climb has great significance within the community.
Col d’Izoard is also part of the Route des Grandes Alpes, a tourist itinerary that begins in Thonon-les-Bains and travels over many of the most spectacular passes in France and Europe, including Col de L’Iseran, Galibier, d’Izoard, and Bonette; alternate route includes Croix de Fer and Madeleine.
CYCLING COL D’IZOARD FROM GUILLESTRE
The southern route begins in Guillestre and is a long climb by French Alps standards at 18 miles (29 km). Due to the 1,200’ of descent along the way, the average grade for the southern approach to the Col pencils out at a pedestrian 4.3%, yet there is a quarter mile 13% stretch and mile of double digit climbing at 10.4%. In spite of the fact that you will not “suffer” up this one (no one will be yelling “assassins” to the race director at the finish), both routes to the top are scenic and highly regarded bike climbs of France.
Arvieux and church Eglise Saint-Laurent.
Photo: Erwan Tréguier
Col d’Izoard is a famous climb in the southeastern Hautes-Alpes Department near the French/Italian border. There is a northern route (Briancon) and southern route (near Chateau-Ville-Vielle) to the famous col, which sits at an elevation of 7,748 and has a gift and small snack shop at the top. The southern approach passes Casse déserte (“deserted wreck”) just below the summit, an area of jagged rock and barren, lunar-like, landscape and a famous backdrop to many Tour de France ascents to summit finishes.
Gino Bartali, stage 14 July 22, 1938 TdF
Bartali wins 1938 Tour (148:29:12 / 18:27 margin)
Photo - Tour de France, Twitter
There are wonderful hairpins over the last three miles of both the northern and southern ascents, exceptional views, and a memorial to Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet (the only man to win a stage featuring Col d’Izoard three times; Coppi did that twice) at the Col.
Memorial of Coppi and Bobet.
CYCLING COL D’IZOARD FROM BRIANCON
Briancon (highest city in France at 1,326 meters; population 12,270).
Saint-Michel-et-Saint-Mammès, Cervières (population 190; km 8).
Photo: Erwan Tréguier
The col has a gift shop and snack bar, shuttered and abandoned TdF museum, col sign, and monument.
From Briancon: 18.5 km at 5.7% (steepest ½ km 9.1%).
This Col, although not one of the most difficult climbs of the Tour de France, has been featured in it 35 times between 1922 to 2017 (six straight years from 1922-1927). Being featured so often by the most famous of all races necessarily makes the Col d’Izoard a famous climb, and that it most certainly is. We were honored to ascend this wonderful and scenic climb in the summer of 2017. The southern route to the top of the climb is the most popular for the TdF, having finished at the northern starting point (Briancon) more than half the years the climb is included in the race. In spite of having been featured in the TdF 35 times, it was not until 2017 that the Col d’Izoard itself was the actual climb finish and it was Warren Barguil of France who became the first cyclist to win a stage finishing at the top of the climb.
TOUR DE FRANCE HISTORY
What was the greatest day on the Col d’Izoard? Well, for Frenchman Warren Baruguil it was July 20, 2017, Bastille Day. On this day, Baruguil became a national hero and the first French rider in 12 years to win a TdF stage on Bastille Day. It was a life changing, emotional day for him, he was quoted saying, "it's a huge day for me. I'm living in a dream at the moment. I'm on a cloud and my feet aren't touching the ground. It's crazy after all the bad luck I had. I think I showed my true ability to everyone, and my work paid off" (Cyclingnews.com).
Warren Baruguil wins 2017 TdF Stage 18 (Photo from Cyclingnews.com)
Baruguil finished 10th in the Tour in 2017.
We climbed Col d’Izoard June 18, 2017 (over a month before the TdF would arrive) yet it was quite clear that The Tour was on its way!
The d’Izoard was first included in the Tour de France in 1922. Race director Henry Desgranges chose to include Col d’Izoard in the Tour on a 170 mile stage from Nice to Briancon (Briancon has since become a hub of exceptional bicycle climbs). 1922 was a different era of bike racing: equipment, roads, tactic... and... honor...
Back in the day...
Ottavio Bottecchia - Col d’Izoard 1925 TdF
Photo The Guardian [OlycomSpa/Rex/Shutterstock]
Gino Bartali was a devout Christian. Fausto Coppi was a confirmed atheist. Yet the two were teammates and respectful rivals on the Italian team for years. Coppi was born in 1919 and came to be known as “Champion of Champions” while Bartali was born five years earlier and was known as Gino the Pious. Bartali represented traditional Italy, while Coppi was seen as the modern representative of the progressive Italian state. Both had heroic WWII experiences, Coppi as a British prisoner of war and Bartali by assisting the resistance and helping Jewish refugees escape tyranny and death (see, Road to Valor, 2012; Yad Vashem awarded Bartali the honour Righteous Among the Nations).
Although both lost much valuable time during their prime cycling years due to WWII, they would remain and become two of the greatest legends the sport has ever had. Coppi’s career included wins in TdF (1949, 1952), Giro (1940, 1947, 1949, 1952-53), Milan-San Remo (3), Paris-Roubaix (1) and Giro di Lombardia (5). Coppi is one of only four men to win TdF and Giro “King of the Mountains” in the same year. Bartali (along with Federico Bahamontes) has more Grand Tour wins (9) than anyone in history and the TdF (1938, 1948), Giro (1936, 1937, 1946; mountain classification a record seven times, three more than anyone in history -- Giro not held five years from 1941-1945), Milan-San Remo (4) and Giro di Lombardia (3).
Gino Bartali won the 1948 Tour de France for a nation.
One of the most famous days in sports history (rivaling Babe Ruth’s called home run in game three of the 1932 World Series) was July 15, 1948, Stage 13 of the Tour de France -- 274 km from Cannes to Briancon, climbing Allos, Vars and d’Izoard. After Stage 12 on July 13, 1948 the great Gino Bartali (five days before his 34th birthday) was 21:28 behind 23-year-old rising star Louison Bobet of France. It is reported that Bartali was contemplating withdrawing from the tour after stage 12 and was in a poor mood when he received a telephone call in his hotel room from his old friend and now Italian parliamentary president Alcide de Gasperi who informed him that the leader of the Italian Communist Party, Palmiro Togliatti had been shot in the neck leaving parliament that day and the country was on the verge of civil war. When he asked what he could do to help, Gasperi said something to the effect of “do what you know best, win stages...it’s important for Italy, for all of us.” Bartali delivered for his country, crushing the field the next day on the d’Izoard and winning Stage 13 by 06:18, Stage 14 over Galibier and Croix de Fer by 05:53 and stage 15 (Aravis, Forclaz) by 01:47. Bartali went on to win the 1948 TdF by 26:16 over Albébric Schotte of Belgium and seal his mythical standing in cycling and Italian lore.
Jean Robic once implied he was unbeatable by stating “I’ve got a Coppi and a Bartali in each leg.” That is how revered the two were. Bartali and Coppi were heralded as climbers and such would define their respective legacies.
Bartali handing Coppi a water bottle on the Galibier in the 1952 TdF
(or Coppi sending it back to Bartali, the debate rages…)
GIRO D’ ITALIA HISTORY
Due to its close proximity to the northwestern border of Italy, Col d’Izoard from Briancon has been included in the Giro d’Italia several times.
Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi fought it out up the I’zoard on Stage 16 1949 Giro.
This climb has been the Cima Coppi of the Giro once since that designation was first introduced in 1965 to honor arguably the Giro’s greatest participant of all time:
“The Cima Coppi is the title given to the highest peak in the yearly running of the Giro d'Italia, one of cycling's Grand Tour races. The mountain that is given this title each year awards more mountains classification points to the first rider than any of the other categorized mountains in the race.
The categorization was first introduced for the 1965 Giro d'Italia in honor of the late Fausto Coppi who won five editions of the Giro d'Italia and three mountain classification titles during his career. It was first announced on 22 April 1965 by then race director Vicenzo Torriani that the highest peak would award two times as many mountains classification points. Torriani thought of possibly awarding time bonuses to the first to summit the mountain; however, after many dissenting opinions, he opted to go award more mountains classification points.
The Cima Coppi changes from year to year, depending on the altitude profile of the Giro d'Italia, but the Cima Coppi par excellence is the Stelvio Pass, which at 2758 m is the highest point ever reached by the Giro. The Stelvio has been used in the 1972, 1975, 1980, 1994, 2005, 2012, 2014 and 2017 editions. It was also scheduled in 1965, 1988, and 2013, but in each case the course was modified due to weather conditions, with various effects on the Cima Coppi designation” (Wikipedia - Cima Coppi).
FEATURED IN THE TOUR DE FRANCE
FEATURED IN THE GIRO D’ITALIA