Hairpin 11 after 2018 TdF Stage 12
Of the hundreds of climbs we have documented for this website, Alpe d’Huez needs the least introduction -- everyone has heard of this most famous of all World Climbs! The finish is inauspicious (other than during the TdF of course), but it is the 21 well-known switchbacks and its rich TdF history that makes this “The One”!
Known as the “Hollywood Climb” when included in the Tour de France (29 times since 1976) it is always the stage finish (except for the first of 2 in a day - 2013 - see below for more detail). Alpe d’Huez is to cycling as the Indy 500 is to motor racing, St. Andrews to golf, Fenway to baseball, Wembley Stadium to football, Wimbledon is to tennis and so on. This could be the most famous and well known of any sporting venue and certainly the most famous in cycling. See our “Tour de France History” towards the bottom of this article.
Hairpin #1 during Tour de France
Geographically and Geologically, Alpe d’Huez is located in the Dauphine Alps of southeastern France, a part of Europe’s Alps Mountain Range. The climb begins at the eastern edge of Le Bourg-d’Oisans (population ~2,900). Following the famous 21 hairpins to the top of the climb takes us to the ski resort of L’Alpe d’Huez. On the way, we pass through the village of Huez (8.5 km - population 1,398 in 2011; elevation 1,400 m).
Just before the start of the climb: Le Bourg-d’Oisans.
It’s the turns, not the finish, that makes this The Most Famous Climb in the World.
It’s all about the hairpins/bends/turns/laces/tornates/kehres -- by whatever name you call them, this is the best game of 21 you’ll ever play.
View down at Hairpins 7 through 13 -- Dutch Corner is top right (hairpin #7, 15th from the bottom).
DUTCH CORNER (#7)
Dutch Corner is where cycling fans from the Netherlands congregate on the day the Tour de France comes to Alpe d’Huez for its inevitable exciting mountain top finish. On this day and at this hairpin, the air is filled with loud European music, the smell of barbeque, and sounds of some of the greatest cycling fans in the world. The tradition originates with Joop Zoetemeik who in 1976 became the first Dutchman to win the Alpe d’Huez stage. Thereafter, Dutch riders won the next seven of twelve Alpe d’Huez finishes, but have not done so since Gert-Jan Theunisse in 1989 (Joop Zoetemelk 1976, 1979; Hennie Kuiper 1977, 1978; Peter Winnen 1981, 1983; Steven Rooks 1988 and Gert-Jan Theunisse 1989).
Joop Zoetemelk wins Alpe d’Huez stage18, 1979 (Hinault chases)
Photo - Scanseb / Pinetrest - Raffaele Spiazzi
Dutch Corner, Hairpin 7.
Aerial view of Dutch Corner.
While the Alpe d’Huez cycling climb is not the hardest to be included in France’s Grand Tour, it is by far the most iconic and popular. Whose bucket list doesn’t include cycling Alpe d’Huez? At 14 kilometers and gaining 1,018 m of altitude, this climb is fairly manageable by most cyclists. While the steepest kilometer averages 10.7% grades, the climb is generally of a moderate 7.7% gradient.
Be sure to get your Podium Shot once you begin passing through the ski resort just past Bar L’Indiana on your left (700 meters up from Turn #1).
Stacy Topping atop the podium -- August 2018.
TOUR DE FRANCE HISTORY
Bernard Hinault sealed his 5th Tour victory on Alpe d’Huez 1985
Photo: Ron’s View.
Alpe d’Huez has become “the summit of the modern era,” and no other stage of the Tour de France has such presence. With its 21 bends, steep ramps, and massive crowds, it has become the “Hollywood climb,” according to the ride’s official historian, Jacques Augendre. Each year that this climb is included in the TdF, thousands of spectators flock to the area. The massive crowds create what some participants in the ride have described as a feeling of both fear and exhilaration, and as French journalist Philippe Brunel described the look of the road during Marco Pantani’s victorious ascent in the 1995 race, “that thin ribbon of burning asphalt, covered in graffiti, between two deafening walls of spectators, which threaded between his wheels.” Alpe d’Huez has been included in the Tour de France 29 times between its first appearance in 1952 (including two appearances in 1979 and 2013). Each of the 21 hairpins of this climb has been named after one or more of the winners of the 29 Tour de France stages to finish here. Of note, the first stage up this exceptional climb was fittingly won by the incomparable climber Fausto Coppi. Only three cyclists have won the Alpe d’Huez stage more than once: Marco Pantani (1995, 1997), Gianni Bugno (1990, 1991), and Hennie Kuiper (1977, 1978).
Fausto Coppi became the first stage winner of Alpe d’Huez - stage 10 1952 TdF
Photo: dw.com - 10 most memorable moments on Alpe d’Huez
Likely the most famous and widely remembered and retold stories of Alpe d’Huez is from 1985 when, after two weeks battling each other, it appeared that Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault had reached a truce and that Hinault would achieve the glory of his fifth TdF without further challenge by Lemond. As the two rode up Alpe d’Huez, the Frenchman led and Lemond followed directly on his wheel. The two passed through throngs of ecstatic French fans and the path grew more narrow as the two neared the climb finish. In the end, the two embraced and Hinault moved slightly ahead of Lemond for his 26th Stage win, at the time placing him second all-time behind Eddy Merckx (34). Hinault went on to win two more stages in his glorious career and is now third with 28 wins, behind Merckx and Mark Cavendish (30).
The exceptional Italian climber, Marco Pantani, holds three of the five fastest times up Alpe d’Huez, the fastest time is 37’35”.
Marco Pantani near the finish on Alpe d’Huez
photo: Hein Ciere
Alpe d’Huez was the stage for one of the most famous (infamous?) cycling moments of all time. Alpe d’Huez was the final climb of three on Stage 10 July 17, 2001 (Col dd Madeleine, Col du Glandon, Alpe d’Huez). Lance Armstrong had dropped from 5:56 back after stage 7 to 35:43 back after a disastrous stage 8 which saw a freak breakaway won by Erik Dekker (s.t. Alto Gonzalez and Servais Knaven). Armstrong was 20:07 back after Stage 9 and his main rival that year, Jan Ullrich, was at 22:41 going into Stage 10.
Armstrong appeared weak on Col de Madeleine which led Uhllrich and his Team Telekom begin an insane sprint up Col du Glandon, leaving Armstrong barely(?) hanging on to the rear of this lead group. However, just a couple kilometers up Alpe d’Huez and with 11 kilometers remaining, Armstrong surged to the front of the group, passed Uhlrich and then, in a moment of Tour lore, looked back (“The Look”) at Uhlrich, fixed his gaze on him momentarily, then put the hammer down and sprinted away (uphill) to victory and his 3rd Tour de France victory of 7.
The Look, Alpe d’Huez stage 10 2001 Tour de France
Photo from J Barber and F Ruggeri as published in Masculine Heart
Alpe d’Huez included twice in the 2013 Tour
In 2013, with the help of Col de Sarenne, Tour de France history was made. It was this tiny col that permitted the mighty Alpe d’Huez to be included for the first time twice in a single tour stage. For many years organizers had fantasized about including the legendary Alpe d’Huez twice in a single stage. The answer lay right under their noses. Surprisingly, it took them until 2013 to discover and include tiny Col de Sarrene as the bridge to one of the most exciting stages any Grand Tour could ever imagine - the most epic and famous of climbs included in its event . . .TWICE!
Thus it was that in 2013 the Grand Stage was born - the most famous climb in the world was featured two times on the same day in the most famous race in the world (it had been included twice in 1979, but on back to back days in stages 17 and 18). In advance of of stage 18 July 18, 2013, the Route du Col de Sarenne was repaved for its first Grand Tour appearance (and last as of 2019).
A route profile we have only seen once in history.
On this famous day in Tour history, Frenchman Christophe Riblon would achieve his second and final TdF stage win. But what a win it was! Riblon actually crashed descending from Col de Sarenne, but recovered and overtook both riders of his 3 man breakaway. He has said the victory on the only day the most famous ascent in the world was climbed twice in the greatest of the Grand Tours was “life changing.”
Christophe Riblon’s highest finish ever in the Tour de France was 28th in 2010, but he will be forever famous, and deservedly so, for his victory on Alpe d’Huez on an unforgettable day in July, 2013.
Christophe Riblon crosses the finish line first stage 18 2013 Tour de France
2018 TdF remnants at Hairpin 10.
Start of stage
Leader in general classification
Wikipedia - Alpe d’Huez
Wikipedia provides a nice history of the climb:
“L'Alpe d'Huez is climbed regularly in the Tour de France. It was first included in the race in 1952 and has been a stage finish regularly since 1976.
The race was brought to the mountain by Élie Wermelinger, the chief commissaire or referee. He drove his Dyna-Panhard car between snow banks that lined the road in March 1952, invited by a consortium of businesses who had opened hotels at the summit. Their leader was Georges Rajon, who ran the Hotel Christina. The ski station there opened in 1936. Wermelinger reported to the organiser, Jacques Goddet, and the Tour signed a contract with the businessmen to include the Alpe. It cost them the modern equivalent of €3,250.
That first Alpe d'Huez stage was won by Fausto Coppi. Coppi attacked 6 kilometres (3.7 miles) from the summit to rid himself of the French rider Jean Robic. He turned the Alpe into an instant legend because this was the year that motorcycle television crews first came to the Tour. It was also the Tour's first mountain-top finish. The veteran reporter, Jacques Augendre, said:
The Tourmalet, the Galibier and the Izoard were the mythical mountains of the race. These three cols were supplanted by the Alpe d'Huez. Why? Because it's the col of modernity. Coppi's victory in 1952 was the symbol of a golden age of cycling, that of champions [such as] Coppi, Bartali, Kubler, Koblet, Bobet. But only Coppi and Armstrong and Carlos Sastre have been able to take the maillot jaune on the Alpe and to keep it to Paris. That's not by chance. From the first edition, shown on live television, the Alpe d'Huez definitively transformed the way the Grande Boucle ran. No other stage has had such drama. With its 21 bends, its gradient and the number of spectators, it is a climb in the style of Hollywood.
Augendre neglected to mention Fignon, who, along with Coppi and Armstrong, took yellow on the Alpe without winning the stage in 1983, 1984, and 1989. He held it into Paris in 1983 and 1984 but in 1989 he lost it on the final stage to Paris, a time trial, to Greg LeMond to finish second by 8", the closest finish in tour history.
After Coppi, however, the Alpe was dropped until 1964, when it was included as a mid-stage climb, and then again until 1976, both times at Rajon's instigation.
The hairpin bends are named after the winners of stages. All hairpins had been named by the 22nd climb in 2001 so naming restarted at the bottom with Lance Armstrong's name added to Coppi's.
Stage 18 of the 2013 Tour de France included a double ascent of the climb, reaching 1,765 m (5,791 ft) on the first passage, and continuing to the traditional finish on the second.
French journalist and L'Equipe sportswriter Jean-Paul Vespini wrote a book about Alpe d'Huez and its role in the Tour de France: The Tour Is Won on the Alpe: Alpe d'Huez and the Classic Battles of the Tour de France.”
A bit of a warning as of June, 2017: The roadway surface was good, but beware on hot days that the tar used to patch cracks is a bit slippery and must be avoided on the descent. The temperatures did not reach 90° during the three days we spent on the mountain in August 2018, so the problem has been resolved, or it only occurs on very hot days.
In conclusion, if you only had one option, one choice, one climb left in your life, you’d really have a hard time not picking this one!
 We all know, but it is necessary to mention here, that Lance Armstrong’s 7 tour victories were all stripped due to the use of PED’s.