16KM | 1,135M+ · Wednesday 12th July
There’s no hanging about, the Haute Route Alpe d’Huez starts with a bang! The first stage is a time-trial up the famous 21 bends.
The climb to Alpe d’Huez is probably the best known and most iconic climb in cycling. Marco Pantani holds the record for the ascent, climbing it in 37 minutes and 35 seconds during the 1997 Tour de France. The best-known moment, however, is surely Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond arriving hand-in-hand in 1986, their smiles papering over their intense rivalry within the same team…
So what is it like, the climb up the famous 21 bends to Alpe d’Huez?
On the face of it, it doesn’t sound too bad. The raw numbers are 13.2km, 1,071m and 8.1%. Sounds OK? The gradient is a bit steep at 8.1%, but certainly doable, right? Think again and let’s look at the detail.
The road is totally flat from the start ramp in the centre of Bourg d’Oisans to the foot of the climb. You turn the corner and then bam! You are straight onto the first of a series of steep ramps. The slope for the first 3km of the climb averages 10.4%, but the hairpin bends at the end of each ramp are flat, meaning the ramps themselves are at 11%-12%. This is small ring, big cog territory.
The first let-up is after about 3km at the village of La Garde, bend 16, where you can enjoy 200m of gentle slope. The road soon ramps up again. There’s a second let-up 2km further up at Le Ribot d’en Bas, and a final one as you pass the cemetery at Saint-Ferréol, just before the village of Huez.
The rest of the climb is relentless, the gradient almost never dropping below 8.5%, until you arrive at last in the village of Alpe d’Huez. You pass through the tunnel and the slope flattens off a bit for the final kilometre. After the final roundabout there’s only a 300m uphill sprint to do and it’s all over.
Stage description by Alpine Cols
Alpe d’Huez isn’t just a legendary climb! It’s a paradise for anyone who loves open spaces, mountain air, summer sports, outdoor adventures, hiking and cultural activities. Located in the Oisans mountain range, near the Meije (3.984 meters), the Barre des Ecrins (4.102 meters), Italy and nature parks of Ecrins and Vercors, Alpe d’Huez also neighbours the Hautes Alpes!
It offers perfect conditions for holidays with your partner, your friends or your family. Sunlight is in abundant supply thanks to its south facing nature, and you can take in breathtaking sceneries over the most beautiful French peaks. On top of natural beauty of its surroundings, Alpe d’Huez also has modern sports infrastructures that offer a lot of options year round.