If there´s one thing The Haute Route are good at, it´s taking our riders on legendary climbs, and the 2023 season will be no exception. Discover the 5 most awaited climbs of the season.
The legend of the passes
It is easy to give the status of the "legendary climb" to Alpe d'Huez, Mont Ventoux or the Stelvio, but in the end, what makes these climbs so special, unique and prestigious?
A legendary climb has a special place in our cycling hearts. As cyclists, when we climb one of them, we feel a certain magic emanating from the road. It often starts with a little twinge at the foot of the climb. Then the higher you go, the more you feel liberated by a sense of freedom and fulfilment that turns into true deliverance when you finally reach the top.
This list of legendary passes may seem subjective to the uninitiated, but it is universal and firmly embedded in the subconscious of all cyclists. The climbs on this short list are identifiable by the delicious cocktail of altitude, sporting challenge, myth, history and spectacular scenery that they bring together.
The Haute Route events pass through a large number of them and we have selected the 5 unmissable passes of the 2023 season.
Alpe d'Huez - 1860m
Altitude is not everything and Alpe d'Huez proves it, from the top of its 1860 metres, the ascent of the alpine resort owes its legend to that of the Tour de France. Some of the greatest pages in the history of the Tour de France were written on its iconic 21 switchbacks.
When one thinks of the 1986 Tour when Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond, both teammates of the La Vie Claire team, crossed the finish line at the top of the Alpes d'Huez, hand in hand through the fog, symbolising the transfer of power between the French champion and the young American hopeful.But the Alpe d'Huez had already built its legend long before. It was the scene of the first summit finish in the history of the Tour in 1952, which gave rise to an epic duel between Fausto Coppi and Jean Robic. The Italian champion won the stage, but the real winner was the Alpe d'Huez, which has since become world-famous and an unmissable part of the Tour.
Since then, 31 finishes have taken place in Alpe d'Huez and the greatest champions have won the Tour de France there, such as Zoetemelk, Pantani, Hinault, Fignon, Bugno, Herrera or more recently Franck Schleck and Geraint Thomas.
Thibaut Pinot said after his victory in Alpe d'Huez in 2015: "For climbers, this is the most mythical finish that can exist", so it is impossible for the Haute Route Alpes 2023 to miss it. Two stage finishes are even planned on both sides of the climb.
Slopes taken by the Haute Route Alpes 2023:
- By Villard- Reculas (stage 2) : 18,4km / 1067M+ / 5,8% average gradient / 13,8% maximum gradient.
- From Bourg d’Oisans (21 lacets) – stage 3 : 13,9 km / 1118M+ / 8% on average / 15% maximum gradient.
Mont Ventoux - 1909m
The majestic Giant of Provence is obviously one of the climbs that cyclists dream about the most. With its atypical silhouette, culminating at an altitude of over 1900 metres in a region that is not very mountainous, Mont Ventoux is one of the most recognisable climbs. This is perhaps what gives it its special character, planted in the middle of an almost flat region, the Ventoux watches over its prey from more than a hundred kilometres around.
The Giant is waiting for you with a firm hand and has many surprises in store for you. You will have to cross a dense forest before finding yourself in a lunar landscape depopulated of all vegetation at an altitude of more than 1500 metres. This particularity has earned it the nickname of Mont Chauve (Bald Mountain), as the violent winds that the Ventoux faces annihilate all forms of life and leave the summit deserted. On the last 6 kilometres of ascent, you will find yourself surrounded by sand and limestone rocks, suddenly you will have the impression to have landed on the moon, surrounded by white and deserted landscape. Alone in the middle of this immensity your only guide is the observatory marking the summit.
In this science-fiction movie setting, we witnessed some of the mythical events of the Tour de France. From the death of Tom Simpson in 1967, who collapsed from the violence of the effort, to the images of Christopher Froome in 2016, yellow jersey on his back and having to run on foot to try to save his precious tunic, Mont Ventoux has marked and continues to mark generations.
This place is so legendary that the Haute Route will dedicate an event to it in 2023. To discover or rediscover the 3 sides of the legendary Mont Ventoux, we invite you to the Haute Route Ventoux from 6 to 8 October 2023.
Slopes taken by the Haute Route Ventoux 2023 :
- From Malaucène (stage 2) : 21km / 1564M+ / 7,5% average gradient / 12,2% maximal gradient.
- From Bedoin (stage 3 - ITT): 21km / 1594M+ / 7,7% average gradient / 13,3% maximal gradient.
- From Sault (stage 1 – Finish at the Chalet Reynard) : 24,4km / 1204M+ / 4,9% average gradient / 11,9% maximal gradient.
Tourmalet - 2115 m
It is a bit of a wise old man of the French cols who writes and counts the most romantic and epic stories of the petite reine. Its existence begins with its discovery by the creator of the Tour de France Henri Desgrange in 1910, more than 110 years ago!
Climbed for the first time in the same year, half of the ascent was then only a Berger path. Its entry on the route of the Grande Boucle was noticed. Because of the difficulty of the Luchon-Bayonne stage (375km) proposed by the organisers, 69 riders gave up on climbing the first summit above 2000 metres in the history of the Tour. Octave Lapize, winner of the stage, was the first to reach the summit of the Tourmalet. Forced to walk and push his bike over the pass, he exclaimed in pain the famous words "Assassins, you are all assassins!" to the organisers.
Since then, the Tourmalet has been the most climbed pass of the Tour (84 times) and certainly the one with the most stories, from Eugène Christophe who had to repair his fork in a forge in the middle of a climb to the explosive duel between Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck in 2010, and the incredible exploits of Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain. So many stories that they cannot be written here, a whole article is dedicated to them (The Legends: Tourmalet).
The Tourmalet is of course an obligatory point of passage for the Haute Route Pyrenées 2023 and will be climbed on the fourth stage on its eastern side on 7 July, just 24 hours after the Tour de France.
Slope taken by the Haute Route Pyrenées 2023 :
- East side - by Ste Marie de Campans (stage 4) : 17km / 1268M+ / 7,4% average gradient / 11,5% maximal gradient.
- West side - by Luz St Sauveur : 19km / 1435M+ / 7,3% average gradient / 12% maximal gradient.
- Le Galibier - 2642 m
We finally arrive in the very high mountains in a pass that was also shaped by and for the Tour de France. Climbed for the first time in 1911 to an altitude of 2556 metres since the current route to the summit did not exist, the Galibier also quickly made its place among the most prestigious passes. Sporting feats such as the almost fratricidal duel between Luis Ocana and Jose Manuel Fuentes in 1971 or the conclusion of Andy Schleck's 100 km solo ride in 2011 have contributed to its legend, but the scenery is perhaps the main attraction.
Located in the Cerces massif, the Galibier pass is one of the rare crossing points between the Hautes Alpes and Savoie. Without trees on the great majority of its ascent, the pass opens on immense green meadows and valley before the greenery disappears little by little with the altitude to finally find itself surrounded by limestone rock. In the heart of the immensity of this setting, it offers magnificent views of the Ecrins massif and its eternal snow from its southern slopes, while its northern slopes offer views of the glaciers of the Vanoise massif. On a clear day, it is not unusual to see the roof of Europe, Mont Blanc, in the distance.
The Galibier pass is undeniably one of the most beautiful passes to climb. If it is not yet on your list, you should know that the fourth stage of the Haute Route Alpes 2023 will set up its finishing arch at the top of the pass on 23 August.
Slopes taken by the Haute Route Alpes 2023 :
- North side – by col du Télégraphe (stage 4) : 35km / 2069M+ / 5,9% average gradient / 13,1% maximal gradient.
- South-West side – from Bourg d’oisan : 42,8km / 1929M+ / 4,5% average gradient / 11,4% maximal gradient.
- South-East side – from Briançon : 37km / 1350 m d+ / 3,7% average gradient / 11,7% maximal gradient.
Finally, the highest of this selection, the Passo Stelvio, is obviously an unmissable passage for the Haute Route. How can you not fall under the spell of its beautiful curves and its multitude of hairpin bends (88 in total on its 2 sides) that pile up on the mountainside. From the design to the cut, everything is so perfect that it makes you wonder which Italian designer could have designed such a splendid dress for this mountain.
The Stelvio is not only elegant but also demanding. The incredible landscapes of the Tyrol to the north and Lombardy to the south, as well as the capricious nature of this pass, are what make it a legend. There are many images of champion cyclists having to make their way through thick fog or impressive walls of snow to finally reach the summit. Perhaps the most famous is that of Aldo Moser in the 1965 Giro, who was forced to climb a snow barrier with his bike in hand in order to reach the summit.
For the riders of the Haute Route Dolomites, don't worry, it is unlikely to be blocked by snow on August 29. The conditions will be most favourable for riding in the footsteps of Italian champion Fausto Coppi, the first rider to summit the Stelvio in 1953. You should have plenty of time to contemplate the sublime scenery of the Stelvio along the 24 kilometre ascent.
Slopes taken by the Haute Route Dolomites 2023 :
- East-side - Tyrol - by Prato allo Stelvio (stage 1): 24km / 1800M+ / 7,6% average gradient / 14% maximal gradient.
- West side – Lombard - from Bormio (stage 1 - road taken to reach the Passo Umbrail): 20,8km / 1234M+ / 7,4% average gradient / 12% maximal gradient.
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