The Cormet de Roselend is a magnet for Tour de France drama, but its rich history is just part of the reason this stunning climb is an absolute legend in the game.
Words: Joanne Clarke
"Following difficult weather and landslides forecast for tomorrow, the route has been modified”, said the Tour de France Race Director ahead of the 20th stage of the race last year. The day before saw Stage 19 dramatically cut short due to extreme hail, snow and mudslides further up the course whilst riders descended the Col d’Iseran in sunny conditions, blissfully unaware. Despite the chaos and confusion at the time, the truncated course and sudden changes served as a stark reminder that anything can happen when you’re racing in the Alps, and that mother nature will almost always have the final say.
"Viewers around the world missed out on breath-taking views, wild scenery, winding roads and a stunning alpine lake at 1,600m"
But would Egan Bernal still have been able to hold onto his yellow jersey if both Stage 19 and 20 had played out in full? And which key parts of the course were the riders and spectators going to miss out on most? A major loss was the Category One climb of the Cormet de Roselend, set to feature in the original Stage 20 course. With a landslide blocking the path, this ascent was definitely a no-go, but armchair viewers around the world missed out on breathtaking views, wild scenery, winding roads and a stunning alpine lake at 1,600m. While we are sure the Tour de France riders would be too focused to register much of this beauty, they’d perhaps at least be grateful for the flatter section that accompanies the lake before the road kicks up again for the final approach to the cormet – a local word for summit.
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"During the 1996 edition of the Tour de France, Stéphane Heulot was reduced to tears on this climb."
For Bernal, the 20.3km ascent and any accompanying attacks that might have played out on it would probably do little to unsettle him. However, this climb has a history of drama and a yellow jersey has in fact been lost here before. During the 1996 edition of the Tour de France, Stéphane Heulot was reduced to tears on this climb and unable to go with the front riders. Suffering from a knee injury, he was later forced to abandon the stage. But he wasn’t the only one to crack that day, with two of the favourites, Chris Boardman and Laurent Jalabert, both coming undone.
Despite the action going up, it was the descent that sticks in everyone’s minds from that year. It was after the summit at Roselend that Johan Bruyneel overshot a hairpin and disappeared over the side of a tree-lined gorge before miraculously climbing his way back out again, relatively unscathed. When it is your turn to ride the descent, you may spot his name written in yellow on the floor where it happened – a reminder to ride safely and carefully down those twisting switchbacks which have witnessed many a crash over the Roselend’s Tour de France history.
There’s plenty of reasons why the Roseland has been a regular in the TDF lineup since 1979, featuring no less than 12 times in total. This rich history certainly adds to the charm of this lovely climb, but it’s the idyllic mountain setting, the stunning turquoise waters of Lac de Roselend, and the all-important cheese shop at the summit that make this one an absolute classic.
Cormet de Roselend
Highest point: 1968m
Average gradient: 6%
Featuring in Stage Two of this year’s 10th edition of the Haute Route Alps, the climb to Cormet de Roselend gives riders the chance to test their legs on a course very similar to Stage 9 of this year’s Tour de France. Find out more about this unique race on the Haute Route website.