The Alpe d'Huez : One of the most legendary climbs in the world, told through the achievements of three great riders.
The fabled Alpe d’Huez climb needs little introduction. With its 21 switchbacks, it has featured as a battleground for Tour de France riders since its inception in 1952 and is a mythical climb for any cyclist. Whether you are yet to tick it off your bucket-list or if you have already climbed it a handful of times, each ascent offers a different experience and a unique battle with mind and body.
" There is no denying that Pantani was one of the most thrilling climbers in the sport "
With a climb so steeped in history, where do we start when tasked with picking out three of our most memorable moments on the climb? From the first stage win by Coppi in 1952, to the clumsy photographer that knocked Guerini off his bike, there are plenty of unforgettable moments and tales of defiance to come from this remarkable road. Here are our top picks:
1. MARCO PANTANI
When it is your turn to ride up the Alpe d’Huez hairpins from Bourg d’Oisans, make sure you check where you are on the climb when the clock reads 37 minutes and 35 seconds. Why? Because at this point, as part of the 1997 Tour de France, Marco Pantani had already crossed the line. That time still stands as the fastest ascent and although marred with drug controversy, there is no denying that Pantani was one of the most thrilling climbers in the sport, with his distinct riding style on the drops and a distinct personality to match.
In the 2015 Tour de France, rider Nairo Quintana attacked the same climb in 39 minutes and 22 seconds. This is the 14th fastest time in the Tour’s history, and the only rider to make it into the top 20 since the tighter doping controls.
" A tradition was born "
2. JOOP ZOETEMELK
1976 was a good year for the Netherlands team. One notable performance was that of Joop Zoetemelk, who was the first Dutch rider to win the Alpe d’Huez stage. It was here that a tradition was born and since that moment, a pilgrimage of Dutch fans dressed in orange have descended on the climb to celebrate the Tour de France. At corner number seven you can find fans that are as committed to the party as Zoetemelk was to his attack on the climb. The fans also seem to have the endurance and stamina to match, with the ability to keep celebrating (and drinking!) without faltering for days.
While we can’t order a mass of orange-clad fans to spur you on up the climb, it is worth visualising and thinking of their all-out energy and infectious spirits as you pass the corner as it is sure to spur you on.
" The little gardener from Colombia went on to have a strong professional career "
3. LUIS HERRERA
Imagine beating a professional rider up the Alpe d’Huez? That is exactly what Luis Herrera did in 1984. Aged just 23 and as part of an amateur team at the time, the cyclist became the first amateur in Tour de France history to win a stage, after beating the likes of Phil Anderson and Peter Winnen up the climb. From there, the rest is history, and the ‘little gardener’ from Colombia went on to have a strong professional career too. Let that be an inspiration to you as you take on the mythical climb, anything is possible….