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Climbing Alpe d'Huez by bike: enter the legend!

par Philippe Baudoin © reproduction interdite
station Alpe Huez

A must-climb!

Located in the Grandes Rousses massif, just a stone's throw from the Vanoise and Ecrins national parks, Alpe d'Huez, with its 21 numbered turns named after illustrious cyclists, is one of the most famous stages of the Tour de France and a very popular destination for cycling enthusiasts. The Grande Boucle passed through here in 1952 and regularly since 1976. A key stage of the Tour, the Alpe has a history of successes and defeats, disappointments, surprises, emotions and anecdotes that have made it famous. Climbing Alpe d'Huez is like entering the legend!

A high medieval village

medieval site Alpe Huez

The Alpe d'Huez site has been frequented since the Middle Ages. The village of Brandes-sur-Oisans was established between the 12th and 14th centuries to exploit a silver lead mine, the most important in the Dauphiné. The silver extracted was used to make coins. It is the highest medieval village in Europe. The resort that we know today will take its real rise in the last century, in the 20s.

Alpe d'Huez, a resort that became famous thanks to the Tour de France

The Ecrins National Park
  • Created in 1973
  • Central zone: 91,800 ha
  • Outer zone : 180 000 ha
  • Maximum altitude: 4102 m (Ecrins bar)
  • Covers 61 communes on 2 departments
  • 12 000 ha of glaciers
  • 700 km of hiking trails
  • 200 animal species
  • 1800 plant species

250 kilometres of ski runs

With more than 120 runs, 250 kilometres of descents and 800 hectares of skiable terrain, Alpe d'Huez is one of the largest ski areas in France. It has a 16-kilometre long run, the longest in the world. In summer (from the end of June to the end of August), the resort is the starting point for hiking trails and mountain bike circuits. A famous downhill race, the Mégavalanche, is held here every year.

From the top of its 1860 metres, the resort benefits from a record amount of sunshine with 300 days of sunshine per year, hence its nickname "the island of sunshine".

300 cycling climbs per day

But it is above all thanks to the Tour de France, which it regularly hosts, that the resort of Alpe d'Huez has gained an international reputation. It is also the finishing point of the famous and fearsome Marmotte cycle race, run each year by more than 6,000 participants and linking Bourg d'Oisans to Alpe d'Huez on a 175 kilometre circuit via the Croix de Fer, Télégraphe and Galibier passes. In summer, Alpe d'Huez sees more than 2000 cyclists climbing its slopes every week.

The Church of Our Lady of the Snows

Church, stained glass windows, organ
Church of Notre-Dame des Neiges in the shape of the "Meije", stained glass windows by the artist Arcabas and organ in the shape of a hand

The church of Notre-Dame des Neiges was built at the end of the 1960s, in preparation for the 1968 Olympic Games, to replace the old small wooden chapel that had become too small. It was designed by the architect Jean Marol. It has a special cachet: modern architecture in the shape of a tent reproducing the silhouette of the Meije, stained glass windows with multiple colours illustrating scenes from the Gospel according to Saint Mark, an organ of exceptional quality in the shape of a hand raised towards the sky and housing the pipes of the instrument in its palm and fingers. Concerts are held here on Thursday evenings. The building is in the process of being registered in the supplementary inventory of historical monuments.

Source: www.alpedhuez.com, photos: www.alpedhuez.com, Jean Freysselinard

Events

Every year in August, the tourist office organises a medieval festival at the resort and at the archaeological site of Brandes.

The Ecrins National Park
  • Created in 1973
  • Central zone: 91,800 ha
  • Outer zone : 180 000 ha
  • Maximum altitude: 4102 m (Ecrins bar)
  • Covers 61 communes on 2 departments
  • 12 000 ha of glaciers
  • 700 km of hiking trails
  • 200 animal species
  • 1800 plant species

Le Bourg d'Oisans, start of the ascent

Bourg d'Oisans
Le Bourg d'Oisans, 3400 inhabitants, holiday resort at the foot of the Alpe

Geographical and administrative capital of the Oisans, Le Bourg d'Oisans is located in the Oisans plain, in Isère, 20 kilometres from Grenoble, in the Rhône Alpes region. This small holiday resort has 3400 inhabitants (2007 census), the Bourcats. The town, crossed by the Romanche, is at the crossroads of 6 valleys (Romanche, Ferrand, Vénéon, Eau d'Olle, Lignarre and Sarenne) and in the heart of 3 large massifs (Belledone and Grandes Rousses to the North, Ecrins to the South). Its position at the foot of the famous passes of the Tour de France (Alpe d'Huez, Lautaret, Galibier, Glandon, Croix de Fer) makes it a privileged place for cycling enthusiasts.

Alpe d'Huez, a key stage of the Tour de France

Every year, the Alpe d'Huez attracts between 500,000 and 1 million spectators, some of whom come from very far away to follow the mythical ascent live. The Tour arrived for the first time at the Alpe in 1952, on the initiative of Georges Rajon, president of the Alpe d'Huez sports club from 1950 to 1975, a project that was almost impossible at the time due to the high costs of organisation (20,000 francs). Fausto Coppi won the stage after covering 255 kilometres from Lausanne and climbing in 45 minutes and 22 seconds. The resort was then shunned for 24 years before being put back on the programme in 1976, due to a combination of circumstances (the Tour was supposed to pass through Grenoble but its mayor at the time, Hubert Dubedout, didn't want it, so Alpe d'Huez inherited it).

cyclists

L'Alpe is a key stage of the Tour. History seems to confirm, with rare exceptions, that the wearer of the yellow jersey on the evening of the stage will win in Paris.

If Alpe d'Huez has left such a mark on the history of the Tour that it has become a legend, it is also and above all thanks to the emotions it has generated over the years. Among these, the arrival of Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault hand in hand in 1986, when they had until then "thrown sticks in each other's wheels" despite being part of the same team. We remember, in 1989, the fight between Greg Lemond and Laurent Fignon where the latter dropped his competitor 4 kilometres from the summit to take back the yellow jersey in triumph, but lost it again a few days later on the Champs Elysées for a mere 8 seconds. Nor can we forget Marco Pantani, the "pirate", a real rocket, who reached the summit in 37 minutes and 35 seconds in 1997 in the stage Saint-Etienne - L'Alpe d'Huez, a record that is still unbeaten today. There are so many other anecdotes that could be cited that have left their mark on the memory.

The climb by bike: 13.1 kilometres, 21 turns

Circuit ascension Alpe Huez

The ascent of Alpe d'Huez

The ascent of Alpe d'Huez represents, from the exit of Bourg d'Oisans, 21 turns, nearly 14 kilometres of ascent with an average gradient of 7.8%. From the official start line a little further on, it is 13.1 kilometres and an 8.2% gradient. If the Alpe is not in itself a very difficult climb, it is above all the kilometres covered and the accumulated gradient that make it a formidable end to the stage.

See the itinerary

Photos, profiles, pass status

Philippe Baudoin
Reproduction interdite - Copyright © Sport Passion
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