Alpe d’Huez preview

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After tomorrow, Alpe d’Huez will have been featured as a finishing climb at the Tour de France 28 times. And while it’s not the most visually stunning climb in France, it’s definitely the most iconic. I took a ride up Alpe d’Huez on the eve of stage 18, a day which ends with a double ascent of the legendary climb.

The climb is 13.8km long with an average gradient of 7.9%. It features 21 hairpin bends, each named with a previous winner on the mountain. The Alpe was first included in the race in 1952 and has been a regular stage finish since 1976.

Best ascent times

In my opinion Alpe d’Huez isn’t nearly as difficult as climbs such as the Tourmalet or Mont Ventoux. However, it’s quite variable in gradient which never allows you to get into a good rhythm.

For mere mortals like you and me the one hour mark is the time to beat. For those of you racing the stage tomorrow, your times should be in the sub-42 minute mark if you’re going for the win. What will Froome’s time be? Judging by everything else he’s done this Tour, I believe we can expect a sub-40 minute ascent.

See the Alpe d’Huez profile here.

The fastest recorded time up Alpe d’Huez was set by Marco Pantani in 1997 (in a very different era) with a time of 37’35” (although some reports say that Pantani broke 36 minutes twice). Lance Armstrong rode one second slower in 2004 in an ITT up the Alpe.

Of the riders racing tomorrow, Andreas Klöden has the 12th fastest time of 39’17” (2004), Contador has the 25th best time with 41’30” (2011), Cadel Evans is in 26th spot with 41’46” (2008), Pierre Rolland has 29th spot with 41’57” (2011), and sitting in 31st is Ryder Hesjedal with 43’12”.

That said, these lists of timings vary from place to place. See this comprehensive list for an example of one of them.

If you’re interested in seeing some of the times recorded on Strava, you can check them out here.

Dutch Corner

Alpe d’Huez is also known to many as the Dutch Mountain. The Dutch have had much success on the Alpe having won 8 of the first 14 finishes. Since the Dutch have no mountains (only crosswinds), they’ve adopted Alpe d’Huez as their own.

And the Dutch have lots to be proud of this Tour. Unfortunately Bauke Mollema slipped back out of a podium spot after today’s time trial and Ten Dam is sitting in 7th, but those two should be considered a huge success and they’ll get a warm welcome when they arrive tomorrow.

On corner number 7 of Alpe d’Huez you’ll find thousands of Dutch cycling fans and party animals camped out on the side of the road. They come many days before the Tour (I’ve been told that some come 2 weeks before) and camp out across from the church.

From what I understand, it all started back in the ’60s with a Dutch priest named Father Reuten who helped build the church and who was also a mad cycling fan. He would be out there cheering on the riders and attracted many of the Dutch to do the same. Until a few years ago the church was also used as the media center.

Col de Sarenne

After the first ascent of Alp d’Huez the riders loop around the Col de Sarenne and back to Alpe d’Huez for the finishing climb. What’s not obvious is that the descent through Col de Sarrene isn’t completely downhill.

It starts out as a slight descent into a valley from Alpe d’Huez but then begins to climb a couple kilometers to the top of the Col de Sarenne. There’s still a decent amount of pedaling left to do before the roads turn downwards.

The descent was rehersed in this year’s Dauphine and Tony Martin was the first to raise the issue with it being too dangerous. After Contador’s near miss on the descent on stage 16, Chris Froome has called for the Col de Sarenne descent to be neutralised if it’s raining. Other riders have expressed concern about it too.

After riding the Col de Sarenne today while it was wet, I can’t say I disagree with Froome, but it’s no different than many alpine descents I’ve ridden. The switchbacks come quickly and frequently, so there won’t be much time to build up a lot of speed. It should be exhillarating to watch, but if something serious should happen, there will be a lot of explaining to do by the organisers after the fuss that’s being made.


Depending on which forecast you use, there’s anywhere between a 60%-80% chance of rain tomorrow afternoon. More accurately, moderate to heavy rain with thunder. We got a little wet today, but the temperature is warm.


It’s a short stage and the peloton won’t let an escape get too much time. It’s hard to look past Chris Froome, but Contador is looking extremely good after today’s time trial and there are still many riders who want to get a stage win. But unless a breakaway sticks (which I doubt due to the length of the stage), I doubt we’ll see any surprises.

If the previous days of the Tour is anything to go by, this should be a tremendous stage.

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