Alpe d'Huez


A climb that needs no introduction. Alpe d’Huez is legendary.

The most ‘googled’ climb on the planet – thousands of cyclists reconcile demons and battle a way to the top of Alpe d'Huez each year from around the world. Reaching the summit at 1815m, it is 13.2km of climbing; starting in Le Bourg d'Oisans, with an average gradient of 7.9% (max 14%). Uniquely, the climb has a steep start with five of its toughest turns first (all grades >10%). The initial bend ascends 60m, and the next four, 230m! (The total is only 1104m.)

It is twenty-one hairpins that are well-marked and count downwards (which although is like the Stelvio, is rather unusual, and therefore can be confusing); but makes each turn a clear and recognisable achievement of pain and glory.

Alpe d'Huez is not the toughest climb in the French Alps, nor the prettiest. But conversely, it can make for easy viewing for spectators and is often the last of the stage finishes at high-altitude – making it famous for shaping the outcome of the Tour de France and offering great access to stellar views of riders leaving nothing in the tank.

Notoriously called the Dutch Corner, this number seven bend at Église Saint-Ferréol greets the ascending riders like nowhere-else – during the Tour, it is orange and loud. And it signals 10km to go.

While riding up and past the village of Huez, which is wonderful and charming, it is through corners five and four where the landscape starts to differ – casting signs of the resort, the alpine greens and cow-filled meadows are dotted with ski-lift architecture.

It is corner number 'three' that you wish was 'one' – these are the last two bends that swing around to face the finish. Structurally different but with similar gradients <6% they both give pain. Long drags, wind in face – the grind is real.

At corner two, where the famous Italian climber, Pantani, in 1997 launched a scathing attack – is what feels like a double-digit ramp. At 1669m altitude, it is up and around before putting-in that final push towards the finish line.

Fastest time? Alberto Contador holds the record for the fastest ascent, in just 37:30; this was achieved during the 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné.