Famous Cols – Alpe d’Huez

When you talk about famous cols, Alpe d’Huez is up there with the best.

Its not strictly a col, a col being a mountain pass and where the road ends is just on the side of the mountain. But no one really cares, its the challenge that matters.

If you have just done 150 gruelling kilometers across France to get to the bottom it is a fearsome climb.

However, if you are just doing the 15km from Le Bourg d’Oisans to the top, its a bit easier. Its never easy, I am not diminishing its severity, but most riders don’t arrive at the bottom already exhausted.

The Start

The roundabout that intersects the D1091 is usually reckoned to be the start of the climb, it gives you a few hundred meters of flat before the gradient begins.

You can see the climb start before you get to it. An abrupt beginning at a 90° left hand corner.

I have heard many strategies for coping with this climb. The most common is: select the lowest gear, put your head down and just keep pushing at any rate you can sustain for an hour or two. This will enable you to survive the trial.

The gradient is relentless; your only break will be in the hairpins where there is sometimes 10m of flattish road.

Our guests

Our guests at Le Château d’Oz average around 90 minutes for the climb. I know Marco Pantani did it in 37m 35s (exact times vary) but not everyone has access to his “training regime”.

If you can get under an hour, you are doing exceptionally well for an amateur.

The first 4 bends are the hardest. especially if you decide to start in the late afternoon on a sunny day. This is a bad idea.

The south-facing rocks at the bottom, exposed when the road was cut into the mountain, warm up all day and then radiate their heat back onto the road.

On a hot, windless day, the heat can be intolerable, over 40°C on some rare occasions.

The average gradient is 12% but there are sections of 15%. The gradient also diminishes slightly in the last 6 km. But by then you will probably not notice as every turn of the crank will be an effort.

Partly because its a famous col, Alpe d’Huez is visited by a lot of people during the day in the summer.

Its a busy road

One of the less attractive features of the climb is that it is a busy road. Cars and trucks will be constantly overtaking you. You will be breathing fresh mountain air flavoured with exhaust fumes.

Once near the top you should be aware that there are 2 finishes. One is right outside the Alpe d’Huez Tourist Office, next to a café, the Indiana Bar, and with a handy podium for souvenir pictures.

This is not the Tour de France finish. You have to continue another 1.5km though Alpe d’Huez to get there.

Disappointingly for many, the Tour de France finish is no more than a small sign on the side of the road next to a car park.

However, now you can freewheel down to the Indiana Bar next to the Tourist Office and get your picture taken on the podium. A cold one at the bar helps too.

Big, comfortable rooms, somewhere for your bike, great food to fuel your days and a friendly welcome. That’s what we provide for all our guests at Le Château d’Oz, when they stay with us on a cycling holiday. Contact us for more details.

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