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Epic Cols: Alpe d’Huez

Written and photographed by Daniel Hughes for Epic Cols

History

The stats:

  • Distance 13.2 km
  • Ascent 1,104 m
  • Average gradient 7.9%
  • Max gradient 14%

This climb needs no introduction, Alpe d’Huez is a legendary staple of the Tour de France. 

The most ‘Googled’ cycling climb on the planet, each day in the summer over 1,000 cyclists reconcile demons battling their way to the top. Alpe d’Huez is located in the southeastern French Alps, running from the town of Le Bourg d'Oisans to the ski resort.

The ascent is characterised by 21 hairpins which unusually count downwards, making each turn a recognisable achievement of pain and glory. It is a 13.2 km climb, ascending 1104 m with an average gradient of 7.9% and a max gradient of 14%.

Alpe d’Huez features a steep start, with five turns at gradients over 10%. Imagine this: the first bend goes up 60 m and the first four to 230 m (of the total 1,104 m). Epic! 

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However, the climb is not the toughest in the French Alps, nor the prettiest. But the many switchbacks make for easy viewing for race spectators, and it is often the last of the stage finishes in the Alps. This often shapes the outcome of the Tour, which makes the racing on Alpe d’Huez fierce with riders leaving nothing in the tank. 

 

Adding to its fame, fans gather on this mountain from all over the world, and history has carved out dedicated corners that honour these traditions. The number seven bend is more commonly known as ‘Dutch Corner’, where Tour riders are greeted like nowhere else; orange and loud! If you’ve ever watched the Tour, you can almost still hear the crowds. By this time, your legs are feeling the scream, with 10 km still to go.

Alpe d’Huez doesn’t just host Dutch Corner, but it is considered to some the ‘Dutch Mountain’ since it was won by eight Dutch riders out of the first 14 finishes in the Tour.

It would be easy to enjoy the easing of gradient, but you know you shouldn’t allow this. Whilst riding up and past the pretty village of Huez, it is through corners five and four where the landscape starts to differ, with green alpine meadows and cowbells gently ringing. The finish line is nearly in sight, but the pain is only yet beginning to settle. 

The last few bends that swing you around to face the finish are structurally different. The grind is real on these long drags with the wind in your face. Pass the Pantani sign at corner two, where the famous Italian climber once launched a scathing attack, then a double-digit ramp before putting in that final push towards the finish line. It’s a struggle to locate the flying orange flags that mark the top because you just can’t do it fast enough.

The fastest time? Alberto Contador holds the record for the fastest ascent, in just 37 minutes and 30 seconds during the 2010 Critérium du Dauphiné. Mind blowing!

 

To read and see more iconic climbs from around the world go to:

www.epiccols.com

 

@danielhughesuk Equipment:

Shimano Dura-Ace R9170

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100-P

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The choice of the world's best climbers, sprinters, and time trialists, the DURA-ACE R9100 crank drops weigh while maximizing power transfer. The new design, and its iconic look, is adapted for race specific disc brake systems while still offering a wide range of gearing and crank arm length options. The addition of a reliable, accurate, waterproof power meter makes this crank an even more valuable tool to serious cyclists. With a rechargeable Li-ion battery, left/right balance, and Bluetooth LE and ANT+ connectivity, the SHIMANO DURA-ACE Power Meter sets a new standard in cycling data collection.

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PRO Vibe Aero

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An ultra-high performance handlebar constructed with Innegra fibers to ride the most punishing conditions. The new PRO Vibe Aero handlebar is built to meet cycling’s highest demands using state of the art technology. The Vibe Aero is developed with Di2 in mind offering ultimate integration for maximum aerodynamic performance and ultra-clean styling.

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PRO Vibe Carbon

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100

Pedals

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@caralimccall Equipment:

Shimano Ultegra R8070

Di2 hydraulic groupset

ULTEGRA R8000 series is "pro-proven" as it is a direct trickle down from DURA-ACE groupset. As road bike component, the stress-free operation is one of the most important feature to lead all day riding comfort with braking and shifting.

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PRO Vibe Carbon

Stem

High-end, full carbon stem

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