Alpe d’Huez: the name alone is virtually synonymous with the Tour de France. When cyclists think of France and its legendary cycling routes, inevitably Alpe d’Huez is near the top of the list. For sure, when we’re discussing our bike tours in France with our guests, Alpe d’Huez is the most requested climb of any of our routes. And with good reason: it has been the battleground for many a spectacular stage during the Tour. Guests are anxious to try their own fitness against the clock to see how challenging this climb really is.
Knowing the region and the climbs well, we’d like to share with you a few of our insights and opinions on Alpe d’Huez:
It’s not the hardest climb in the Alps. Far from it: Alpe d’Huez may be one of the most famous names in cycling and in the French Alps, but it is by no means the hardest climb. A quick look at the stats of several other nearby climbs will reveal this. Alpe d’Huez is roughly 14 kilometers long with an average gradient around 8 percent. In contrast, the nearby climbs of the Galibier and the Croix de Fer are both harder by the sheer fact of their distances. The Galibier for example is 2.5 times longer with an average gradient of just below 6 percent, which includes a couple of flat and slightly downhill sections on route!
It’s not the climb with the most switchbacks. Yes, 21 switchbacks is a lot and yes, they are one of the elements that make Alpe d’Huez famous. But did you know that it’s far from the most? The Passo dello Stelvio (Italy) more than doubles Alpe d’Huez’ hairpin turns with a whopping 48 switchbacks to the summit!
It’s not the highest climb in the Alps. Despite being the most famous, Alpe d’Huez tops out at a little over 1800 meters (5900 feet). Again, the nearby Galibier exceeds this height with a worthy 2645 meters (8678 feet).
It can be crowded. Given that it’s so famous, everyone wants to ride it. The climb is also located just about 1-2 km from the town of Bourg d’Oisans which means that it doesn’t take any effort to decide to climb it. There are lots of bike shops in town that rent bikes by the hour, just to allow people a chance to test their legs on the climb. Alpe d’Huez is also a ski resort, which draws summertime crowds as well as winter ones. If you come in the peak of summer be prepared for traffic too.
The finish line is not in the main village. Despite the fact that there’s a finish line painted on the road and a podium next to it, this location on the main road in the ski village of Alpe d’Huez is NOT the finish line used by the pros during the Tour de France. Many, many cyclists stop here thinking they are finished. If you want to truly ride the whole thing and compare your time against the pros you’ve got another kilometer or so to climb. If you’ve been following the yellow rider signs to the top, continue following them to the upper, residential part of the ski resort. Be sure to exit left uphill at the last roundabout. You then have just another few hundred meters to go. There you’ll see the official finish.
Despite several of these things however, Alpe d’Huez is still a worthy and exhilarating climb. It’s certainly a must-do item for any cyclist that has not had the chance to ride it. And it’s for this reason that we’re happy to include it as part of our French Alps Bike Tour.
Do you have any questions for us? Email us and let us know.