The story behind epic climb - -
L’Alpe d’Huez is one of the main mountains in the Tour de France. The climb is 13.8 km at an average 7.9 per cent, with 21 hairpin bends. It was first included in the race in 1952 and has been a stage finish regularly since 1976.
The race was brought to the mountain by Élie Wermelinger, the chief commissaire. He drove his Dyna-Panhard car between snow banks that lined the road in March 1952, invited by a consortium of businesses who had opened hotels at the summit.
That first Alpe d’Huez stage was won by Fausto Coppi. Coppi attacked 6 kilometres from the summit to rid himself of the French rider, Jean Robic. He turned the Alpe into an instant legend because this was the year that motorcycle television crews first came to the Tour. It was also the Tour’s first mountain-top finish. The veteran reporter, Jacques Augendre, said:
The Tourmalet, the Galibier and the Izoard were the mythical mountains of the race. These three cols were supplanted by the Alpe d’Huez. Why? Because it’s the col of modernity. Coppi’s victory in 1952 was the symbol of a golden age of cycling, that of champions [such as] Coppi, Bartali, Kubler, Koblet, Bobet. But only Coppi and Armstrong and Carlos Sastre have been able to take the maillot jaune on the Alpe and to keep it to Paris. That’s not by chance. From the first edition, shown on live television, the Alpe d’Huez definitively transformed the way the Grande Boucle ran. No other stage has had such drama. With its 21 bends, its gradient and the number of spectators, it is a climb in the style of Hollywood.
The hairpin bends are named after the winners of stages. All hairpins had been named by the 22nd climb in 2001 so naming restarted at the bottom.
One of the highlights of 2013 Tour, it’s 100th edition: the Alpe-d’Huez will be climbed twice on the 18th stage.