Pedal Dancer® - A bike travel blog for fans and cyclists. Interest, information and enthusiasm about being a fan, cycling, traveling, and riding a bike. Light on opinion, heavy on information and joy of the sport. Quality of information is very important to me as well as creating a sense of cycling community for visiting fans to any bike race. Pedal Dancer is a sport and travel guide with cycling photography, maps, stories and travel recommendations.

12 June 2010

"21 levels of hell", or 21 steps to heaven

More information on L'Alpe d'Huez
This is such a great climb I thought I would add just a bit more information. The climb of Alpe d'Huez begins from the town of Bourg d'Oisans, a wonderful staging town at the base of the climb in the Romanche River Valley. From this town you can easily ride up the Alpe d'Huez, ride to the Col du Glandon, ride Les Deux Alpes, reach the Col du Lautaret, and reach the Vercours area (a wonderful area to ride).
Bourg d'Oisans has hotels and shops, a well known cycling jersey shop, a perfectly located grocery store as you arrive into the heart of the town, nice outdoor cafes with good views of the mountain with cyclists coming and going, and adequate parking. There are also plenty of cafe/bars near the top and at the top of Alpe d'Huez. After riding the perfectly engineered switchback road clinging tightly to the mountain side, you will be shocked at how large the area at the top of this mountain is. The ski village of Alpe'dHuez (which opened in 1936) is well equipped to accommodate a stage of the TDF, and is located at bend #14.


The climb of Alpe d'Huez is 8.89 miles long (13.8 km), 3,749 elevation gain, average steepness is 7.9%, steepest grade is 14%. The first 2 turns are a long steep intimidating 13% climb, but the grade lessons to 8%. Don't become discouraged at the bottom, it gets better. Descending is fabulous fun. Most striking is that the corners are flat and the straights are jarringly steep. This is the opposite of mountain road construction in the United States. It is a thrilling climb.
There are 21 hairpin turns on the ascent. Each turn is marked with a sign post (plaque) honoring in  order, the cyclist who won the stage. The plaques are etched with the hairpin number, altitude, date of the win, and rider name. Marker number 21 is at the bottom (the oldest stage winner), number 1 marks the last bend at the top (the most recent stage winner). Upon ascent you are traveling through Tour de France history as the famous names appear on the signs at the side of the road at each corner. To me this makes the climb fun and meaningful, and the climb goes by very quickly. Unless you are racing it for an official time, why rush. (At sign #4 be sure to stay left, the road to the right will take you the back way off the mountain over a small rough balcony road with dark tunnels and more climbing).
I wanted to know: 
Q: Alpe d'Huez was first included in the TDF in 1952. There have been 26 stage finishes on Alpe d'Huez, but there are only 21 signs, do they keep adding turns to the top of the mountain, or keep moving the signs down?
A: Neither, in 2001, the 22nd win occurred and numbering began over again at the bottom of Alpe d'Huez. Winner #22 was added to sign post #21, the next stage winner (23rd) was added on bend #20, the 24th winner to sign #19, and so it will continue up the mountain until the glorious 42nd winner will have their name hung at the top once again. I am certain the French will celebrate this win in a big way.  

List of Signs on the Bends of Alpe d'Huez
Bend # 21 (1) Fausto Coppi, and (22) Lance Asmstrong (at the bottom)
Bend # 20 (2) Joop Zoetemelk, and (23) Iban Mayo
Bend # 19 (3) Hennie Kuiper, and (24) Lance Armstrong
Bend # 18 (4) Hennie Kuiper, and (25) Frank Schleck
Bend # 17 (5) Joaquin Agostinho, and (26) Carlos Sastre
Bend # 16 (6) Joop Zoetemelk, (27) Pierre Rolland
Bend # 15 (7) Peter Winnen, and (28) Christophe Riblon!
Bend # 14 (8) Bret Breu
Bend # 13 (9) Peter Winnen
Bend # 12 (10) Luis Herrera
Bend # 11 (11) Bernard Henault
Bend # 10 (12) Federico Echave
Bend # 9 (13) Steven Rooks
Bend # 8 (14) Gert-Jan Theunisse
Bend # 7 (15) Gianni Bugno
Bend # 6 (16) Gianni Bugno
Bend # 5 (17) Andrew Hampsten
Bend # 4 (18) Roberto Conti
Bend # 3 (19) Marco Pantani
Bend # 2 (20) Marco Pantani
Bend # 1 (21) Guiseppe Guerini (at the top)


Famous moments on l A'lpe d'Huez:
  • In 1999 Guiseppe Guerini collided with a fan standing in the middle of the road for a photo op. Unable to avoid the fan, Guerini fell to the ground within the last exciting 1km of the race. He remounted his bike and rode to the win.  
  • In 1979 the climb was included in 2 different stages of the Tour de France.
  • In 2001 "The Look" by Lance Armstrong to Jan Ullrich happened on L'Alpe d'Huez in 2001. (Which wasn't a look)

  • In 2004 there was a Time trial up Alpe d"Huez. 
  • In 2011, a recent famous moment on Alpe d'Huez happened at the 2011 Tour de France when Jens Voigt stopped to insure that the correct fan (a child) received his water bottle, read:  A Tour de France Gift From Jens
  • It was also in 2011, that my favorite video was filmed of Laurens ten Dam, entering the Dutch Corner on Alpe d'Huez, began to rally the fans. Watch video  
  • 2013 will mark the 100th anniversary and will include the famous climb first used in the Tour in 1952. Peter Sagan - Wheelie en Alpe d'Huez - Tour 2013
Record on Alpe d'Huez 

Marco Pantani is known to be the fastest rider, but there is debate over which year and distance should be considered as the record. Marco Pantani was the fastest at 37.35 minutes, Lance Armstrong 41.18 minutes.

Additional Reading:

I did a previous post on France Cycling - My Ride up L'Alpe d'Huez By Pedal Dancer®

Another for the 2013 TDF - Climbing Alpe d'Huez By Pedal Dancer®

CyclingNews.com wrote a very well researched article in 2008 about the history of the famous climb 21 levels of hell: L'Alpe d'Huez 

Competitve Cyclist has a good writing on the climb, Part V. The Road to Alpe d’Huez: "For 16 years I've raced bikes, and while I love the sport, I dread the obnoxious preening done by racer-types at training rides and races as they feel the pressure of so many would-be alpha dogs preparing to butt heads. Alpe d'Huez had a completely different vibe — it was a celebration of the sport, of the Tour, and of the very spirit of trying to conquer mountains, both real and metaphorical. I saw no posturing, as though everyone there understood the fallacy of trying to define yourself as a bike racer when the only racers of consequence on planet Earth would be passing through in just a few hours."