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Cycling Alpe D’Huez

Alpe d’Huez the Cycling Mecca

Climbing Alpe d’Huez is a ‘must do’ for many cyclists along with other climbs such as Ventoux, Col d’Galibier, Col du Tourmalet, passo dello Stelvio and Zoncolan.

Alpe D'Huez Bend 18

Alpe d’Huez is an iconic climb brought upon by the Tour d’France and the number of stage finishes it has hosted. It is not the most beautiful or hardest of climbs its legendry. It has hosted over 25 Tour d’France stage finishers and this year, 2013 see’s stage 18 of the 100th edition of the Tour d’France do a double ascent of Alpe d’Huez. The first ever stage winner on Alpe d’Huez was Fastino Coppi and the fastest ascent was by Marco Pantani in the 1997 Tour d’France with a time of 37’35” ave speed 23.08 km/h It became a star of the Tour d’France due to its iconic 21 hair pin bends, its challenge and the ease at which spectators can watch. It is claimed that there were one million spectators lining Alpe d’Huez in 1997. It is often referred to as the Dutch mountain as 8 out of the first 14 winners were Dutch, nowadays bend 7 is Dutch Corner and during the Tour d’France it literally turns Orange.
Alpe D'Huez Dutch CornerAlpe D'Huez TTToday during the summer months it is said an average of 1000 cyclists a day climb Alpe d’Huez. There are professional photographs on two of the bends (5 & 2) to capture the moment and at the summit there is plenty of coffee and memorabilia.

Each Wednesday at 10am during summer there is a mass start timed event up Alpe d’Huez. The event is neutralised from the centre of Bourg d’Oisans until the base of the climb when the madness commences. It is a very friendly fun event, one certainly to be recommended, it’s a great way to get an official time, certificate and have some fun whilst climbing plus there are refreshments at the end. Registration is from 9am at the Bourg d’Oisans tourist office.

Cycling Alpe d’Huez

Alpe D'Huez Depart

The actual climb itself starts just before the turn onto the first ramp. It is located a couple of km’s out of Bourg d’Oisans on the road up to Alpe d’Huez and is clearly marked with a depart sign.

There are two finishes, the tourist finish ‘Veil Alpe’ and the Tour d’France finish. The tourist finish is located as you first go into Alpe d’Huez just before the wooden bridge and the tour d’France finish is slightly further into town by a car park next to the ski slopes. It is signed and often you can follow the writing on the road.


Alpe d’Huez Distance Ave Gradient Height Gain
Tourist Finish 11.9km 8.6% 1030m
Tour d’France Finish 13.8km 7.9% 1070m


There are 21 hairpin bends numbering from 21 down, each hairpin is numbered and named after winners of the tour d’France stages

Alpe D'Huez Bend 12

The climb of the Alped’Huez is relentless with a fairly constant gradient. The only rest bite offered is on the outside of the hairpin bends where the road is flat. The first 5 bends are the steepest and it is important to mentally get through these and not burn yourself out by starting too quickly with all the excitement of the climb. The drag to bend 1 is nearly a km with an ave gradient of over 10%, the steep gradient continues to bend 16 La Garde.

It is recommended that you start the climb slower than you think you should, you’ll have the opportunity to speed up (if you can) nearer the top. You’ll never get back lost power but you can use it up at the end. The pro’s climb using constant power (not speed) this means accelerate on the flatter sections and slow on the gradients.

Alpe D'Huez

The climb get’s very hot, not only through effort but it is a sun trap with the heat coming off the tarmac and walls. Shelter is naturally created by the hairpins so wind is not usually an issue, the climb does become more exposed from bend 4, something you may be thankful of! Water is available from water fountains at bend 16 and 7 and there is a water fountain in operation during the summer at the tourist finish. If the air feels cool when you set off we would recommend having a windproof for descending, it is often cooler than you think. The road is open all year round so particularly if you are ascending out of the summer season be very mindful of the difference in temperature between the base and summit. Gears, we often get asked about gearing, the locals all have compacts and 27’s or 28’s and many people ride with triples.

Most cyclists want to know what a good time to climb Alpe d’Huez in is? It is generally thought for the tourist finish under an hour for men and under an hour ten for women. One of the general rules of thumb we have noticed is for time triallists, their 25 mile tt time will be approximately their Alpe d’Huez time. Whatever your time it is personal achievement. Each year Alpe d’Huez get’s every type of cyclist from novice to pro, young to old on every type of bike possible taking on the it’s challenge.

Descending Alpe D’Huez

Once you have reached to summit, celebrated, taken photo’s, had a drink etc there are a number of options for descending:

  • The simplest straight back down the way you came.
  • Via Villard Reculas and down to Allemont then it’s a left turn back to Bourg d’Oisans, on descending turn right between bend 5 & 6. This route involves a few meters of additional climbing.
  • Via La Guard and the balcons road, on descending turn left at bend 16 and follow the balcons road to Freney en Oisans, the road parallels the main road out of Bourg towards the Col du Lautaret but high up, it offers fantastic views of the valley and is exposed in parts. Once at Freny d’Oisans turn right and head back down the Col du Lautaret road towards Bourg d’Oisans. This route involves approximately an additional 350m climbing and you will need lights for the tunnels on the Col du Lautaret road.
  • Via Col d’Sarenne, head through Alpe d’Huez and out by the altiport, follow this road to Col d’Sarenne and descend all the way back to Bourg d’Oisans via Le Chambon dam where you turn right. The scenery on the Sarenne valley is stunning. This route involves approximately an additional 250m of climbing. We prefer to climb the Col d’Sarenne and descend Alpe d’Huez.

Alpe D'Huez BalconsAlpe D'Huez Cycling EventsWhilst you are in Alpe d’Huez there is the option of continuing to climb to Col d’Poutran and Lac Besson, continue past the tour d’France finish and out of Alpe d’Huez. This is a real area of beauty offering fantastic views. This route involves approximately an additional 150m climbing.

Once you have achieved Alpe d’Huez there are many other fantastic famous and not so famous rides to do in the area, Col d’Galibier, Col du Lautaret, Col d’ Croix de Fer, Col d’Glandon, Col d’Ornon and La Barade to name just a few. And if you enjoy the challenge of climbing and sportives there is always the La Marmotte sportive held on the first Saturday of July each year, taking on the Col d’Glandon, Telegraph, Galibier and Alpe d’Huez. 5000m of climbing over 174km

More information about cycling Alpe d’Huez can be found on this link Alpe d’Huez mythical ascent and all the routes in the local area can be found on our cycling information page