Campagnolo tours France to bring you the most memorable – and brutal – mountains and routes of the Tour de France.
The Tour de France enters its third week and once again has stirred up the imagination of recreational cyclists all around the world.
The stunning French countryside, smooth roads, fields of sunflowers, life-affirming sun and, of course, the mountains – why would you not be inspired to dream bigger, to train harder, to start thinking that 2023 (or even sooner) will be the time to carve your own piece of Tour history and complete one of La Grande Boucle’s most famous routes?
With that in mind, here at Campagnolo we bring five of the most legendary climbs and routes to have lit up Tour history.
1 ALPE D’HUEZ
Arguably the most famous – and infamous – climb in cycling history. In 1986, it was here that Bernard Hinault edged Campagnolo-using Greg LeMond to stage victory, insisting all the while to his teammate that overall victory would be his.
Post-stage, Hinault had seemingly forgotten this agreement, suggesting he could still win the overall title. Recriminations were plenty but ultimately the American would take the first of three Tour wins.
That day, LeMond and Hinault rode from the town of Le Bourg-d’Oisans. This is a good place to start as there’s plenty of accommodation to base yourselves. (You can also make it a full day’s riding by following the 2022 route from Briancon to Alpe d’Huez. Just bear in mind this also consumes hors-categorie climbs of the Galibier and Croix de Fer.)
As for Alpe d’Huez, you’re looking at a 13.8km ascent at an average 8.1%. The start is brutal with the first 2km topping 10%. It’s here that you negotiate the first of its 21 hairpins.
Look closely and you’ll notice signage denoting the switchback’s number in descending order, starting at 21 and down to one.
Each of these features a winner atop Alpe d’Huez and starts with Campagnolo-using Fausto Coppi, who won here in 1952 when the Tour first finished on this brute of a mountain.
Shift your Campagnolo groupset into a gear that you can tap out as you’re looking at gradients of 8 to 11.5% until around the 11km mark when, with the ski resort within sight, you can shift up a gear as the gradient softens slightly to around 5%.
2 COL DU TOURMALET
The daunting Tourmalet, that looms large in the Pyrenees, was the original huge mountain introduced to the Tour de France parcours back in 1910. At 2,115m it’s oxygen-sucking.
That held little fear for Campagnolo rider Tadej Pogačar who conquered the Tourmalet in 2021 en route to stage victory in Luz Ardiden. You can ascend from both sides, with both as difficult as the other.
But we’ll focus on the climb from Luz-Saint-Sauveur in the west as there’s everything you need in this town, including accommodation, food stores and, if needed, a bike rental shop.
The 19km climb, at an average 7.4%, lulls you into a false sense of security with a sub-4% starter.
That’s as gentile as it gets with the road steepening to a regular 8%.
Once near the top and above the tree line, where the fecund backdrop morphs into a rocky outcrop, you hit 9% before a final kilometre that cruelly tips over 10%.
Hopefully the sight of the famous monument and café at the peak will be enough to draw you in.
You can follow in the slipstream of Pogacar by following the 2021 route, which covered 130km from Pau to Luz-Ardiden and featured the Tourmalet at around the 94km mark.
3 LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES
La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges Mountains is a new kid on the Tour de France block, first appearing as recently as 2012.
Since its debut, it’s populated the Tour route six times, including at this year’s edition where Pogačar, using his Campagnolo Super Record EPS groupset and Bora WTO wheelset to maximum effect, took the stage victory.
The Slovenian phenomenon also won here two years ago in that historic and race-winning time-trial.
Its difficulty stems not from quantity – it’s only 5.9km long – but quality – it’s an average 8.5% that’s punctuated with debilitating steep sections, starting with the initial ramp of 14% for several hundred metres.
Stick in that lowest of gear from the get-go as further sections of 12% await.
That suffocating feeling’s heightened by the woods that flank the roads, ensuring the only sight is often the hot stretch of tarmac ahead.
Thankfully, the views at the top make it all worth it, albeit that still requires one big push to conquer the final 20% pitch.
If riding with your Campagnolo crew in the Vosges mountains, pencil in a TT up Planche des Belles Filles to mimic Pogacar 2020!
4 MONT VENTOUX
You’d better sit down before we detail this climb… Mont Ventoux, or the Giant of Provence, fills the strongest of cyclists with dread.
It’s 21.5km long and averages a death-by-a-thousand-cuts 7.6%. When Campagnolo’s legendary rider Eddy Merckx won the stage to Ventoux in 1970, he gasped at the summit, ‘No, it’s impossible!’
Soon after, he collapsed.
You can battle Ventoux via three roads, though arguably the stiffest challenge is laid out from the southern side. Start in the town of Bedoin where you can absorb the beauty of riding through vineyards and orchards.
The gradient continues to chafe until it reaches a painful crescendo of around 9% for the final stretch. Once grapes are replaced by cedars, you’re around five miles in and facing a section of 10.7%.
Just hope that it’s a sunny day as you’ll be rewarded with far-reaching views of Marseille and the Pyrenees.
5 COL DU PORTET
Like La Planche des Belles Filles, the Col du Portet is another recent addition to the Tour circuit, making its maiden appearance in 2018.
It featured in the parcours in 2021, too, and it was that man Pogačar who won again.
For many, this is the hardest climb in the Pyrenees, measuring 16.1km from Saint Lary Soulan, averaging 8.7% and consuming 1409m to a peak of 2208m. Those stats edge it ahead of the Tourmalet as the highest climb in the Pyrenees.
Both halves of the climb will drain the energy reserves but it’s the first half that’s steepest with long sections between 10 and 11%. Then again, there’s no time for a breather as the second half’s still over 8%, finishes with a 10.2% stretch and is at high altitude.
If you want to follow that man Pogačar once more, start from Muret and follow the 177km route to Portet that the UAE Team Emirates rider covered in 2021.
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