Save energy, you’ll need it. The roughest hills in the Tour de France

Those hills and mountains are amazing, the Tour can be decided on three of them, the main favorites can win here or lose tragically. All the peaks then offer fantastic views of the region.

The famous “Laces” Lacets de Montvernier (772 m) are only 3.4 km with an average of 8.2% and are run as part of the 11th stage from Albertville to the Col du Granon Serre Chevalier. They are not difficult, they will probably not be decisive, but they are spectacular, with a fantastic view of the river Arc and the Maurienne valley.

Riders will even ride the Alpine giant Galibier twice this year. In the already mentioned 11th stage and right after that in the next stage, but in the other direction – from Briancon to Alpe d’Huez. It’s an extraordinary hill that has 17.7 km on the first day and an average gradient of 6.9% and even 23 km on the second day with a less challenging average of 5.1%.

Alpe d’Huez are hard switchbacks with the steepest kilometer section at 11.5%. This is one of the most demanding and at the same time probably the most famous climbs in the French Alps.

And finally, the dreaded Hautacam in the Pyrenees, towering over Saint Lourdes, is a respectable 13.6 km at an average of 7.8%. But the main thing is that it is only done during the 18th stage, at the end of the Tour.

The Tour de France took this spectacular route from the Arc valley to the village of Montvernier for the first time in 2015. At the top of the 2nd category climb, the first Frenchman Romain Bardet was then. Two years later, another Frenchman, Pierre Rolland, was the first to go up after him. The famous “Laces”, because that’s what the switchbacks really look like, were built for six years between 1928 and 1934 to overcome the huge height difference in a short section and finally connect the Arc valley with the then cut off village of Montvernier by road.

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When you look at this incredible structure from the A43 highway, leading from Chambéry to Turin, you can hardly believe your eyes. The spectacular Lacets de Montvernier climb the steepest possible cliff. Seventeen “lacets” or shoelaces make up a 3.4 km long section with an elevation gain of just over 300 meters. The turns alternate approximately every 150 meters and the average gradient is 8.2%. The road is so narrow and the bends so sharp that larger cars are prohibited from entering it. There is a beautiful view of the switchbacks from the cliff, which can be reached from the Notre-Dame-de-la-Balme chapel up on the hill around the farm across the fields.

Few “cycling hills” are so difficult, so long, so high and surrounded by such beautiful scenery.

Photo: Profimedia,

Serpentiny on the Col du Galibier.

The Galibier, the natural border between the northern and southern Alps, is probably the most visited alpine pass with 59 switchbacks. Andy Schleck won here in 2011. In 2017, Primož Roglič led here before he won in Serre Chevalier. And in 2019, Nairo Quintana, who then took his efforts to victory in Valloire.

Shortly before the summit (on the Lautaret side), a monument pays tribute to Henri Desgrange, the first director of the Tour de France. In 1911, he wrote in L’Auto on the first pass through the pass: “Before this giant, there is nothing left but to take off your cap and salute quietly.”

Galibier is also insidious. Milder at the beginning, but the closer the cyclist is to the top, the more it “tightens”. The final seven kilometers are 8% or more, which is a decent gradient after the previous portion of the climb. Fortunately, the beautiful scenery of the mountains distracts people at least a little and makes pedaling easier. So is the atmosphere on the track. In every other corner, there are motorhomes with fans who are cheering for every hobbyist who passes by a week before the race.

Fausto Coppi won for the first time on this breathtaking steep hill with 21 corners in 1952. But his famous victory at the time actually spoiled the premiere. The Italian demonstrated such ease and sovereignty in the climb that the organizers must have thought that the dreaded ascent was too easy. And so the Tour returned there only in 1976.

Photo: Profimedia,

One of the sharp turns at the exit to Alpe d’Huez.

In the village of La Garde on the first part of the climb, there is always a group of campers hanging around the bend with the flags of several countries with loud music playing. There’s the smell of barbecue and the staff on folding camping chairs busily cheering everyone who passes by.

Because Zoetemelk, Kuiper and Winnen won it repeatedly later, this climb earned the nickname “Dutch Mountain”. But then the Italians took over there again – Gianni Bugno and then Marco Pantani. Bernard Hinault was the first Frenchman to win Alpe d’Huez in 1986. And beware, in 2013, on the centenary of the Tour, that hill was climbed twice. Up at a height of over 1,800 m, there is a palpable cold washed away by amazing panoramas with glaciers.

Hautacam is the hardest climb in the Pyrenean Vallées des Gaves. Don’t be fooled by the first seven kilometers where you don’t exceed 8.6% for 1000m.

Photo: Profimedia,

Breathtaking views from the top of Hautacam in the Pyrenees.

Save energy because you will need it. Mile 8 comes and it gets dark before your eyes, because here you are waiting for an average of 11.3%. Maybe even this average slope on paper won’t seem terrible to someone, but be careful, it’s only an average, there are shorter sections where the elevation is even worse.

Even the next kilometers are relentless and the legs will feel it. The last three kilometers may be less steep, but you will be very tired. Whoever can conquer Hautacam will not have a bigger problem on any stage of the Tour de France. But believe me, there won’t be many of them.

What Hautacam lacks in length, it makes up for in steep and relentless ramps. The gradient is constantly changing, which means it’s hard to get into a smooth rhythm. One kilometer is 6%, the next will be above 10% and so it continues for the entire climb. While there is a short downhill section in the uphill section, there are also ramps of more than 15%. And beware, unlike Huez, it doesn’t get easier towards the end, but you still climb steeply upwards.

But once you’re at the top, you get a stunning view of the Vallée du Lavedan and the many villages scattered along its length.

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