Every year, the Tour de France riders navigate 2,000 miles or more as they race across 21 stages of some of the most challenging terrain in the world.
The tour includes various landscapes that assault riders in different ways. Sprints create exciting finishes where athletes often win by microscopic margins. Time trials force riders to give all-out performances that leave fans marveling at their sheer power. Hilly stages are sometimes wild cards where racers can take risks and push themselves in different ways.
But nothing blows the pack of the Tour de France apart like mountainous stages. The Tour de France sends riders on some of the most challenging climbs in cycling.
By the race’s end, riders usually climbed somewhere in the neighborhood of more than 150,000 feet. The most demanding climbing stages significantly affect who walks away in the yellow jersey.
The Tour de France route changes every year. The total number of climbs can vary, and tour organizers can specify different and unfamiliar climbs. Some, however, have become so iconic that they are synonymous with the tour.
Here are five of the most infamous climbs the Tour de France has ever seen.
Alpe d’Huez: A Queen Stage of the Tour de France
The Alpe d’Huez is among the most famous climbs in the Tour de France. The climb is composed of 21 tight switchback turns and runs for just more than 8 miles with an average grade of about 8%.
Riders see a total elevation gain of more than 3,500 feet during the climb. Each of the 21 corners takes its name from a previous stage winner, so it is steeped in the tour’s history.
This route also is a favorite vantage point for fans to come out and watch the race. As they fight to the top, huge crowds line the roadway to cheer on their favorite cyclists.
Alpe d’Huez landed on Stage 12 in 2022. It once again became a venue for race leaders to jockey for position for the yellow jersey. British rider Tom Pidcock became the youngest rider to ever win the stage after putting on a descending clinic earlier on the route. Jonas Vingagaard and Tadej Pogačar hung together in a tough battle to finish neck and neck, though Vingagaard held his lead and the yellow jersey.
Col du Galibier
The Col du Galibier also appeared in Stage 12 of the 2022 Tour de France as the first climb of the day ahead of the Col de la Croix de Fer and the aforementioned Alpe D’Huez. The climb marked the highest point in the Tour de France this year.
The Col du Galibier runs for about 20 miles at an average grade of about 5%. It includes around 4,000 feet of elevation gain. The first 7 or so miles of the 2022 stage featured a steady, shallow climb to an early intermediate sprint. After that, the route pitched dramatically upward to the Col du Lautaret, and then onward to the summit of Galibier.
Anthony Perez of team Cofidis powered up the climb this year to reach the summit first.
Mont Ventoux: One of the Most Popular Climbs of the Tour de France
Mont Ventoux is iconic for its beauty, difficulty, and tragic history. The climb ascends about 13.3 miles with an average grade of 7.6% for a total elevation gain of more than 5,000 feet.
The top of the climb features an exposed, rocky landscape allowing sweeping views of the countryside beneath. But it also allows riders to see the long, upward pathway fade into the distance, which presents a daunting mental battle as they struggle up the mountain.
The exposed nature of the route often leads to high winds that make the ascent even more difficult and uncertain.
British cyclist Tom Simpson collapsed near the summit of Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour de France. Emergency crews flew him to a local hospital for care but were unable to save his life. A memorial to Simpson still sits near the summit of the stage.
Mont Ventoux is not included in the 2022 Tour de France.
Col du Tourmalet: The Tall Boy
The Col du Tourmalet is the highest mountain pass in the French Pyrenees, so you know it gets spicy.
It covers around 10 miles with a total elevation gain of about 4,300 feet at a grade of 7.1%. However, portions of the climb reach up to 9.7%. The climb is consistent and lung-busting, offering no reprieve for riders to catch their breath before the summit.
The Col du Tourmalet has been included in the Tour de France more than any other climb. Its last appearance came in the 2021 race. It is not included in this year’s Tour de France.
The Col d’Aubisque has earned its place in history as one of the significant climbs of the race.
First used in 1910, the climb runs for around 10 miles at an average grade of 7.2%.
The Col d’Aubisque presents one of the final mountain challenges for the 2022 race. It is the first “super category” climb of Stage 18, which runs for 88 miles from Lourdes to Hautcam.
With only two flat stages and an individual time trial remaining, the Aubisque pass could become a make-or-break section and the last chance for a rider to attack and pull back time in the mountains.
Even completing one of these climbs is a feat for most cyclists. They could take an average rider a couple of hours to grind out, and they’ll hurt.
It’s pretty astounding that Tour de France riders often hit them back to back over more than 100 miles of racing. But aside from punishing riders, these climbs showcase the stunning landscapes of the French Alps and Pyrenees and make the Tour de France such a celebrated event.