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5 Iconic Climbs in the Tour de France

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.
Thomas Pidock leading the Alpe D'Huez climb in the 2022 Tour de France.Thomas Pidock leading the Alpe D'Huez climb in the 2022 Tour de France; (photo/Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images)
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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, leaving fans marveling at their power. Hilly stages are sometimes wild cards where racers can take risks and push themselves differently.

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 climb more than 150,000 feet. The most demanding climbing stages significantly affect those who walk 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 famous climbs in the Tour de France.

Alpe d’Huez: A Queen Stage of the Tour de France

Wout Van Aert leads the pack up Alpe d'Huez in the 2022 Tour de France
Points leader Wout van Aert leads the peloton through one of the many switchbacks on Alpe d’Huez during the 2022 Tour de France; (photo/Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The Alpe d’Huez is among the most famous climbs in the Tour de France. It is composed of 21 tight switchback turns and runs for just more than 8 miles, with an average grade of about 8%.

Riders gain more than 3,500 feet in elevation 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 is also a favorite vantage point for fans to watch the race. As they fight to the top, huge crowds line the roadway to cheer on their favorite cyclists.

Alpe d’Huez isn’t part of the 2024 Tour de France, but it is part of the 2024 Tour de France Femmes. The women’s event runs after the men’s and will occur from August 12 to 18. The Alpe d’Huez stage will be on August 8 and the final stage, and it could prove pivotal for the overall podium.

Col du Galibier: Usually the Highest Point of the Race (But Not This Year)

Henri Desgrange memrorial at the summi of the Col de Galibier
The Henri Desgrange (founder of the Tour de France) monument at the summit of the Col de Galibier; (photo/Wikimedia Commons)

The Col du Galibier runs for about 20 miles at an average grade of about 5% and includes around 4,000 feet of elevation gain. In the final 3 miles, it clocks in at a savage 9% grade.

In the 2024 Tour de France, it comes early; riders will barely be warmed up when they attack its slopes on stage 4. Curiously, the stage doesn’t end on the summit (there will be bonus seconds there), instead descending into the town of Valloire. This will drastically affect the tactics of the climbers and descending skills will be paramount.

The summit of the Col de Galibier is normally the highest point of the race, but for 2024, that honor goes to the Cime de la Bonnette on stage 19. The Galibier is legendary in the Tour de France, first climbed in the 1911 edition of the race. The first rider over the col earns the Henri Desgrange prize, named after the founder of the Tour de France. A memorial dedicated to Desgrange sits near the summit.

Mont Vontoux in the 2021 Tour de France
Riders ascend the barren slopes of Mont Ventoux in 2021; (photo/Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

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 has 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 route’s exposed nature often leads to high winds, which 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 2024 Tour de France.

Col du Tourmalet: The Tall Boy

Summit of the Col de Tourmalet
Cyclist monument on the summit of the Col de Tourmalet; (photo/Creative Commons via Flickr)

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. The “above category” climb will make an appearance in the 2024 edition of the Tour de France on stage 14 in the middle of the stage. The stage ends at Pla d’Adet atop another above-category ascent.

Col d’Aubisque

The Col d’Aubisque has earned its place in history as one of the significant climbs of the race.

Screen Shot 2022-07-19 at 12.59.53 PM
The course profile for the Col d’Aubisque from the 2022 event; (photo/Tour de France)

First used in 1910, the climb runs for around 10 miles at an average grade of 7.2% with the summit at 5,607 feet. The steepest quarter-mile of this above category climb is at a savage 9.7% and the steepest mile is at an almost equally challenging 8.8%. Short bursts exceed a 10% grade. The Col d’Abisque is the third most contested climb in the Tour de France, behind the Col de Tourmalet and the Col d’Aspin.

The Abisque is one of the more popular cyclist destination climbs in the Pyrenees.

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 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, making the Tour de France such a celebrated event.

Tadej Pogacar in the 2022 Tour de France

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