Col de l'Alpe d'Huez

A better promotion for the flourishing winter sports around the village of Alpe d'Huez was hardly conceivable: it was precisely there that, for the first time in the history of the Tour de France, an uphill stage would end. The idea came from Jean Barbaglia, a painter and cycling fan from the area. At the beginning of the 1950s, he excited the Tour organization and the local tradespeople - after all, the event would attract hundreds of tourists to the hotels and restaurants of the ski village. Until 1952, mountain stages had always ended in the larger towns in the valleys, where there was sufficient accommodation to accommodate the ever-growing cycling caravan.

So now there was an uphill finish that the organization hoped would bring new spectacle and drama. It didn't get exciting that first time. Fausto Coppi could not be kept on the muddy, but slippery road surface - quite an improvement on the life-threatening, loose-covered climbs of the previous years. In just over 45 minutes he was upstairs, much faster than the French climber Jean Robic. Jan Nolten was the best Dutchman in eighth place, four minutes behind.

The other two uphill runs were also in that Tour a prey for Fausto Coppi, who reached Paris with a lead of almost half an hour. Perhaps shocked by the large differences that a stage with the finish on a climb could cause, the Tour caravan Alpe d'Huez did not last 24 (!) Years.

When the platoon returned to the mountain in 1976, much had changed. The road was asphalted - during the 1968 Olympic Games bob sledging took place on Alpe d'Huez - the village had become a modern center for mass tourism and the 21 hairpin bends that were numbered between Bourg d'Oisans and the line in the ski village were numbered. Later the names of the winners on Alpe d'Huez would also appear in the turns, starting with Coppi in the first from the foot, number 21.

Joop Zoetemelk did not dare to think that he would give his name to turn 20 on the morning of July 4, 1976. The later Tour winner could hardly sit on the saddle due to an abscess on his butt. And when he was ahead of Alpe d'Huez later that day with Lucien van Impe, perhaps the best climber in the peloton, he did not yet believe in a victory. Nevertheless, the smart Zoetemelk won by surprising Van Impe in the last corner to the left and turning it on twice in the last 200 meters to the finish line.

Joop's victory heralded a special era for Dutch cycling that lasted until the late 1980s. Of the twelve times that the Tourpeloton finished at Alpe d'Huez in that period, another Dutchman won seven times: twice Hennie Kuiper, again Zoetemelk, twice Peter Winnen, Steven Rooks and Gert-Jan Theunisse.

Of the eight wins on the 'Dutch mountain', the first by Peter Winnen was perhaps the most beautiful. Winnen, an unemployed 23-year-old teacher from Limburg, decided to venture out in an impulsive moment 6 kilometers from the finish. He brutally demarcated from the company Robert Alban, the wearer of the polka dot jersey Lucien van Impe and classification leader Bernard Hinault. It was youthful recklessness, for almost 230 kilometers had already raced and it was a long way with a strong, cold wind on the turtleneck, but the red-haired debutant showed character and was left on the line for eight seconds. The next day was the toughest of his career, as he could barely get the pedals around when he was tired, but as a pants he had won nicely on the most beautiful pass in France.

Gert-Jan Theunisse's victory was also impressive. In the queen stage (Galibier, Telegraphe, Croix de Fer and Alpe d'Huez) he had driven 130 kilometers wildly, of which 60 were solo, because his teammates Sean Kelly and Raúl Alcalá did not want to ride for him. Theunisse was still angry at the finish line.

Since that victory in 1989, the Netherlands (8 victories) has been dry and Italy (7 victories) is in danger of taking over the reins of the col, but every time Alpe d'Huez is visited in the Tour an army of Dutchmen colors the mountain orange . Especially around bend 7 near the church of Huez it is then carnival in the Alps. It is a great time to cycle the nearly 14 kilometers to the top (I know from my own experience) and also on the day of Alpe d'Huzes, but on any given day climbing this mountain offers magic. There is the shock of the first 2 kilometers, the steepest part of the climb with an average increase of more than 10%. The hard observation that you have to take the lightest gear at the first corner. The surprise after turn two that you have climbed so high and the view is so wide. That you have found your cadence unnoticed and seem to be recovering from the first efforts. Cowbells, birds, panting, a moss-green Alpine meadow and a stream: your senses work again. There is relief, recklessness and the raw reality when the road suddenly rises steeply again. Are those all the wooden chalets? On the pedals. Two riders whizzed down hard. Life is not fair. Turn 3 Pantani, turn 2 Pantani, turn 1 Giuseppe Guerini. Who? Was there a 'finish' cloth there? Climbed almost eleven hundred meters. Never again. Stop the clocks. Step off. Drink. What a climb. Your climb.

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