The Goal in Stage 12: The Summit of L’Alpe d’Huez
After a day of rest, full-on mountain racing commences. Numerous mountain passes await : 12 in the Alps, four in the Massif Central, and 10 in the Pyrenees. On one of these days, Stage 12, there are two hors catégorie (HC) passes that are more difficult than Category 1. Another one lies at the end, at L’Alpe d’Huez, with the goal at the summit. It is a punishing stage covering a distance of 175.5 km and an altitude change of more than 5,000 meters. To provide some context, the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, reaches up only 828 meters, or roughly one-sixth the altitude difference. You could not climb such a height on stairs.
What makes the route even more impressive is that the racing begins at around 12:30 and the riders will reach the goal at approximately 6 p.m.
At the L’Alpe d’Huez, a snaking road from the foot of the mountain winds its way up around 21 corners in a climb of 1,130 meters. Marco Pantani, with his shaved head covered by a bandana and his nose pierced, ascended the path in 37 minutes and 35 seconds. That Tour de France record has stood unbroken since 1997.
L’Alpe d’Huez, the Setting of Numerous Battles
L’Alpe d’Huez first appeared on the Tour de France course in 1952. Since then, it has been the scene of many a dramatic development.
In 1986,Bernard Hinault, the reigning champion going for his unprecedented sixth championship, vied with the young Greg LeMond in a contest rife with speculation and suspicion. L’Alpe d’Huez was the scene where the torch was passed on to the next generation. Greg held on to the maillot jaune and took it back to America. The design of this year’s maillot jaune is based on the maillot du combiné that Hinault wore at this time.
Because it represented the leader in all-around skill, this single jersey contained elements of the yellow jersey for the overall classification, the green jersey for sprinting and the red polka dot jersey for mountain points. Only a rider who excels over both long and short distances, and demonstrates speed in the mountains, could wear this jersey. It was also known as the Toshiba Award because of Toshiba’s former sponsorship. This year’s maillot jaune captures the essence of that jersey, only in darker and lighter hues of yellow.
Let’s see who wears the jersey this year as the riders scurry up the L’Alpe d’Huez.