It's all about the Alps

Monday, 29th March

“Every fan of the sport needs to ride the legendary Alpine cols. Ride through road racing history as you take in iconic climbs like the Col de la Croix de Fer and Alpe d’Huez. Riding these roads for yourself makes watching the pros in the Tour even more special.”
Simon Mottram, Rapha CEO

There’s under 100 days to go until the biggest race of the summer and to get you excited here’s a quick snapshot of two of the Tour de France’s most renowned mountain passes. Both Alpe d’Huez and the Col de la Croix de Fer will feature on successive days at this year’s race, and there is the opportunity to ride both on the Travel Tour de France trip and with the RCC Etape team.

Fausto Coppi crossing the finish line, 1952


First introduced to the Tour de France in 1952, when the road only reached as far as the village Huez, at 1450m. The road now travels to the deep snow line, leading you all the way up to the ski resort with its chalets bars, restaurants, clubs, bike shops and gift stores. What the climb lacks in rustic beauty and the tranquility of more esoteric climbs, it makes up for in historical significance within the sport. Watching the Tour come through here is also something quite special. ‘Dutch Corner’ has become synonymous with L’Alpe, where loud music, beer, laughter and plenty of orange engulfs the road between hairpins number seven and nine. It’s raucous and shows anyone new to watching the Tour exactly how mad for bike racing the Dutch are. There are plenty of other nationalities enjoying the party too when the race comes up here.

Fausto Coppi was the first rider to reach the top and compatriot Marco Pantani holds the record for the fastest times up the 21 bends in just under 40 minutes. Climbing L’Alpe in under an hour is therefore regarded as very respectable. Each bend is anointed with a plaque denoting great riders who have climbed and conquered The Alpe. As you count down the switchbacks it’s a welcome distraction to look and see who also rode here. Another significant visual is the amount of graffiti on the road, celebrating and encouraging everyone from Fabian Cancellara to amateur Freds…

If you are lucky enough to ride in the Hautes Alpes, L’Alpe d’Huez must be one to tick off.

Bernard Hinault rescued on the Col de la Croix de Fer, 1977


The ‘Iron Cross’ has been a mainstay in the Tour since 1947, where Italian-French rider Fermo Camellini was the first to reach its summit. It has featured sixteen times since then and will be included in stage 19 of this year’s Grande Boucle. Like Alpe d’Huez it’s a climb that attracts thousands of spectators to its slopes for the grandest racing show of the year. A Chalet du col de la Croix de Fer stands near the iron cross, close to the summit, where crowds ten deep mingle, picnic and party above a huge view of the basin south, looking towards the equally massive Col du Glandon.

It is perhaps Bernard Hinault who is most synonymous with this climb, having concluded his final, painful Tour here before Paris. But it was much earlier in his career, at the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré of 1977 where ‘the Badger’ learnt a powerful lesson. Hinault had earlier in the race been dropped by a group of more experienced climbers including compatriot Bernard Thévenet, Lucien Van Impe and Joop Zoetemelk. Not only was he given words of encouragement by an almost retired Eddy Merckx, ‘Come on, stick at it, you’re still winning, don’t give in.’ But he was also encouraged further by a bidon containing champagne, given to him by his assistant team manager. He finished the highest pass he’d ever ridden ‘half blotto’ sealing his overall victory at the Dauphiné.

Between Thursday 23–26 July you can join the Tour de France Alpe d'Huez Retreat. Read details of the trip here »

Finally, on the 19th of July, the RCC team will take to France to support members at l’Etape du Tour, providing a mechanic, massage, warm-up rides and more. Numbers are strictly limited, so if you are interested in participating and would like support, please contact the RCC to reserve a space.