Alpe d’Huez, a cycling icon
Alpe d’Huez is one of the most iconic mountains in cycling and thousands of people visit every year to cycle the 21 hairpin bends that makes it famous. The climb to Alpe d’Huez starts in the town of Borg d’ Oisans and covers 13.2km at an average gradient of 8.11% before reaching the summit at 1,815m. It was first used in the Tour de France in 1952 and has been used 30 times in total. In the 2013 Tour de France, it was climbed twice with riders descending via Col de Sarenne before heading up again to finish at the top. In the winter months, Alpe d’Huez is a ski resort attracting skiers instead of cyclists.
No cycling holiday to France is complete without tackling this famous climb. This cycling route is a simple out and back from Borg d’Oisans to the top and back down. There are cafes and restaurants at the top of the climb to enjoy and provide some refreshments before you head back down. Make sure you stop periodically on the way back down to enjoy the view and marvel at what you have achieved.
We climbed Alpe d’Huez the day before the Tour de France tackled the climb twice in 2013. There were already thousands of fans on the side of the road getting their position for the race the next day. It created a fantastic atmosphere for the ride and there were lots of cheers and encouragement as we climbed. If you get a chance to be there in a year the Tour de France will ride Alpe d’Huez we highly recommend riding it the day before the race.
We have plenty more cycling routes in the French Alps for you to try out while you visit.
Suggested cycling route
Distance: 31.2km / 19.4mi
Start elevation: 720m / 2,361ft
Max elevation: 1,844m / 6,055ft
Metres climbed: 1,178m / 3,863ft
Metres descended: 1,178m / 3,863ft
Categorised climbs: 1
The Alpe d’Huez gradient profile
Length: 12km / 7.5mi
Average gradient: 8.6%
Start point: Bourg-d’Oisans
Elevation at top: 1844m / 6055ft
Steep From the Outset
From Bourg d’Oisans the climb is situated just a short distance from the center of town. If you want a bigger warm-up before taking the climb on, perhaps ride down the valley a little further. The gradient is at its steepest for the first two hairpin bends where the average hovers between 10 and 11% with no relief. Try to stay within yourself here and save your energy for later in the climb.
Counting down 21 bends
Unlike other famous climbs which have signs up for every passing kilometer, Alpe d’Huez helps you measure progress as you pass each bend in the road. There are 21 all up and each has a number and a plaque to feature a previous tour stage winner. They can be a great distraction as you make your way up the mountain. The hairpin bends also provide temporary relief in the gradient. Typically the climb flattens off as you turn each bend so depending on how you feel, you can either click up through the gears and lift the pace or use each bend as a point where you can spin the legs and enjoy some rest.
Other landmarks to tick off along the climb includes the small village of Huez as well as the famous Dutch Corner. Alpe d’Huez is also known as the ‘Dutch Mountain’ due to the number of Dutch riders who have previously won a stage on this climb. As the road makes it’s way ever higher you will enjoy views out across the valley. The road is really cut in tight on the mountainside so you don’t actually get many views of the road itself.
You will reach the top of the official climb once you arrive at Vieil Alpe. Continue on for a further kilometer and you will reach the official summit which the Tour de France uses. Once recovered enjoy the magic descent all the way back to Bourg d’Oisans.
Food and water
Top up with food and water for the climb before you leave Bourg d’Oisans.
There are plenty of places to stop and refuel at the top of the climb.
* Alpe d’Huez is an iconic climb
* In the warmer months the atmosphere on the climb is like no other – especially when the Tour de France is on. You will be surrounded by other cyclists all taking on the challenge of the climb.
* Counting down each of the 21 bends as you cycle Alpe d’Huez
Everything you need to know before cycling Alpe d’Huez
How long does it take to cycle the climb?
Generally speaking, it will take anywhere from 45mins to 2 hours to ride the climb of Alpe d’Huez. A good amateur rider can aim to complete the climb within one hour.
How steep is the gradient of the climb?
The average gradient of Alpe d’Huez is 8%. It is steepest on the first two hairpins where the gradient reaches 11%.
Can a beginner cycle up Alpe d’Huez?
While it will be very difficult is certainly possible for a beginner to cycle Alpe d’Huez. If possible we would recommend trying to complete some rides on hills before your trip. Make sure to keep on top of food and water during the ride and don’t forget you can always stop and take breaks on the way. Another option is to hire an e-bike which can make the climb even more achievable for beginners.
Is cycling Alpe d’Huez hard?
The climb of Alpe d’Huez is very difficult and has the highest climb categorization being Hors Categorie (HC).
What is the elevation at the summit?
Alpe d’Huez sits at an elevation of 1844m / 6055ft at the top.
Where is the climb located?
Alpe d’Huez is located in the region of the Auverne-Rhone Alpes in France. The closest city to the climb is Grenoble.
When is the best time of year to ride Alpe d’Huez?
Alpe d’Huez is best ridden between the months of June through to October. Ideally, we would recommend you ride the climb in spring or autumn/fall if possible, in order to avoid cycling the climb in the summer heat.
How many times has Alpe d’Huez been used in the Tour de France?
The climb of the Alpe d’Huez has featured in the Tour de France 31 times. It was first used in the 1952 edition and has featured as both a mountain top finish on a regular stage as well as the climb of an Individual Time Trial in 2003. In 2013 the race sent riders up the climb twice as part of a celebration of the 100th edition of the race.
What is the best way to travel to Alpe d’Huez?
The best way to get to Alpe d’Huez is either by car or bus.
Are there any facilities at the summit?
Alpe d’Huez is a year-round resort and as such at the top of the climb there are multiple restaurants, bars, and cafes as well as gift shops.
Where is the closest bike rental?
You can hire rental bikes to cycle the climb of Alpe d’Huez from the town of Bourg d’Oisans. You will find both road bikes and e-bikes readily available for hire here. As there are a lot of mountain bike trails in the surrounding area you can also find these available for rental as well.
Where is the best place to base yourself to ride the climb?
If you plan to go cycling Alpe d’Huez we recommend basing yourself in Bourg d’Oisans which is located at the very base of the climb. The town is well set up for cycle tourism with many options for accommodation, including those catering specifically to people on cycling holidays.
How realistic is Alpe du Zwift compared to cycling Alpe d’Huez in real life?
The Alpe du Zwift climb has been modeled to be 100% accurate to the road climb of Alpe d’Huez. If you have an indoor trainer and access to the Zwift training platform we would recommend riding the climb there prior to your trip. This will give you a real indication of what to expect in real life. Of course, when riding outdoors you will have other elements such as wind, heat/rain to factor in as well and these may impact your overall climb times between real life and on Zwift. Here is a great video that compares the two.
Discover our comprehensive guide to Cycling in the French Alps
Cycling Alpe d’Huez is just one of many great cycling routes in the French Alps that you can enjoy. This area of the French Alps is very popular with cyclists year-round owing to the great weather and variety of terrain on offer.
If you are not familiar with this region then, our comprehensive guide will help you plan everything you need for your cycling holiday. The guide includes information such as:
- a map of the French Alps with climbs and towns marked
- where to base yourself whilst on your cycling holiday
- cycling hotels and lodges
- bike hire outlets
- getting to and from the French Alps
- non-cycling attractions and activities in the region