What do Tour de France rookies expect from their first race up Alpe D’Huez? Absolute carnage.

Historical TV clips, scouting on Zwift, and concerns over COVID – what Alpe newbies expect from the iconic 21 bends: 'It’s going to be crazy.'

Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP via Getty Images

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It doesn’t get much more iconic than the 21 bends of Alpe d’Huez.

Cycling’s most picture-perfect stadium arrives on stage 12 of the Tour de France as the 13.8 km, 8.1 percent slope of the Alpe gets rolled out, especially for the festival that is the French national day July 14.

“It’s a beautiful climb and I can’t wait to do it,” Tour rookie Matteo Jorgenson told VeloNews.

Jorgenson is one of a number of young riders that will face Alpe d’Huez for the first time in their racing career Thursday afternoon.

It’s an ascent seen on television, commemorated in books, raced on Zwift, and known by the most casual pro cycling fans.

“This will be the first time I’ve ridden it,” Alpe rookie Quinn Simmons said. “To be honest I’m pretty excited. You grow up in an era when Americans were so dominant, especially on that climb, and you know … you have those images in your head.”

Geraint Thomas was the last Tour de France rider to conquer the relentless slope deep in the French Alps when he beat Tom Dumoulin, Romain Bardet, and teammate Chris Froome in 2018.

Riders like Marco Pantani, Iban Mayo, Fränk Schleck, and Carlos Sastre are among those crowned before the Welshman. Lance Armstrong came out top twice at the turn of century before his results became void.

Beer-fuelled, bike-mad crowds are as much a part of the Alpe as the 21 switchbacks and their memorials to past winners.

From the orange-streaked “Dutch Corner” of bend seven through the cluttered ski-resort summit, campervans, beer coolers, and loudspeakers make a Tour de France ascent of the Alpe an ordeal every rider wants to endure.

“Even to be there is super cool. Even though I’ll be 40 minutes out the back of the race at least I’ll get to enjoy something so nice,” Simmons said.

Roadside fans have been resplendent through the front half of this Tour. The combination of the July 14 national holiday and a chance to party on the Tour’s premier climb means crowds are already massing to claim their spot.

“It’s going to be crazy I think. Already at the Tour, it has been super nice having fans back on the road. My whole career has been during corona so I’ve never really had this experience before,” Simmons said.

All-day boozing and boisterous bike fans can make for an intimidating experience. Riders have endured abuse, projectiles, and being bumped from bikes on the 13.8km strip of pavement.

“I’ve always seen video of people having parties on the climb,” Jorgenson said. “I’m actually a bit nervous with COVID to ride through, however, with many people super drunk, screaming and saliva everywhere, so hopefully we make it through without COVID.”

The Alpe’s legend precedes it. A virtual rendition of the bends on the indoor training platform Zwift boosted its fame further.

But racing the 21 bends on an indoor trainer doesn’t mean every young bike rider knows the climb inside-out or is relishing the prospect of its unrelenting grades.

“I’ve done it on Zwift. I presume we race the same side,” Fred Wright told VeloNews. “We had Mont Ventoux which is pretty iconic last year and that was one of my worst days of all the race, so I’m not looking forward to it all, to be honest.”


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