• Enter the Alps... the crucible of professional cycling. (EPA)Source: EPA
Four epic days lie ahead in the Alps as the 2015 Tour peloton prepares to enter the race's final act. But these slopes have been the site of many famous battles in the past - particularly these four legendary climbs.
By
Kevin Eddy

22 Jul 2015 - 11:56 AM 

Stage 17: Pra Loup

Pra Loup may be a short climb that rarely features on the Tour, but it's one that is etched in history as the climb where Eddy Merckx was finally dethroned. Forty years ago, in a stage identical to this year's Stage 17, Merckx led the race and had broken away from the leaders. However, he ran out of energy on the six-kilometre climb to Pra Loup, and eventual winner Bernard Thévenet was able to overhaul the Cannibal two kilometres from the finish - taking the stage and the yellow jersey.

The 1975 Tour was a troubled one for Merckx anyway: two days prior he had been punched in the kidney by a spectator on the ascent to Puy de Dome, an incident that he said weakened him significantly. Merckx subsequently fractured his cheekbone in a collision with another rider, but continued to ride to Paris. Even so, Merckx never won another Tour, and retired in May 1978.

Stage 18: Col du Glandon

At 1,924m elevation, the Col du Glandon is one of the key Alpine climbs for the Tour - albeit never as the deciding climb in a stage. Rather, it is often the launchpad for a (doomed) breakaway attack.

The king of the Col du Glandon is undoubtedly Lucien Van Impe. The Belgian climber, who rode as a professional between 1969 and 1987, won the King of the Mountains competition six times between 1975 and 1983, as well as winning the yellow jersey in 1976. The Col du Glandon featured in the 1977, 1981 and 1983 races, and Van Impe was first across the col on his way to the mountains classification in all three races.

However, it's the 1977 breakaway which is the most memorable. Van Impe broke clear on the Col du Glandon on the way to the stage finish at Alpe d"huez - gaining enough time to threaten the race eader Bernard Thévenet. Van Impe was still the virtual maillot jaune on the Alpe, when a car drove into him. Thevenet managed to gain enough time while Van Impe waited for another wheel to keep the Frenchman in the lead by eight seconds - denying Van Impe a second Tour victory.

 

Stage 19: La Toussuire

A very recent additon to the Tour de France route, this year will mark La Toussuire's third appearance on the race. Its first appearance in 2006 was won by disgraced climber Michael Rasmussen. It was also the site of Floyd Landis's legendary jour sans, which saw him lose the yellow jersey and plummet to 11th overall prior to his 'miraculous' recovery on the following stage to Morzine.

However, its infamy is due to the 2012 ascent of the climb. Team Sky's leader Bradley Wiggins was on course to become Great Britain's first Tour winner, ably assisted by Chris Froome. At the four kilometres to go point, Froome put in a searing acceleration, leaving behind the race leaders - and Wiggins. After 20 seconds - and an ear-bashing from DS Sean Yates - Froome pulled up and resumed his position as Wiggins' super-domestique.

Whether or not Froome intended to attack Wiggins is still hotly contested, but one thing's for sure: it drove a wedge between the two riders that ensured they never rode a Grand Tour in the same team ever again.

Stage 20: Alpe d'Huez

What is there to say about Alpe d'Huez? The most famous mountain climb of the Tour de France, the Alpe has featured as a summit finish more times than any other mountain since its introduction in 1952. It almost always provides major drama - just pick a year.

Take the first ascent in 1952, for example, when Jean Robic attacked at the start of the climb. Only the legendary Fausto Coppi could stay with him, and the two climbed together until Coppi attacked at bend five, four kilometres from the top. He won the stage, the yellow jersey and the Tour. Or 1986, when Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond wrestled over the leadership of the La Vie Claire team and the yellow jersey. The finish on the Alpe saw LeMond put Hinault in second place once and for all, with the two riders crossing the line arm in arm in an apparent sign of truce.

However, the ascent of the Alpe that's closest to Aussie hearts was in 2011. Cadel Evans' bid to win the Tour looked to be in jeopardy as Andy Schleck took off in a breakaway with his brother Frank and Alberto Contador in the early part of the super-short 110km stage - especially when Evans suffered a mechanical when trying to follow them. However, the race came together at the bottom of the climb, and a characteristically gritty performance from Evans saw him pace the Schleck brothers up the climb - setting the scene for the Aussie to overhaul Schleck in the following day's time trial and win the race for the first time.

This year's stage is a repeat of that 2011 parcours: could we see drama of the same level this year? Let's hope so. But for now, let's relive that superb ride in 2011.