The Col de Joux Plane – the decisive Stage 14 climb

In one of our previous blogs, we looked at Stage 13 of the 2023 Tour de France and its finish up the Grand Colombier. Following this stage, the riders will have little time to rest before having to tackle the first climb of Stage 14 – the Col de Joux Plane. This climb may not necessarily ring a bell, as the last time it was taken on was six years ago, when Jarlinson Pantano from Colombia took an emotional win in Morzine, having outsprinted Rafael Majka. But what can the riders and spectators expect from this climb in 2023? We will try to answer these questions and more in the following blog post.

The Col de Joux Plane is a mountain pass in Haute-Savoie that links two small villages, Morzine and Somoens. Similarly to the Grand Colombier, the Joux Plane is not a giant in terms of altitude – its peak is ‘only’ at 1691 m, 1000 m lower than the Col du Galibier (2642 m). However, with surrounding villages lying at a lower altitude, there is still a significant elevation gain to be covered in this climb.

Unlike other famous Cols of the Alps, there are only two ways to climb the Col de Joux Plane:

  • Via Morzine (10.9 km, 6.5% av.gradient, and 711 altitude meters)
  • Via Samoens (11.6 km, 8.5% av.gradient, and 998 meters of climbing)

The history of the Col de Joux Plane

The Col de Joux plane has been part of the Tour de France route a whopping 12 times. And each time, it has been climbed via Samoens – the harder of the two sides. The first time the Tour visited this climb was in 1978, when Christian Seznec took the glory at the finish in Morzine. The 2023 Tour de France will take the same route up the mountain, with Morzine also hosting the finishing line. This makes for an interesting end to the climb, as it’s not a mountain-top finish. Instead, the riders have to tackle a short but technically challenging descent.

When the Tour de France came to the Col de Joux Plane in 2000, the constant aching gradients of the climb broke the seemingly invincible Lance Armstrong. Going into the stage, the Texan rider had a lead of around seven minutes. However, after a strong start to the climb where he dropped his fiercest rival Jan Ullrich, Armstrong bonked and got overtaken by Ullrich and several other riders. In the end, he lost 1.37 min to Ullrich during this stage, later describing the stage as the hardest day of his life on the bike.

2006 saw another remarkable ride up the Col de Joux Plane. At the start of the stage, Floyd Landis was eight minutes behind the yellow jersey and determined to gain back some time. An early attack made competitors think he meant business by going for the stage win. But he had his eyes on a bigger prize. Landis pulled off one of the biggest comebacks in cycling history by making up seven (!) minutes on the yellow jersey group, which helped him secure his 2006 Tour de France win. The joy only lasted a short while though, with his title being stripped away almost immediately after the Tour due to a positive doping test.

Climbing the Col de Joux Plane 

The Col de Joux plane has been described by many as a brutal climb. The average gradient of 8.5% makes it harder than Alp d’Huez (av. gradient 8.1%), at least on paper. Contrary to Alp d’Huez, however, the climb is not very steady during the first section. Steep ramps are mixed up with flatter sections, making it incredibly hard for riders to find their rhythm. Only the last kilometers become more steady and regular. This may sound kind, but it really isn’t. Although the snow-capped peaks of Mont Blanc in the background provide a beautiful panorama, the 9–10% gradient makes the last four kilometers a battle against pain and exhaustion.

The record for the fastest climb was achieved by Marco Pantani in 1997. It took him 32.50 mins to cover the 11.6 km and was more than two minutes faster than the current Strava record holder, Jack Haig (35:05min).

Outlook and favourites

The finish in Morzine may be a decisive one, as it could tell us who is the ultimate climber and descender. We’ve seen over years that among the Tour riders there are often crazy differences in descending ability. So on the way down to Morzine, accomplished descenders may take advantage of the downhill section to save on some crucial seconds. 2022 showed us that Vingegaard can descend insanely well, while Bernal has also proven to be a strong descender in the past. Will one of these two nick the stage win? Or will we see another descending masterclass by Tom Pidcock? If I had to pick right now, I’d put my money on Vingegaard, but let’s see if in eight months time he has what it takes. Find out more about Feel le Tour here.