Since 1789, the 14th of July has given the French people a reason to cheer, with the day commemorating the famous storming of the Bastille. Each year, Tour de France organisers have the challenge of coming up with a stage that honours this national day of celebration. Here, it’s hoped that a French rider will cross the finish line first, supported by a roar of cheering fans. The last time this happened was in 2017, when Warren Barguil took his victory in Foix.
In 2022, the organisers went for a classic finish up Alp d’Huez. But what location has been picked for 2023? It was announced last week that on the 14th of July 2023, we will visit the Grand Colombier. But where exactly is this? And what is the significance of this location? Does it have a famous history like Alp d’Huez? We’ll answer all these questions and more in the following blog post.
The Grand Colombier is certainly not the first climb that comes to mind when thinking about ‘hard’ mountains in the Alpes. This is mainly because of its height. At only 1525 m, it’s nowhere near as high as other mystical climbs, such as the Col du Galibier (2642 m). However, the top of the mountain provides excellent panoramic views over the Rhone Valley and the surroundings in the south of the Jura Massif.
Nevertheless, it’s not the view that the Tour de France riders will be focussing on. The climb itself can be tackled from four different sides, each of which boasts tricky gradients and altitude meters to overcome. The exact length and gradient of each climb are subject to interpretation, with the climb starting in different places. However, for reference, here are some numbers:
- South ramp from Culoz (17.4 km, 7.1% av. gradient, and 1250 altitude meters)
- East ramp from Anglefort (15.5 km, 8.1% av. gradient and 1256 altitude meters)
- West ramp from Vineu-le-Petit (8.4 km, 10.5% av. gradient and 884 altitude meters)
- North-west ramp from Lochieu (12.7 km, 7.2% av. gradient and 918 altitude meters)
The History of the Grand Colombier
The Grand Colombier is a climb that has only been visited twice by the Tour de France. The first time was in 2012, during the 10th stage of the Tour, where it was categorised as a Hors Category climb. First up the climb was French hero Thomas Voeckler, who a year previously had won the hearts of France’s Tour enthusiasts by wearing the yellow jersey for 10 days. Voeckler then went on to win the stage, finishing in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.
2020 saw the Grand Colombier being climbed once more, this time during Stage 15 of the Tour. This is particularly interesting, as the 2023 route up the Col du Colombier mirrors that which was taken in 2020. Here we saw Egan Bernal, winner of the 2019 Tour de France, become victim to the relentless pace of Jumbo Visma – a team supporting their man in yellow, Primosz Roglic. However, the glory of the day was taken by another Slovenian, the rising star Tadej Pogačar, who achieved his second Tour de France stage victory and took away some vital seconds from Roglic, who finished as runner up (Summary on YouTube).
Climbing the Grand Colombier via the South ramp
The Tour de France 2023 will see riders climb the Grand Colombier from the same side as in 2020 – the Southramp from Culoz. This is said to be one of the ‘easier’ climbs up the Grand Colombier. Nevertheless, contrary to other routes up this mountain, this climb has an unsteady gradient and covers 1250 altitude meters (for comparison, Alp d’Huez is (only) 1118 meters of climbing!).
The climb itself can be split into five parts. First, on departing the commune of Culoz, we have the steep section filled with ~10% gradient sections. This is followed by a short breather (4.5% gradient), only for the road to get steeper and steeper, with slopes reaching 12% in some parts. The cyclists can then catch their breath on the small descent before preparing themselves for a final kick all the way up to the finishing line. With the climb measuring 17.4 km, the riders are expected to take roughly 50 minutes to ascend the Grand Colombier.
Outlook and favourites
The Grand Colombier stage will definitely be one to watch. Firstly, because the French fans will go crazy and hope that a French rider takes the win on Bastille Day. Secondly, this stage provides a great chance for the pure climbers to make an impact. We’ve seen over the years that Pogačar does not excel at long sustained climbs (>25 mins), so this might be a chance for lighter riders such as the defending champion Jonas Vingegaard or Enric Mas to make a statement and take back some vital seconds. Should it become a sprint then Pogačar is the man to watch, as in 2022 he seemed to be pretty much invincible during uphill sprints after long gruelling climbs.
Your chance to ride the Grand Colombier
Fancy riding up the Grand Colombier yourself? This year’s Feel le Tour starts with the Grand Colombier stage, which will take you from Chatillon-sur-Chalaronne up the mountain itself. Find out more about Feel le Tour here.