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Legendary cols of Europe: part 1

Which col is the toughest, most famous, most legendary? Opinions vary on that. With the 'Iconic Cols of Europe'-scratch map, we try to put an end to this discussion. In our humble opinion, these are the 20 most iconic cols of continental Europe, based on their history in cycling and their reputation.

Part 1: the first five giants on our scratch map.

  1. Mont Ventoux

Who has been on a holiday in the Provence region before? If the answer is yes, then you've surely seen it looming up from miles away, proudly towering over the undulating southern French landscape. We're talking about 'the bald mountain', the mythical Ventoux, the number 1 climb on our scratch map.

Mont Ventoux is visible from all directions from afar, with its summit looking like it is covered under a permanent sheet of ice. But it isn't. This moonlike landscape is a result of large-scale deforestation in the silent years. The unique landscape means there is very little protection from the intense heat in summer and from the infamous mistral, the powerful northern wind in eastern France. These are two factors that make climbing 'the Giant of Provence' even tougher.

Mont Ventoux (from Bédoin)

Summit: 1,912 m

Length: 21.4 km at 7.5% average

Maximum gradient: 12%

2. Alpe D'Huez

The author suffering on Alpe D'Huez

Perhaps the most famous climb on our scratch map is Alpe d'Huez, even though it is far from the highest, nor the toughest in the list.

Alpe d'Huez owes its reputation entirely to the atmosphere created by the huge crowds that gather on its flanks every time the Tour de France passes there. At that time, an estimated 500,000 (!) spectators flock along the 21 numbered hairpin bends. Each turn bears the name of a winner on Alpe d'Huez when the Tour organisers fixed the arrival of a stage at the top of the famous ski resort.

The world-famous cyclosportive La Marmotte also finishes at Alpe 'Huez every year.

Alpe d'Huez (from Bourg d'Oisans)

Top: 1,815 m

Length: 13.2 km at 8.1% average

Maximum gradient: 13%

3. Col du Galibier

Even in summer, the peaks of the Col du Galibier are covered with a layer of snow.

According to Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour de France, all other cols are "but pale and vulgar beers" compared to the Galibier. At the summit of this giant in the northern French Alps stands a monument in honour of 'the father of the Tour'.

The Galibier is a legendary col that was definitely not to be missed on our scratch map. Anyone who has ever conquered this giant will agree that the road to the summit immerses you in a magical atmosphere. There are few places in Europe where you feel less insignificant as a human being than on the flanks of the imposing Galibier.

Like Alpe d'Huez, the Galibier is also included in the famous cyclo La Marmotte.

Col du Galibier (from Valloire)

Top: 2,646 m

Length: 18.1 km at 6.9% average

Maximum gradient: 12%

4. Col de la Madeleine

The Col de la Madeleine is one of the most famous cols in the history of the Tour de France.

It is mainly its long distance - 19.8 kilometres from the south side starting in La Chambre - that makes overcoming this col a very difficult task. Fortunately, the beautiful views of the valley and surrounding peaks ease the pain on the way to the summit at 2,000 metres.

Col de la Madeleine (from La Chambre)

Summit: 1,993 m

Length: 19.8 km at 7.7% average

Maximum gradient: 11%

5. Col de l'Izoard

Like Mont Ventoux, the flanks of the Col de l'Izoard resemble a lunar landscape. Wind-carved rocks and mountain peaks enhance the lunar appearance of the so-called "Casse Déserte". This spectacular, barren and desolate landscape is encountered just over 2 kilometres from the summit, on the south side.

Col de l'Izoard (from Guillestre)

Summit: 2,360 m

Length: 15.9 km at 6.9% average

Maximum gradient: 12%

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