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Col d'Izoard

Its cycling history, statistics, photos and map

Statistics | History | Izoard climb explained | Photos | Map |

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Cycling's 50 Craziest Stories

The Col d'Izoard is a high mountain pass in the French Hautes-Alpes department. Higher up the south face is the extraordinary Casse Desert, a barren mountain side with spiky rock pinnacles amid rocky scree. At the top is a monument to two riders who stamped their authority over the peloton on the Col d'Izoard: Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet. Fausto Coppi tomb has earth brought from the Izoard as well as other important climbs like the Podoi and Abetone.

While the Col d'Izoard is rightly famous for the part it has played in Tour de France history, the Giro d'Italia has ascended it several times, including 1949, 1964, 1994, 2000 and 2007.

The Critérium du Dauphine has also ascended the Izoard as well.

There is a cycling museum at the summit.

Col d'Izoard statistics:

Climbing from Briançon:
Average gradient: 5.7%
Maximum gradient: 9.4%
Length of climb: 20 km
Elevation at start: 1,220 meters
Elevation at crest: 2,361 meters
Elevation gain: 1,141 meters

From the south, climbing from the town of Guillestre:
Average gradient: 6.9%
Maximum gradient: 14%
Length of climb: 15.9 km
Elevation at start: 1,266 meters
Elevation at crest: 2,361 meters
Elevation gain: 1,095 meters

TDF volume 1

Col d'Izoard history in the Tour de France:

The Tour de France uses the Col d'Izoard regularly, being first ascended in 1922. Philippe Thys was first over the crest.

In stage 10 of the 1923 Tour de France Henri Pélissier attacked his teammate Ottavio Bottecchia on the Izoard. Bottecchia was the Yellow Jersey, but teams didn't have the cohesion they developed in the 1930s. Pélissier took the lead that day and held it to Paris.

Fausto Coppi dispatched his rival Gino Bartali on the Izoard in the 1949 Tour. Bartali realized Coppi was unstoppable and asked Coppi to let him win the stage because it was his birthday. Bartali got the stage, Coppi won the Tour.

Lousion Bobet's ascent of the Col d'Izoard in 1953 is one of the legends of the Tour de France. Bobet's set-piece attack in stage 18 took him from third place in the GC, more than three minutes behind, to an 8 minute 35 second lead. Bobet won the 1953 Tour and went on to win in 1954 and 1955 as well. From then on, Bobet counseled other riders that great champions should lead over the Izoard.

Bernard Thévenet took the Yellow Jersey during stage 15 of the 1975 Tour de France, following Eddy Merckx's dramatic défaillance. That evening Bobet told Thévenet that he must be first over the Izoard in the Yellow Jersey. Thévenet won the stage alone, more than three minutes ahead of Merckx.

In that incredible 1989 Tour, Greg LeMond gained a precious 13 seconds on Laurent Fignon in stage 16 that went over the Izoard before finishing in Briançon.

Our mountains expert, Larry Theobald of CycleItalia, explains the climb:

I first climbed Col d'Izoard back in 1989 on the same day Greg LeMond and Laurent Fignon battled for the Maillot Jaune on its hallowed slopes. That day we were under great pressure to stay ahead of the publicity caravan, so my memories are mostly of that challenge rather than the climb itself.

We returned as CycleItalia in 2005 as part of a Piedmont Alps itinerary, crossing into France via the Colle Agnello. In 2006 and 2008 it was my turn to experience the thrill of riding it again as our route intersected the famous Tour route and the French D902 as it goes up from Queryas. There's an interesting fort here and some narrow cornice roads that can be filled with traffic, but things get peaceful again soon enough.

The road is up and down with a few steep pitches until 10 kms to go, when it starts to get serious. Most challenging for me (not only on this climb) is the straight-on section on either side of Le Chalp, especially if it's a hot day in July, the sun's on your back and a slight wind is blowing up the valley. Thoughts of "Once I get to the switchbacks, things will be much better" fill your mind and it does get better, though not easier once you begin these. There's a wide shoulder here and despite the grade going up to 14% for brief bits, it can be a very enjoyable climb, especially when you hit the slight descent entering the famous, arid "Casse Deserte" where you'll encounter sightseers of all types. After an obligatory pause to pay your respects to Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet, it's back to work for the final few kilometers with not much relief from the grades. There's a ramshackle bar at the summit with drinks and souvenirs across from the famous monument.

Previously I'd enjoyed the descent quite a bit, even running up on a real, live TdF racer back in 1989 as we rushed to get back down to Briançon, but the last time I was up there, in 2008, I found a sinuous  groove had been cut into the road, then filled with tar. As you repeatedly cross this snaking groove, it plays tricks with your bicycle, making you think you have a softening tire, taking a lot of the fun out of going down fast. There's a bit where it levels off too, your legs will remember the work they did earlier, then the road descends again, but be careful as you are soon into the outskirts of Briançon where the driveways, walls and increasing traffic make you think twice about your speed.

Col d'Izoard Photos:

Memeorial at the top of the Col d'Izoard

Monument at the top of the Col d'Izoard

Coppi and Bobet memorial

Coppi-Bobet memorial. CycleItalia photo.

Ottavio Bottecchia on the Izoard in the 1924 Tour de France

Ottavio Bottecchia on the Izoard in the 1924 Tour de France

Ottavio bottecchia on the Izoard in the 1925 Tour de France

1925 Tour de France, stage 13: Bottecchia on the Izoard.

Bartolomeo Aimo is first over the Izoard in the 1926 Tour

Bartolomeo Aimo is first over the Izoard in stage 14 of the 1936 Tour de France.

Sylvère Maes descends the Izoard through the Casse Desert

1939 Tour de France, stage 15: Sylvère Maes descends the Izoard alone through the Casse Desert.

Coppi and Bartali on the izoard in the 1949 Tour de France

Coppi and Bartali on the Izoard during stage 16 of the 1949 Tour de France.

Felice Gimondi on the Izoard

1965 Tour de France: Felice Gimondi climbs the Izoard in the big ring.

Levi Leipheimer in the 2006 Dauphine

Levi Leipheimer in the leader's jersey on the Izoard in the 2006 Dauphine

Thevenet, Hinault, Marckx and Prdhomme at the Coppi-Bobet monument

2011 Tour de France: Bernard Thévent, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Tour boss Christian Prudhomme at the Coppi-Bobet monument at the Col d'Izoard.

Andy Schleck on the Izoard in the 2011 Tour de France

Andy Schleck took off on the Izoard in stage 18 of the 2011 Tour and wasn't seen until the finish. Brilliant ride!


Map of the Col d'Izoard

The pass over the Col d'Izoard is the D902, which passes from Briançon in the north, over the crest with the red marker and south to Guillestre. The Casse Desert can be seen just east of the road, just south of the red dot.

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