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It might not be the highest passe in the Tour de France or even the toughest, but Alpe d’Huez is the most iconic. It’s also the one climb that every general classification rider has to conquer if they want to ride into Paris as the winner.

Geraint Thomas did just that in 2018, becoming the first British cyclist to win the historic Alpe d’Huez tour stage and the first ever to do it in the leader’s yellow jersey. As he chats with us about his iconic summit finish victory he subtly shakes his head, still in disbelief as he relives a moment he will never forget.

“Waking up on the morning of the Alpe d’Huez stage in 2018 with the yellow jersey in my room was crazy. Winning the stage up La Rosiere the day before was massive for me, and going into the Alpe d’Huez stage … I never really thought about the finish and winning, it was just enjoying the day for a start. Alpe d’Huez is so iconic, probably the most iconic climb in the Tour de France. All the hairpins and all the fans on there and incredible atmosphere… To be in the yellow jersey going up there was something really special.”


Alpe d’Huez’s famous fan experience

For Thomas, what makes the stage so special are the fans who line the 31.8 kilometres from Bourg d’Oisans to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez, its 21 narrow hairpin bends narrowed further by hundreds of thousands of people.

“The fans definitely help a lot. There’s no other climb that we do in the tour that’s bottom to top, the whole climb has got spectators on cheering full gas for you. It’s very unique in that sense, it’s incredible to race the tour up there. You can do a recon and you come to the tour and it feels like a completely different climb.”

Rarely can any sporting atmosphere be compared to the up-close-and-personal variety of Alpe d’Huez, which at times verges on the dangerous as fans spill onto the road trying to help riders power up painful climbs. But while many athletes in the moment attest to hearing nothing but silence, Thomas’s focus unusually narrows.

“It’s strange because with all that noise you can still pick out a Welsh accent, which is crazy cos you think it would be this massive wall of noise. Knowing that there’s people I know on that climb cheering for me, supporting me is a big boost.


How Thomas fuelled his way to victory

“Nutrition and hydration is massively important on days like that, especially in 2018 as it was a super-hot day. We did two long climbs before that in really warm weather, so you could be okay over the first couple but when you get to Alpe d’Huez, if you haven’t drunk enough, the lights can go out and you can lose time straight away if you’re not hydrated.

Same with fuelling, your body’s constantly burning fuel and if you don’t keep that fuel going in then you can easily be empty, whether that’s a K from the top or 10K from the top. So, it’s vitally important for performance, probably the most important thing because if you don’t have the energy it’s only going to go one way.”


Thomas becomes part of Alpe d’Huez history

Minutes after reaching the Stage 12 summit through Cymru Corner on his way to his first Tour de France victory in 2018, Thomas struggled to find the words for reporters to describe his career-defining moment. Instead, he chose to avert their attention, directing it towards  his longstanding friend and teammate: “I’m still riding for Froomey. Froomey is still the man. He knows how to ride for three weeks. Legend gets used way too much but he’s probably the best ever so I’m just going to enjoy this.”

It’s typical of the humility of the Welshman who’s as humbled by the victory four years on. One thing’s for certain – whatever else Thomas achieves in his cycling career, he’ll always have Alpe d’Huez.

“It’s mad to think that I’ll always have my name on this corner [13]. Geraint Thomas, there forever. It’s nuts to think that you’re part of history now. I’m looking forward to taking my son out to see it at some point. As I said after that stage… It’s Alpe d’Huez, man. It doesn’t get bigger than that.”

Watch more from Geraint Thomas in our entertaining new Head-to-Head series as he chats with his teammate Luke Rowe about everything from nutrition to what it means to be an INEOS Grenadier here


Written By

Nick Burt

In a previous life Nick played American football professionally before becoming a secondary school teacher. Nowadays he works as a freelance copywriter where amongst other things he gets to write about his first love – sports. In his spare time, he lifts weights, plays and coaches baseball (which he calls his retirement sport), and travels with his wife to as many countries as he can.