The Cycle Life

Just How Hard Are the Tour de France Climbs?

To find out, we compared four iconic Tour climbs with their stateside equivalents

Just How Hard Are the Tour de France Climbs?

At the Tour de France, the craggy peaks of the Alps and Pyrenees bring pain and suffering, but also jubilation. Photo: Christophe Ena/Associated Press

The mountains of the Tour de France determine the winner of the stage race. It isn't until the peloton hits the craggy peaks of the Alps and Pyrenees that the GC starts to shake out and it becomes clear who the strongest riders are. If you've ever wondered how you'd stand up to those leg-burning beasts, you're in luck. (And you don't even have to travel to Europe.) We took four iconic climbs of the 2016 Tour and compared them to U.S. ascents. Hill climb, anyone? 

Col du Tourmalet to Mount Baldy Road, Claremont, California

The Tourmalet is the most climbed pass in the history of the Tour, with 78 ascents including two different stages in both 1974 and 2010. The Mount Baldy climb in southern California is a hallmark of the Amgen Tour of California. It's steep at the bottom and the top, with a heart-breaking kicker to the finish. An ascent under two hours is considered fast. Under an hour and you're Tour-caliber. 

Col du Tourmalet

Length: 11.8 mi
Base elevation: 2312
Summit elevation: 6938
Total gain: 4626     
Average grade: 7.4%
Max grade: 11%

Mount Baldy

Length: 12.9 mi
Base elevation: 1644 ft
Summit elevation: 6419 ft
Total gain: 4775 ft   
Average grade:
Max grade: 15%

Col d'Aspin to Rabbit Ears Pass, Steamboat Springs, Colorado

While the Col d'Aspin doesn't have the huge elevation gains of the Tourmalet or Ventoux, it's consistent 6.5 percent grade has exposed the weaknesses of Tour contenders since its first inclusion in 1910. Rabbit Ears Pass offers the same steady grade as it climbs out of Steamboat Springs to its western summit. A time under 45 minutes is excellent. Under one hour and you're at the top of the amateur pack.

Col d'Aspin

Length: 7.3 mi
Base elevation: 2312 ft
Summit elevation: 4888 ft
Total gain: 257 6ft     
Average grade: 6.5%
Max grade: 9.5%

Rabbit Ears Pass (West)

Length: 7.4 mi
Base Elevation: 6925 ft
Summit elevation: 9394 ft
Total gain: 2469 ft
Average grade: 6.3%
Max grade: 8%

Mont Ventoux to Onion Valley Road, Independence, California

Mont Ventoux is nicknamed the Giant of Provence for good reason. From Bedoin, on its south side, the landscape looks lunar, providing little respite from the long, unrelenting ascent. Onion Valley Road is considered one of the hardest climbs in the country. The altitude, summer heat, and steep, relentless grade make this a genuine sufferfest. Bring low gears. If you can tackle this beast in under two hours, consider racing in Europe. 

Mont Ventoux

Length: 13.3 mi
Base elevation: 984 ft
Summit elevation: 6272 ft
Total gain: 5288 ft     
Average grade: 7.5%
Max grade: 12%

Onion Valley Road

Length: 12.5 mi
Base elevation: 3994 ft
Summit elevation: 9163 ft
Total gain: 5169 ft     
Average grade: 7.8%
Max grade: 12%

Col de la Ramaz to Little Cottonwood Canyon, Salt Lake City, Utah

The Col de la Ramaz is gaining popularity, having appeared in three of the past 13 Tours. It has a particularly nasty section of 9 to 11 percent grade, much of which is inside a tunnel. The Little Cottonwood Canyon climb, a fixture of the Tour of Utah for many years, has like the Ramaz, a section in the middle called Tanner Flat that's especially taxing. Completing the ascent in under an hour is exceptional. If you can do it under and hour and a half, you're still looking good. 

Col de la Ramaz

Length: 8.6 mi
Base elevation: 2076 ft
Summit elevation: 5311 ft
Total gain: 3235 ft     
Average grade: 7.1%
Max grade: 11%

Little Cottonwood Canyon

Length: 8.6 mi
Base elevation: 5140 ft
Summit elevation: 8530 ft
Total gain: 3390 ft
Average grade: 7.5%
Max grade: 10%

Filed To: Bikes and Biking, France

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