Col de Joux Plane

Is Col de Joux Plane the toughest climb in the Tour de France? It may not be a question asked in traditional Tour literature, but anyone who has ridden over this steep and sinuous pass and then hurtled down into Morzine has certainly considered it.

Okay, the numbers don’t exactly back this up: a variety of better known climbs are longer and higher than Col de Joux Plane; others have a steeper average gradient than 8.5% gradient; yet more have harder sections than the 12.5% gradient you hit 1 km from the 1691 m summit. However, Joux Plane does somehow seems a lot harder on the road than any kind of numerical breakdown might suggest.

And let’s not forget, Col de Joux Plane broke Lance Armstrong - his only true collapse in the mountains during his seven-year reign, on Stage 16 of the 2000 Tour - and Laurent Fignon – he nearly lost the yellow jersey in the final mountain stage of 1983. Such shocks have solidified the reputation of Joux Plane in the minds of many. 

The Climb in Detail

“For every ten or hundred Backstedts or Laurent Fignons who hated the blasted Col de Joux's tight hairpins and steep gradients, there is, it's true, a Richard Virenque or a Floyd Landis who thrived there” - Mountain High


The Ascents

Every Tour stage that has featured Col de Joux Plane has finished in the Alpine town of Morzine. Thus, most people keep the tradition and climb Joux Plane from Samoens, the town on the far side of the mountain. The 11.6 km climb is steep throughout; the moments of respite when the gradient dips are brief. In the middle the road ramps up to over 10% for a kilometre. The last 4 km live long in the memory of many cyclists: the road never dips below 9% and seems relentless.


The Descent

When we think of great mountain cols, we tend to think about climbing them rather than descending. Actually Joux Plane is just as much about the descent: whenever the Tour visits, the stage finish is always in the centre of Morzine. The furious, high-speed descent is a rollercoaster trip back down to earth: the road dips, dives and swerves through woods and wiggles across meadows before plunging off a steep ledge for the final, fast kilometres into the town.

It’s place at the Tour de France

Apart from the suffering of Armstrong and Fignon, Col de Joux Plane has really become a favourite at the Tour because it is a mountain where true climbers like Peter Winnen, Angel Arroyo, Marco Pantani and Richard Virenque thrive. It’s also the mountain where Floyd Landis took the Yellow Jersey during the 2006 Tour in dramatic fashion. This title was stripped from Landis when he tested positive for drugs after the finish in Paris.

"That was without doubt my worst day on the bike, I could of lost the Tour.....The guy (the Col de Joux Plane) almost killed me...." - Lance Armstrong 

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