An iconic dormant volcano in central France, the Puy de Dôme returns to the 2023 Tour de France for the first time in decades.
After being excluded for over three decades, the famously steep and challenging climb of Puy de Dôme has once again been announced in the route for the 2023 Tour de France.
The Puy de Dôme has been the site of many memorable moments in Tour de France history, and it is set to be the summit finish on Stage 9 of the 110th edition of the Tour de France.
But what makes the Puy de Dôme such a challenging climb? And what are some of the most iconic moments on the Puy de Dôme in Tour de France history?
Don’t worry! We’re here to tell you all about the epic Puy de Dôme climb. To get you up to speed, we’ll be covering:
- What Is The Puy De Dôme?
- Overview Of The Puy De Dôme Climb
- The Most Iconic Tour De France Ascents Of The Puy De Dôme
Let’s dive in!
What Is The Puy De Dôme?
The Puy de Dôme is the youngest of the French volcanoes in the Chaîne des Puys highland region of central France. Attracting over 500,000 visitors per year, it is one of the most visited sites in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region.
Bizarrely for a volcano, it is absolutely nowhere near the edge of any tectonic plates. Interestingly, it was formed via a “Peléan” eruption, characterized by a swift, deadly, Pompeii-style pyroclastic flow during its first and only eruption, 10,700 years ago.
Standing at 1465 m above sea level, it towers 485 m above the surrounding grassland.
Although it can certainly be considered a dormant volcano, it is perhaps more accurate to refer to it as a “lava dome”, since it was created by a single eruption, rather than being the collision or separation of tectonic plates, like most volcanoes.
It really is a beautiful location, and although the Dôme boasts two popular hiking routes, many of its yearly visitors are cyclists attempting to summit its terrifyingly steep slopes.
Overview of the puy de Dôme climb
The Puy de Dôme is an extremely challenging climb for any cyclist, mostly due to its relentless gradient.
It is also an exceedingly beautiful place to ride a bike, and its spiral-shaped road also resembles the famous golden spiral regularly appearing in nature.
Although its max gradient isn’t the highest at 15.7%, it has an average gradient of 11.5% which remains pretty consistent for the entirety of the 4.1 km climb. This results in a total elevation gain of 473 m – not easy in a single ascent.
The combination of its steepness, relentlessness, and length earn this climb a classification of Category 2. This will make for quite a spectacle in the next edition of Le Tour.
The parcours of next year’s Tour, which begins in Bilbao in the Basque Country, was unveiled in Paris in October. The Puy de Dôme is a climb that has generated a lot of excitement since the announcement, due to the iconic moments it has hosted in the history of the race.
Set to be a summit finish for Stage 9, the climb is expected to be the site of an exciting uphill sprint to take the stage.
It comes as part of an extended route through the Auvergne region, which features a much-needed rest day following the summit finish on the Dôme.
The 3 most iconic Tour de France Ascents Of The Puy de Dôme
Although it hasn’t been included in the route for 35 years, the Puy de Dôme has a long and eventful history as part of the Tour.
The 13th and most recent Tour de France ascent of the dormant volcano came in 1988 when Danish rider Johnny Weltz was the first to reach the top.
This climb has produced many thrilling moments for spectators, but to get you in the mood for the 2023 ascent, here are four of the most memorable occasions.
1952: Fausto Coppi’s Domination
The very first time the Tour de France tackled the Puy de Dôme proved to be memorable for many, not necessarily because of the climb itself, but because of the rider who conquered it first.
The 1952 edition of the Tour included three summit finishes, two of which were making their Tour de France debuts. One of these was the Puy de Dôme, and the other was the legendary Alpe D’Huez, arguably the Tour’s toughest and most iconic climb.
Fausto Coppi took the win on the maiden ascent of Puy de Dôme – and won all three of the summit finishes that year.
In fact, Coppi’s domination in 1952 was so great that the organizers doubled the prize money for other podium finishers to give them the motivation to fight on.
By the time the Tour reached Alpe D’Huez on Stage 10, Coppi’s teammate, Carrea donned the yellow jersey. Coppi launched an attack towards the end of the race, capitalizing on the flat tire of a rival, and took both the stage and the yellow jersey, by a significant margin.
The whole race was effectively over after Coppi’s victory on Stage 11, as he was now 20 minutes ahead in the general classification. However, Coppi continued to take time out of the rest of the peloton throughout the Tour.
The Puy de Dôme came on the penultimate stage, the last one before the individual time trial. Coppi was so far ahead, there was absolutely no need for him to attack or attempt to take time out of the rest of the podium. He barely even needed to defend his margin.
But, in classic Coppi fashion, he did it anyway. Of course, he was first up the climb and won the stage. He was now 31 minutes ahead in the general classification.
In the time trial, he actually just had a chilled ride, taking it easy, enjoying his victory. There was no need for him to sprint or ride it properly, and he finished the Tour de France 1952 with the yellow jersey, in what was a story of total domination.
1964: A Duel Between Rivals
In 1964, the Puy de Dôme hosted an epic rivalry between two very successful riders at the top of their game, Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor.
Mâitre Jacques and Pou-Pou were born into lives worlds apart from one another: Anquetil the bourgeois son of an aristocrat and Poulidor the peasant son of a farmer.
It was the ultimate rivalry, and although Anquetil was searching for his fifth victory in the Tour, many favored Pou-Pou, who was seen to be representing the working class in France. They had come into the Tour on top form, Anquetil having won the Giro and Pou-Pou the Vuelta.
The two riders embarked on a legendary tussle over the three weeks that followed. Poulidor donned the yellow jersey for the majority of the race, at one point leading Anquetil by 5 minutes and 40 seconds.
However, a mechanical issue and a poorly-judged shove by one of the mechanical team which caused him to topple off his bike resulted in significant losses for Poulidor on Stage 15.
By the time they reached the Puy de Dôme on Stage 20, Anquetil had somehow clawed back the time gap and now led Poulidor by 56 seconds. This was the last stage, and Poulidor’s final chance to win the Tour.
Within a few kilometers of the foot of the climb, the two riders were literally shoulder-to-shoulder, alone, battling it out to the summit. A flurry of attacks were all shut down by Anquetil, and both riders were clearly at their limit.
With just 800 m to go to the summit, Anquetil cracked, and Pou-Pou accelerated off into the distance to the joy of his fans. He had dropped his rival but soon ran out of road. Riding to the limit, he managed to take 42 seconds out of Anquetil.
This, unfortunately for Poulidor, was not enough. Still trailing by 14 seconds going into the time trial, he failed to close the gap, and Anquetil even extended his lead to 55 seconds, becoming the first rider to ever win five editions of the Tour de France.
It was a memorable ascent of the Puy de Dôme, producing one of the most iconic images in Tour de France history of the two riders shoulder-to-shoulder, grimaces on their faces, battling it out to the summit.
1975: Eddy Merckx’s Altercation
The 1975 ascent of the Puy de Dôme is perhaps the most famous of all, but for an unfortunate reason.
Eddy Merckx, the greatest rider of all time, was punched in the stomach by a spectator on his way to the summit.
The five-time winner of the Tour was in search of a record-breaking sixth overall Tour victory. He was in blistering form and an overwhelming favorite before the event.
Coming into Stage 14 on the Puy de Dôme, Merckx was wearing yellow. He had held his own for the whole stage – and was just about to catch rival Joop Zoetemelk on the steep slopes – when he was whacked in the kidney by a local spectator.
Displaying great sportsmanship, Zoetemelk chose not to capitalize on the incident and take time out of Merckx, instead riding alongside him to cross the line simultaneously.
The incident, however, would later be claimed by Merckx as one of the main reasons he didn’t take his sixth yellow jersey.
Who knows what would have happened if this roadside spectator hadn’t chosen to punch Merckx that day. Would Merckx be the sole winner of six yellow jerseys?
A group of vigilante fans had surrounded the perpetrator and prevented him from getting away. After the race, Merckx identified him as the attempted amateur boxer and pressed charges against the man, who was found guilty at trial a couple of months later.