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Cycling History: L'Alpe d'Huez, a Dutch Mountain in France

The mountain of the Netherlands?

There are no mountains in the Netherlands. It's a very flat country. "Netherlands" literally means "lower countries". The highest hill in the Netherlands is the Vaalserberg. It's only 1,058 feet high.

However, there is one real mountain in France that has the nickname "de Nederlandse berg". This Dutch nickname literally means "the mountain of the Netherlands". The mountain in question is L'Alpe d'Huez.

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Alpe d'Huez

This mountain is in southeastern France. The top elevation is at 10,925 feet. Alpe d'Huez is a famous skiing site for many years. It became even more famous because of cycling.

Cycling: Tour de France

L'Alpe d'Huez was first included in the Tour de France in 1952. It was the Tour's first ever mountain-top finish. That stage was won by the legendary Italian Fausto Coppi.

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Dutch Glory Days

L'Alpe d'Huez hosted a Tour stage finish for the second time in 1976. Joop Zoetemelk from the Netherlands won the stage. This was the beginning of the Dutch Glory Days on L'Alpe d'Huez. Cyclists from the Netherlands had very much success on this mountain in the seventies en eighties. They won 8 of the 13 finishes in those decades.

Dutch Spectators

Thousands of Dutch fans celebrate their heroes every time the Tour de France visits Alpe d'Huez. They travel to this mountain. They'll camp on the side of the road and give big parties. The mountain has attracted more and more fans from the Netherlands every year, even though Dutch competitors haven't won on the Alpe d'Huez since 1989.

Orange Fever

Most Dutch fans wear orange clothing. Orange is the traditional color of the Dutch royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau. The Dutch fans are a sea of orange that welcomes and encourages every rider climbing the Alpe d'Huez in the Tour de France.

The Dutch heroes of L'Alpe d'Huez

Joop Zoetemelk
Zoetemelk (born 1946) was the first Dutchman to won this stage in 1976. He also won this stage in 1979. Joop Zoetemelk is considered the best rider that the Netherlands has ever known. He has won the general classifications in the 1980 Tour de France and the 1979 Vuelta a Espana. Zoetemelk has won Paris-Nice three times (1974, 1975 and 1979). He was the World Road Champion in 1985.

Hennie Kuiper
Kuiper (born 1949) won the Alpe d'Huez stage in 1977 and 1978. In 1978 the Belgian Michel Pollentier finished first. However, the Belgian was caught defrauding a drugs control after the stage and was disqualified.

Hennie Kuiper was an "all-round champion". He won Olympic road race in Munich (1972), the World Pro Championships Road Race in Yvoir (1975) and four "Monument Classic" (Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Giro di Lombardia and Milan-San Remo).

Peter Winnen
Peter Johannes Gertrudis Winnen (born 1957) won the stage in 1981 and 1983. After quitting cycling, he becam a writer. He wrote a brilliant book on his career, "From Santander to Santander".

Steve Rooks
Steven Rooks (born 1960) won on L'Alpe d'Huez in 1988. He was very strong in the 1988 Tour de France. Rooks won both the "Mountains Classification" (Polka Dot Jersey) and the "Combination Classification" (Technicolor Jersey). He finished second in the General Classification (Yellow Jersey).

Gert-Jan Theunisse
Theunisse (born 1963) won the stage in 1989 after an impressive solo. He also won the 1989 King of the Mountains competition (Polka Dot Jersey). His Dutch nickname was "de Beul van de Bergen" (The Torturer of the Mountains).

A Dutch pastor
When the Tour de France visited L'Alpe d'Huez, the press room was usually in a church, "Notre Dame des Neiges". It had a pastor who was born in the Netherlands: Jaap Reuten. When Joop Zoetemelk netted the first Dutch victory on Alpe d'Huez, the pastor rang the church bells. It became a habit over the years, to ring those bells every time when the leader of the race arrives at L'Alpe d'Huez.

Mecca of Dutch Cycling

L'Alpe d'Huez became the "Mecca of Dutch Cycling". Every year during the spring and the summer thousands of tourists from the Netherlands come to this mountain for sports pilgrimage, training camps and charity events.

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L'Alpe d'Huez: Dutch winners

  • 1976: Joop Zoetemelk
  • 1977: Hennie Kuiper
  • 1978: Henniek Kuiper
  • 1979: Joop Zoetemelk
  • 1981: Peter Winnen
  • 1983: Peter Winnen
  • 1988: Steven Rooks
  • 1989: Gert-Jan Theunisse

L’Alpe d'Huez: stage wins per country

  • Netherlands: 8
  • Italy: 7
  • France: 4
  • Spain: 3
  • United States: 1
  • Luxembourg: 1
  • Great Britain: 1
  • Switzerland: 1
  • Colombia: 1

© 2021 Van Staveren

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