Col de la Croix de Fer

The moun­tain with the cross of iron is only con­quered by rid­ers with a will of steel, as its his­tory in the Tour de France at­tests

Cyclist - - Contents - Words EL­LIS BA­CON Pho­tog­ra­phy GE­ORGE MAR­SHALL

Sev­eral Tour de France greats have won the race to the top of the Croix de Fer, a climb that brings the best out of the best pro rid­ers

Cast your mind back to your teenage years and to your pos­si­bly-not-favourite sub­ject of French, and you might – just might – have an inkling as to the trans­la­tion of ‘ Croix de Fer’.

‘Cross of iron’, any­one? Iron cross, in other words.

You don’t need to be a lan­guage buff or word­smith to reach said cross, which sits at the moun­tain’s sum­mit: you just need to be hard as nails your­self to climb to the top of this 2,067m be­he­moth in the French Alps.

The Col de la Croix de Fer – the Iron Cross Pass – has been mak­ing life dif­fi­cult for rid­ers on the Tour de France since 1947. Ital­ian Fermo Camellini was the first over the sum­mit that year, and he would go on to win the stage, the first of two en route to sev­enth place over­all.

In 18 ap­pear­ances at the Tour, the Croix de Fer has never fea­tured as a stage fin­ish, pre­sum­ably be­cause there isn’t enough space to fit the Tour’s rather large fin­ish line in­fra­struc­ture at the sum­mit. But it has nev­er­the­less played a key role in soft­en­ing up the legs of the Paris­bound pelo­ton and in mould­ing Tour vic­to­ries. Many of the sport’s very best have en­joyed the hon­our of reach­ing the top of the climb first, in­clud­ing Gino Bar­tali, Fausto Coppi and Bernard Hin­ault.

How­ever, it has only been since 1989 that the Croix de Fer has been cat­e­gorised as hors caté­gorie. Get that French go­ing again: roughly, ‘be­yond cat­e­gori­sa­tion’, in other words very

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