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
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