Heroes of the Roselend
Blood and guts on the unsung col
While the Cormet de Roselend isn’t a household name, it’s not without Tour de France history. It was first used in 1979, with nondescript appearances following in 1984 and 1987, but it was 1992 when it saw its first big action. Italian Claudio Chiappucci led over the top on Stage 13, then attacked again up the Iseran before soloing to an almost impossible victory nearly 150km later, having notched up 6,400m ascent over the 255km. There has arguably never been a more brutal Tour stage.
Yet the Cormet de Roselend played its most memorable and frankly horrifying role in 1996. In terrible conditions Johan Bruyneel hit a low stone wall on the descent to Bourg-saint-maurice. Doing a full somersault he disappeared into the ravine to the commentators’ gasps.
‘I flew off the edge of the cliff, and I hung in the air, feeling motionless, weightless, stopped in time, a hundred feet above the trees and bushes that clung to the steep jagged incline. I had a lot of time to think. I thought: I rode off a cliff! I thought: Well, this is going to be very bad. I thought: I’m dead,’ Bruyneel recounts in his book We Might As Well Win. But he wasn’t. Somehow he survived, and even clawed himself back up the ravine, covered in mud and blood, to remount his bike and finish the stage.