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Tour de France

‘Crazy’ fans crowd Alpe d’Huez at Tour de France: ‘It was unreal’

Yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard raises the fear of COVID, but fans and riders celebrate the return of the Tour's most famous climb.

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Massive crowds pressed in on Tom Pidcock and the rest of the peloton Thursday on the famed 21 switchbacks on Alpe d’Huez in the return to the most famous climb at the Tour de France.

Riders were awed and overwhelmed by the biggest crowds seen on a climb since the world pandemic put the pinch on racing two years ago.

Geraint Thomas, who won the last time the peloton climbed the Alpe in 2018, described the scene as bedlam.

“Some of them were just too crazy,” Thomas said of the fans. “I got hit a few times on the arm. Luckily there were no flares, that was good, because that can just choke you.

“It’s great to have the fans, but they just need to let us race,” he said. “It is crazy sometimes.”

Also read: Tom Pidcock attacks to Alpe d’Huez victory

Enormous crowds already turned out for three days of racing in Denmark at the start of the Tour.

There was a different scene Thursday on Alpe d’Huez, where hundreds of thousands of fans lined both sides of the twisting roadway. Many of them camped out for days to grab the best viewing spots.

“It was a crazy experience actually, I think this is what all all cyclists dream of,” said yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma). “So I mean, riding on the Alpe d’Huez where there were so many spectators, and also so many Danish people cheering for me, that was very, very special.”

The experience was something unseen before for riders like Vingegaard and eventual stage-winner Pidcock of Ineos Grenadiers, both of who we’ve never raced in the Tour before pandemic restrictions were put into place.

While the 2020 and 2021 editions of the Tour did see some efforts to control the crowds by keeping them at a distance or even outright limiting the public access, those restrictions including the use of masks have largely been done away with.

Jonas Vingegaard: ‘It’s a big risk to get COVID’

Vingegaard admitted the threat of infections and COVID-19 were weighing on the back of everyone’s minds as the rowdy fans yelled and screamed quite literally in their faces.

“It’s a big risk to get COVID when when a lot of spectators are shouting in your face. I mean, obviously, I think that’s, that’s obvious to everyone,” Vingegaard said. “But, I mean, I guess that’s how it is. And, yeah, we can just hope that that we don’t get COVID. At least I hope that that nobody gets COVID. That’s not the nice way to leave the Tour. So we just hope for the best.”

Even if there is a fear of COVID-19 infections inside the peloton, the larger cycling public seemed to embrace and celebrate the freedom of being able to return to the Tour unhindered.

Wout Van Aert rides through a sea of public on Alpe d’Huez. (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Alpe d’Huez always draws a big crowd, but Thursday’s large turnout seemed more raucous and celebratory than normal.

Each corner of the 21 “lacets” is now filling out with its own unique flavor, from the famed Dutch corner to a new Beefeater corner and a growing Norwegian corner.

There are no barriers on the lower switchbacks of the climb, and a smiling Wout van Aert was mobbed by cheering fans as he pedaled up the climb after taking his final pull. Barriers start with about 4km to go.

The first rider to feel the brunt of the mass of the public waiting on Alpe d’Huez was Pidcock.

The Olympic mountain bike champion sliced alone up the climb after attacking to victory to make history as the youngest rider ever to win on the Alpe at 22.

“This was one of my best experiences ever on the bike. It was unreal,” Pidcock said. “I had to slalom around people, fists, and flags. You can’t experience that anywhere else than on Alpe d’Huez in the Tour de France.”

Tom Pidcock attacks to victory. (Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images)