When Henri Desgrange first took the Tour up to its barren upper slopes in 1922 the gravel road was barely distinguishable from the lunar scree on either side of it. A Belgian, Philippe Thys, was the first across the summit yet the story Desgrange wanted to sell was the brutality of his new climb.
The Col d’Izoard belongs to Louison Bobet, who in 1953 attacked on the Col de Vars and rode alone over the Casse Déserte to win in Briançon and take the yellow jersey he would wear all the way to Paris. A critical moment in Bobet’s career because he realized his potential with that first of three Tour victories. Over-geared and wrestling his bike on that hot day, Bobet came upon a group of fans high up on the climb. Among them was a tall man in a stylish black jumper. Fausto Coppi. Beside him his mistress Giulia Locatelli. Coppi shouted encouragement, Bobet called out ‘Merci!’ and pushed on.
The Col d’Izoard belongs to Bernard Thévenet. On Bastille Day 1975 the Frenchman used the Col d’Izoard to launch an audacious attack on Eddy Merckx. He won the stage into Serre-Chevalier and his lead over Merckx became race-winning. Later he wrote a hymn to the mountain: ‘A warm sun made the roads burning and I would ride on the very edge of the road to capture some air in the shadow of the pines. Eventually I would reach the Casse Déserte, sublime, apparently… the final kilometres were sensational. A mad crowd encouraged me and I would give them a great moment of happiness in return. It was a moment of sharing, of communion. Those few minutes remain the most memorable of my career.’
The Col d’Izoard belongs to Warren Barguil and to the future of French cycling. But above all it belongs to the whole, slightly deranged, family of the Tour de France. From the women racing La Course, to the weekend warriors who confronted it on last week’s L’Etape and the battalion of white campervans parked at the bottom of the climb, and everyone else in between, the myths of the Tour de France are made by us all.