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The Col d'Izoard

The Casse Déserte is one of the most iconic roads in the world of cycling and home to the modern-day sporting hero. It can be found on the southern ascent towards the top of the Col d’Izoard. Following a series of steep uphill sections interspersed with tight hairpins, you enter a prehistoric landscape of crumbling rock, unstable, life-threatening terrain, and severe heat. The mountain looks like it has been split down the middle with a great axe. Its innards spilling out like an open wound. This is no place for mere mortals, this is a place for modern day heroes.

Unlike many remote mountain climbs, the Col d'Izoard is accessible from the nearby town of Briançon. In the early days of the Tour de France, this meant being able to roll out of your hotel bed, head up the mountain, and set up ready to photograph our heroes emerging as if from the bowels of the prehistoric earth. Covered in the dust conveniently kicked up by the tour's entourage, their spare tyres strapped across both shoulders like machine-gun belts, struggling upwards to glory and hopefully a hot bath. The modern-day sporting heroes were created here for public consumption on the prehistoric slopes of the Casse Déserte. A tradition that continues today.

Fausto Coppo, Gino Bartali, Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Thévenet, and Eddy Merckx. all made their reputations on the slopes of the Casse Déserte. The roads got better. The crowds grew bigger. Television hit the screens, and photography went colour. The equipment improved, as did the times, but the Col d'Izoard remains a formidable climb.