The col de Joux Plane is situated on the southern end of the Chablais, at an altitude of 1691m. It links the town of Morzine to the north with Samoëns to the south.
Climbing the Col de Joux Plane
Joux Plane is a tough climb from either side, but is significantly harder from Samoëns, which is almost 300m lower in altitude than Morzine. During our Alpine Cols week, we climb it on Thursday.
The road to the col de Joux Plane from Samoëns is probably the toughest climb in the Haute Savoie. On a sunny day in mid-summer it is important to start early, because the whole slope faces south, making the climb potentially exhausting in the heat.
From the start to the finish it is unrelenting, practically all between 7% and 10%, with just a short 300m stretch at 5% soon after the initial 12% ramp. Most of the climb is in Alpine pastures with spectacular views as the road winds and snakes its way up. Near the top it enters a forest before opening up again with impressive views on Mont Blanc and finally the small lake near the summit.
I know to my cost however that the summit is in trompe l’oeil – if going on to Morzine the hard work is not yet over. After a short descent around the lake one must climb another 70m to cross the Col de Ranfolly before beginning the steep, exhilarating descent to Morzine.
The climb starts at the upper end of the village and immediately kicks up. The first kilometre is at 11% as it winds up between chalets and Alpine pasture. Another kilometre at 10% brings you to a brief respite for a few hundred metres as the road crosses a stream. The gradient varies little from then on, ducking in and out of the forest and averaging almost 9% for the next 5 kilometres to the col du Ranfolly, which effectively ends the ascent from this side. The road descends for a kilometre or so before a short steeper section and a final gentle rise to the col de Joux Plane. There is a fantastic view on the Mont Blanc shortly before the summit.
Col de Joux Plane in the Tour de France
Since the first ascension in 1978, the col de Joux Plane has been used by the Tour de France 12 times, always at the end of a long mountain stage finishing in Morzine. It has thus often been the scene of dramatic events as even the best riders suffer greatly on its steep slopes. The climb has been classified first category five times and “Hors Catégorie” (the highest level) six times, in 1981 and from 1987 onwards.
The first person over was the Frenchman Christophe Seznec on the 17th stage in 1978, from Grenoble to Morzine. He won the stage by over 9 minutes after a 165 km breakaway, passing first over the col du Plainpalais, the col de Leschaux, the col de la Colombière and the côte de Chatillon. He was to finish fifth in Paris, almost 13 minutes behind Bernard Hinault.
Laurent Fignon suffered badly on the Joux Plane during his first day in yellow, on the 18th stage of the 1983 tour from Bourg d’Oisans to Morzine. In his book “We were young and carefree” he tells how the attacks started on the Madeleine, where a dozen strong riders broke away, including Arroyo, Roche, Millar and Winnen. Fignon’s team fell back and he was left to finish the Colombière alone before the long descent to Scionzier, across the river and up the valley to Samoëns, where, still alone, he set off in chase. Given extra strength by the yellow jersey, he took himself to the absolute limit and at the cost of an enormous effort he caught Peter Winnen, his closest rival, before the summit. Fignon went on to win the final time-trial and the Tour.
Another famous rider to have a tough time on the Joux Plane was none other than Lance Armstrong himself. He told his manager Johan Bruyneel that the 16th stage in 2000, won by the French climber Richard Virenque was “the hardest day of my life – on a bike”. The stage started in Courchevel and went over the col des Saisies, the col des Aravis and the col de la Colombière before the final climb over Joux Plane and the fast, technical descent into Morzine. It was a crazy day, just after the stage to the summit of Mont Ventoux where Armstrong and Pantani finished together, the American visibly gifting the stage to the Italian. Pantani’s pride was badly hurt by this and he vowed to “tear the race apart”. He was as good as his word, attacking right from the start and forcing US Postal to chase hard all day. They finally caught him in the last few kilometres before Samoëns. Jan Ulrich, Richard Virenque, Roberto Heras and Armstrong attacked the final climb together. Unfortunately for Armstrong, he had missed a vital feedpoint and had no energy left. There was no way for his support car to reach him. He crawled slowly, desperately up by sheer willpower, riding just within the limits set by the little energy remaining to him, then threw himself down the other side to Morzine. That day Armstrong lost 97 seconds to Ulrich. He still went on to win the Tour, although of course his win has now been disqualified. Pantani lost over thirteen minutes and left the Tour the following day.
The penultimate time the col de Joux Plane figured in the Tour de France was in 2006, on the 17th stage from St Jean de Maurienne to Morzine. This was the stage where the American Floyd Landis made his extraordinary solo break from the peloton, to try to regain the time lost together with his yellow jersey the previous day at La Toussuire. An early break had already gained 11 minutes when Landis attacked on the col des Saisies, soon dropping Evans, Menchov and Rogers as well as the rest of the peloton. He drove on alone, catching the break one by one on the Aravis and the Colombière, which he crossed first, closely followed by Patrick Sinkiewitz. Riding like a man possessed, Landis shook off Sinkiewitz at the start of the Joux Plane. He gained even more time on the descent, coming within 30 seconds of recovering the yellow jersey. Two days later Landis did regain the lead, on the 19th stage (a 56 km time-trial). However, 4 days later he tested positive for testosterone and was ultimately disqualified, leaving the victory to Oscar Pereiro.
Tour de France 2016
The Tour crossed the col de Joux Plane for the 12th time on July 24, 2016 during the 20th stage from Megève to Morzine. The stage was 146km long, and passed over four major cols, the col des Aravis, the col de la Colombière, the col de la Ramaz and the col de Joux Plane. This same stage was used for the Etape du Tour. It was pouring with rain for most of the day.
Little of note happened and the stage was won by Ion Izagirre (Movistar). Chris Froome kept his yellow jersey, with Romain Bardet in second place at 04′ 05″ and Nairo Quintana a few seconds behind.