Col du Ballon d'Alsace

Col du Ballon d'Alsace

Boutiques and restaurants at the col
Elevation 1,178 m (3,865 ft)
Traversed by D465
Location Vosges, France
Range Vosges Mountains
Coordinates 47°49′13.5″N 6°50′6″E / 47.820417°N 6.83500°E / 47.820417; 6.83500Coordinates: 47°49′13.5″N 6°50′6″E / 47.820417°N 6.83500°E / 47.820417; 6.83500
Col du Ballon d'Alsace

Location of Col du Ballon d'Alsace

The Col du Ballon d'Alsace (1,178 m (3,865 ft))[1] is a mountain pass situated close to the summit of the Ballon d'Alsace (1,247 m (4,091 ft)) in the Vosges Mountains of France. It connects Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle (Vosges) with Masevaux (Haut-Rhin) and Belfort.

The Ballon d'Alsace was the first official mountain climb in the Tour de France on 11 July 1905[2][3] although the tour had crossed the slightly lower Col de la République (1,161 m (3,809 ft)) in each of the previous two years. The first rider to the top of the Ballon was René Pottier, with the stage being won by Hippolyte Aucouturier. Stage 9 of the 2005 Tour crossed this pass on the centenary of the original climb.

Details of the climbs

The "historic" ascent, as used in the early Tours de France, is from Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle (north). From here, the ascent is 9.0 km long climbing 619 m at an average of 6.9%.[4]

From the south, the climb starts at Malvaux, 4.5 km north of Giromagny. The climb is 12.4 km long, gaining 643 m at an average of 5.2%.[5]

From Sewen (east), the climb is 13.2 km long, at an average of 5.1%, gaining 678 m in height. This climb starts on the D466 and joins the route from the south after 10 km, at the col du Langenberg (1,060 m (3,478 ft)). The middle section (between 4 and 9 km) is steep, in excess of 8%.[6]

Tour de France

The Ballon d'Alsace was first crossed by the Tour de France on the second stage of the 1905 tour, from Nancy to Dijon.[1] In the first two Tours de France, the cycle race had crossed the Col de la République (1,161 m (3,809 ft)) south of Saint-Etienne.[7] Following violent incidents at the Col de la République in 1904,[8] the tour's organiser Henri Desgrange decided to look elsewhere for challenges for the riders and at the same time gain publicity for the tour and distract the public from the cheating that had taken place in 1904.[9]

Although only 17 metres higher than the Col de la République, the climb to the Ballon d'Alsace was steeper and Desgrange declared that no cyclist would be able to ride over it.[10] Despite Desgrange's "over-dramatic" concerns, René Pottier crossed the summit first by riding all the way to the top and, although he was passed by Hippolyte Aucouturier before the finish at Besançon, Pottier became the leader of the tour. Unfortunately, the pace of his ascent exacerbated injuries that he had sustained in a fall on Stage 1, and Pottier was forced to withdraw from the race the next day.[11] Following the 1905 tour's successful passage over the Ballon d'Alsace, Desgrange declared:

the ascent of the Ballon d'Alsace ... was one of the most thrilling sights I have ever witnessed, and confirms my opinion that man's courage knows no limits and a highly trained athlete can aspire to remarkable performances.[10]

Thus was the myth born that the Col d'Alsace was the first mountain crossing in the history of the Tour de France,[10] which is still maintained in the Tour's official history.[2]

The Tour returned to the Ballon d'Alsace the following year and Pottier was again the first rider over the summit. He arrived at Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle in a group of 19 riders: according to L'Auto: "At the foot of the climb, Pottier bolted, as if the bell had sounded the final lap of a track race. He hadn't reached the first hairpin before the group was torn apart."[12] The other riders soon dropped away with only Augustin Ringeval able to briefly keep in contact with Pottier although even he was dropped well before the summit:

Pottier and Ringeval are alone now. A brief but terrifying duel breaks out, until, making a final demand from his boundless reserves, the leader pulls away into the teeth of the gradient. Ringeval loses ground, makes it up again with a magnificent effort, then drops back again, done for![13]

Pottier crossed the summit alone, over four minutes ahead of the next rider and maintained his lead into the stage finish at Dijon, going on to win the whole race in Paris three weeks later.[13]

Those of us who witnessed his interminable, solitary, high-speed ride were left wondering whether it had not all been a dream, and asking ourselves what mysterious force it is that possesses the human organism and allows it to push back the boundaries of the possible.[13]

Pottier was found hanged at his home the following January, having committed suicide. Following his death, a monument to him was erected at the summit of the Col du Ballon d'Alsace.[14]

Passages in the Tour de France

The Tour de France crossed over the Col du Ballon d'Alsace every year between 1905 and 1914, and then five times in the 1930s. Since World War II, the crossings have been less frequent, with the most recent being in 2005 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first passage.[15] The tour has crossed the mountain twenty times in its history.[16][17]

Year Stage Category Start Finish Leader at the summit
2005 9 2 Gérardmer Mulhouse  Michael Rasmussen (DEN)
1997 18 2 [nb 1] Colmar Montbéliard  Didier Rous (FRA)
1982 2 1 Basel Nancy  Bernard Vallet (FRA)
1961 6 2 Strasbourg Belfort  Jozef Planckaert (BEL)
1952 8 2 Nancy Mulhouse  Raphaël Géminiani (FRA)
1937 4 Metz Belfort  Erich Bautz (GER)
1936 4 Metz Belfort  Federico Ezquerra (ESP)
1934 4 Metz Belfort  Félicien Vervaecke (BEL)
1933 4 Metz Belfort  Vicente Trueba (ESP)
1930 18 Belfort Metz  Antonin Magne (FRA)
1914 13 Belfort Longwy  Henri Pélissier (FRA) /  Jean Alavoine (FRA)
1913 13 Belfort Longwy  Marcel Buysse (BEL)
1912 3 Longwy Belfort  Odile Defraye (BEL)
1911 3 Longwy Belfort  François Faber (LUX)
1910 3 Metz Belfort  Emile Georget (FRA)
1909 3 Metz Belfort  François Faber (LUX)
1908 3 Metz Belfort  Gustave Garrigou (FRA)
1907 3 Metz Belfort  Emile Georget (FRA)
1906 3 Nancy Dijon  René Pottier (FRA)
1905 2 Nancy Besançon  René Pottier (FRA)


  1. In 1997, the tour only climbed as far as the Col du Langenberg (1,060 m (3,478 ft)) at the junction of D465 and D466.

Tour de France stage finishes

Between 1967 and 1979, the tour had four mountain top finishes at the summit of the Col du Ballon d'Alsace.[17]

Year Stage Start of stage Distance (km) Category
of climb
Stage winner Yellow jersey
1979 13 Metz 202 1  Pierre-Raymond Villemiane (FRA)  Joop Zoetemelk (NED)
1972 17 Pontarlier 213 1  Bernard Thévenet (FRA)  Eddy Merckx (BEL)
1969 6 Mulhouse 133.5 1  Eddy Merckx (BEL)  Eddy Merckx (BEL)
1967 8 Strasbourg 215 2  Lucien Aimar (FRA)  Roger Pingeon (FRA)

Amateur cycling

The Col du Ballon d'Alsace is also used by amateur cyclists on the "Trois Ballons" sportive ride held in June (together with the climbs over the Grand Ballon and the Ballon de Servance).[18]

See also


  1. 1 2 Woodland, Les (2003). The Yellow Jersey Companion to the Tour de France. Yellow Jersey Press. p. 262. ISBN 0-224-06318-9.
  2. 1 2 "Year 1905". History of the Tour de France. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  3. "L'Histoire 1903–2008" (pdf) (in French). Amaury Sport Organisation. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  4. "Ballon d'Alsace: Saint Maurice sur Moselle". Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  5. "Ballon d'Alsace: Malvau (sic)". Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  6. "Ballon d'Alsace: Sewen". Retrieved 24 July 2012.
  7. Woodland, Les. The Yellow Jersey Companion to the Tour de France. p. 264.
  8. "Tour 1904 : mort de son succès". Vélo 101, le site officiel du vélo (in French). 30 October 2001. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  9. Van den Bogaart, Ronnie (10 November 2007). "Col de la République was eerste berg in Tour de France" (in Dutch). Sportgeschiedenis. Retrieved 23 July 2012.
  10. 1 2 3 Rendell, Matt (2007). Blazing Saddles: The Cruel & Unusual History of the Tour de France. London: Quercus. p. 24. ISBN 1-84724-155-7.
  11. Rendell, Matt, ed. (2003). The Official Tour de France Centennial 1903–2003. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson. p. 30. ISBN 0-297-84358-3.
  12. Quoted in Rendell, Matt. Blazing Saddles. p. 27.
  13. 1 2 3 Rendell, Matt (ed.). The Official Tour de France Centennial. p. 36.
  14. Woodland, Les. The Yellow Jersey Companion to the Tour de France. p. 296.
  15. "The Route". Tour de France 2005. Archived from the original on 1 October 2009. Retrieved 7 August 2012.
  16. "Le Ballon d'Alsace". Complete list of passages in the Tour de France (in French). Archived from the original on 23 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  17. 1 2 "Le Ballon d'Alsace dans le Tour de France depuis 1947" (in French). ledicodutour. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
  18. "Les Trois Ballons Ride Report". 24 June 2010. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
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