The Tour’s stay in Morzine takes place exactly a year before the decision by the IOC on the bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Morzine is part of the Annecy bid and is scheduled to hold the women’s downhill should France be chosen by the International Olympic Committee. Part of the biggest skiing domain in the world – Les Porte du Soleil – with 650 km of pistes, Morzine also has a long tradition in organising ski races. The resort hosted 11 World Cup races while international skiers like Cyprien Richard or Olivia Bertrand, who both took part in the Vancouver Olympics, were trained here.
Morzine’s most famous son was born in Tunis in 1933. But Jean Vuarnet was only two years old when his father, a doctor, settled in the Alps village, teaching his son into the pleasures of skiing. Many years later, Vuarnet is renowned all over the world for his skiing career, his glasses and his sportswear line, but his more innovative invention is probably “the egg”. In 1956, Vuarnet realised that French skiers were losing ground in comparison with Austrian champions like Toni Sailer and he looked for a new position, extremely efficient yet physically demanding. Leaning forward, with the back kept straight, the position gave the skier the figure of an egg. It was a major step forward in skiing technique, which led Vuarnet to win gold at the Squaw Valley Olympics in 1960. The method, disputed at the time, is now common practice and a statue was inaugurated in Morzine to celebrate the 50 years of Vuarnet’s Olympic title. The egg being at the start of all things, Vuarnet also invented an entirely new skiing teaching method before launching Avoriaz in 1966.
Lance Armstrong’s memories of Morzine are not especially sweet. In his seven-year itch, he almost never faltered except once, in a stage finishing in Morzine on the 2000 Tour. Caught off-guard after an attack by Marco Pantani, the American shunned the feeding zone and bonked in the Joux-Plane climb, losing two minutes on Jan Ullrich. Which did not stop him winning the Tour with a six-minute lead!
Since 1975, Morzine and the Tour have a special relationship as this visit is the 18th. Climbers were always in the spotlight, the only man to have won twice here being Richard Virenque. Two former Morzine stage winners departed too early: Thierry Claveyrolat scored one his greatest wins here in 1991 while Marco Pantani won in 1997. Thanks to his stage victory in 1988, Fabio Parra became the first Colombian to finish on the Tour podium.
|16th century||First mention of Morzine.|
|1825||Construction of the Ste Marie-Madeleine church with 16th century stalls.|
|1920||Opening of the Grand Hotel, the first in the resort.|
|1934||Inauguration of the Pleney lift.|
|1945||Construction of the prisoners chapel in Avoriaz by former prisoners of war.|
|1960||Jean Vuarnet becomes Olympic champion in Squaw Valley.|
|1966||Creation of Avoriaz.|
|1975||First Tour de France stage in Morzine.|
The abbey is at the origin of Morzine as the lands in which the town was built were former pastures belonging to the monks. Plundered during the Revolution, the building was bought by local authorities in 1994 and was turned into a museum/shop dedicated to monastic life and local specialities.
Prefecture : Annecy
Population : 706,000
Web site : www.cg74.fr
As part of the Duchy of Savoy which only became French in 1860, Haute-Savoie has kept a strong identity fuelled by its close ties with its Swiss and Italian neighbours. A mountainous area with some the highest summits in France, it is also a very active land in the valley along the Lake Geneva and the Annecy lake. Very attractive because of its border position and its economic vitality, Haute Savoie sees its population grow steadily and now boasts more than 700,000 inhabitants. The Annecy bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics should confirm the trend.
In Taninges, the St John the Bapitst church holds the biggest set of chimes in the Haute Savoie department. In 1939, the Paccard foundry in Annecy le Vieux delivered a new organ with a 30-keys keyboard and two sets of 12 and 15 bells weighing a total of 1,440 kilos. It took eight days to install the whole instrument. When the abbot died in the 1960s, the organ was abandoned and was only saved in 1984 when an association was created to restore it. Thanks to a public subscription, five bells were added in May 1989, followed by the 1767 bell of the Melan Charterhouse, dubbed Antoinette Marie Therese. Eight more bells completed the sets in 1998.
The Melan Charterhouse was founded in 1285 by Beatrice of Faucigny (later of Savoy) who wanted to be buried in it with her son John 1 of Burgundy. Nuns and priests were forced out of it during the French Revolution in 1793. It changed hands before becoming an orphanage in 1914. Partly destroyed by fire in 1967, the Melan Charterhouse is now the Centre of contemporary art of the department, hosting concerts and exhibitions.
Located in the biggest gap of the Alps, the Arve valley, Cluses became independent in 1301 when it was granted a charter by baron Hugues of Faucigny. The town developed around the only bridge to cross the Arve river. Built by the Romans and restored in the Middle Ages, it is still visible today. In 1720, Claude-Joseph Balaloud introduced the clock-making industry in a valley which, at the time, was entirely devoted to farming. Countless family workshops saw the light of day and a Royal Clockmaking School was launched in 1848. Local watchmakers specialised in tiny bits and their reputation survived to this day.
In 1844, the town was entirely destroyed by a fire and rebuilt in the Turin style by architect Francois Justin. Cluses is the hometown of swimming Olympic medallist Catherine Plewinski. In 2002, a Tour de France stage was won by Italy’s Dario Frigo. In 1994, victory in Cluses went to Latvia’s Piotr Ugrumov.
On the western side of the Aravis massif, Le Grand Bornand is a popular ski resort which developed in the 1920s from an old village which drew most of its wealth from reblochon, a famous local cheese. In 2003, a brutal flood of the river Borne after a violent storm ravaged the valley and destroyed a campsite leaving 21 dead.
Most of Le Grand Bornand’s celebrities are ski champions like 2006 Nordic skiing Olympic silver medallist Roddy Darragon or giant slalom specialist Tessa Worley.
The Haute Savoie resort fist hosted two Tour de France stage starts. In 1995, Alex Zuelle won the stage finishing in La Plagne and four years later Lance Armstrong started from here to take the laurels in Sestriere. The American also won a stage finish here in 2004. In 2007, young German Linus Gerdemann seized the stage victory and the yellow jersey for one day. Last year, victory went to Frank Schleck at the end of a great battle between the Schleck brothers and Alberto Contador.
La Clusaz took its name from the word “cluse”, meaning a steep road or valley between two mountains. It was first called Clusa Locus Dei (God’s Enclosure) until 1772, when it was given its present name. For centuries, life in La Clusaz was extremely harsh, timber and reblochon cheese providing the only meagre resources. Skiing was introduced in 1907 and transformed local life. The first ski club was founded in 1926 by the village schoolteacher. In 1928, a skating rink was created and 1935 saw the installation of the first ski lift. Since then, many champions were born or trained in La Clusaz, from Guy Perillat to Edgar Grospiron, Regine Cavagnoud or Vincent Vittoz.
Prefecture : Chambery
Population : 405,000
Web site : www.cg73.fr
Tourism has been the main economic strength of Savoie for many years. With its 60 ski resorts, its three natural parks – Vanoise, Bauges and Chartreuse -, and its six spa towns - Aix-les-Bains, Aix Marlioz, Challes-les-eaux, Brides-les-Bains, la Léchère, Salins-les-Thermes – the department offers plenty of opportunities to visitors. Metal and energetic industries combined with cross-border exchanges account for a low unemployment rate. Along with its natural beauty, Savoie also has many remains from the prestigious past of the Duchy of Savoy, the Chambery castle being the most remarkable. Savoie hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville.
Like most villages in the area, Notre Dame de Bellecombe is famous for its skiing champions. Jacqueline Rouvier and Catherine Quittet were two World Cup skiers hailing from here.
The Les Saisies pass played a major role in WW2 when the Allies, in August 1944, dropped 899 containers of weapons to help the French Resistance and its 3,000 men hidden in the Savoy maquis. Before the trend of skiing, the pass was above all a land of pastures. A village developed in the 1970s thanks to winter sports and Les Saisies was the Nordic skiing site for the 1992 Olympics. The resort is also famous as the hometown of 1988 Super-G Olympic champion Franck Piccard. At an altitude of 1,634 metres, the Les Saisies pass was climbed 10 times on the Tour before.
Host of the 1992 Winter Olympics, Albertville was founded in 1836 by King of Sardinia Charles-Albert. The new town then engulfed the medieval village of Conflans, created in the 14th century. Ideally located at the crossroads of three valleys, Albertville expanded regularly thanks to the hydroelectricity and paper industries.
The 1992 Winter Games were the highlight of a steady growth which dramatically transformed the landscape of the busiest ski area in Europe in winter. A ski section in the local high school also attracted many future champions. The high school is named after French Resistance leader Jean Moulin, who was Albertville prefect between 1925 and 1930. The Tour made a stop in Albertville in 1998.
The rail link between Lyon and Turin is one of the major European projects launched in the last 20 years and possibly the most ambitious since Eurotunnel. When completed, St Jean de Maurienne will be at the heart of its freight system. The economic and environmental implications of the project, which received the UE’s go-ahead in 2001, are enormous. The link is meant to create a non stop rail line from Lisbon to Kiev thanks to several tunnels, the longest of which would link France to Italy over 53 kilometres. The project, which is meant to ease road traffic across the border, is facing strong opposition on both sides. It is expected to be completed between 2018 and 2023 and the promoters have hired an old rice factory in Modane to hold an exhibition detailing the project.
The Opinel family were blacksmiths since the beginning of the 19th century in the small village of Albiez le Vieux, near St Jean de Maurienne. But the family destiny changed in 1880 when Joseph Opinel designed his first knife and decided to specialise in cutlery. In 1909, the Opinel brand was registered and already bore its famous sign – the three fingers of St John the Baptist brought to town in the 6th century. Simple and handy with its wooden handle in the shape of a fishtail, the Opinel knife was an extraordinary success. At the start of WW2, 20 million knives had been sold. Today 260 million items have been bought, most of them equipped with the safety ferrule introduced in the 1950s. In 1973, Opinel left St Jean for Cognin, then Chambery. But the town where it all started keeps its memories alive in a museum dedicated to France’s most famous knife. The company has remained in the family, as it is now headed by Maurice Opinel, the founder’s grandson.
St Jean de Maurienne is the birth place of famous slalom specialists like Jean-Noel Augert or Jean-Baptiste Grange but the proximity of such famous passes as Croix-de-Fer, Telegraphe, Lautaret, La Madeleine, Glandon, Iseran, Mont-Cenis and Galibier was bound to make it a cycling land. Four years ago, a similar stage, going the other way, took the bunch from St Jean to Morzine. It ended on the phoney victory by Floyd Landis, who since admitted he was doped. That year, St Jean de Maurienne saw the peloton three times. Instead of Landis so-called feat, it is better to remember authentic performances on the Madeleine pass, the highlight of this stage. Two riders share the privilege of having been first at the top three times – Lucien Van Impe and Richard Virenque. Jean-Pierre Danguillaume was the first to show the way up the pass in 1973 in a stage finally won in style by Luis Ocana.
|6th century||Saint Thecle brings back from Alexandria three of St John the Baptist’s fingers. King Gontran of Burgundy turns St Jean into a bishop see.|
|1075||Construction of the St John the Baptist cathedral, still one of the oldest roof structures in France.|
|1032||Humbert I, the White-Handed, becomes cCunt of Maurienne. He is the founder of the Savoy dynasty.|
|1326||The population of Les Arves rebel against the bishop.|
|1450||Construction of the gothic cloister in the cathedral.|
|1771||Construction the cathedral’s porch, ordered by Charles-Emmanuel of Savoy.|
|1888||Invention of the Mont-Corbier liquor by abbot Guille.|
|1895||Joseph Opinel makes his first knife.|
|1907||Opening of the Pechiney plant (today Alcan).|
|1912||Birth in St Jean of French fashion designer Pierre Balmain.|