- The Race 2010
- All about the race
Few remember it but St Gaudens used to be a major motor sports city, its Comminges circuit, built in 1925, holding 18 motor-racing Grand Prix and 15 motorcycling Grand Prix in the past. In 1928, it was even the site of the French Grand Prix, won by a Bugatti. The track closed in 1954 but saw several victories by Ferrarri and ace pilot Alberto Ascari.
The track left traces in town. The Azemar Square bear the name of the circuit founder, while Boulevard Wimille, Etancelin Street or Rene Dreyfus avenue are named after the best pilots of the time. Dreyfus even survived a near-fatal crash on the circuit.
Since 1985, Ecurie automobile du Comminges has organised popular retrospectives of the golden years of the circuit. This is how the idea of a museum came about and the project is rather advanced. Details can be found at the following address: http://www.circuit-automobile-comminges.fr/index.php?id=38
August 30, 1661 is a key date in the history of St Gaudens as it marked the return of the relics of the martyr who gave the town its name, after they had been dispersed to avoid plunders and invasions. September 26, 1997, might also become a milestone in the town’s timeline as it was the day when two priceless tapestries return to the collegial church seven years after being stolen by bold burglars.
The Triumph of the Faith, copy of a Rubens painting, and the St Gaudens martyrdom, recounting the legend of the saint, beheaded by the Visigoths, vanished at night on December 20, 1989. Made in 1760 by the Royal Manufacture of Aubusson, the works reappeared only seven years later at an auction in New York. They were identified by an Aubusson specialist who consulted the auction catalogue out of curiosity. A long investigation by the FBI revealed that the seller was in good faith and it took long and tricky negotiations between American and French authorities to see the tapestries back in their original setting. The thieves were never found.
St Gaudens is a household name for Tour de France fans. Several great mountain stages finished in town, like in 1955, when Louison Bobet finally took the yellow jersey that was to make him the first man to win three back-to-back Tours.
At the crossroads of the main Pyrenean passes, St Gaudens hosted nine stage finishes and ten starts, the last one in 2009. In 1970, for instance, Bernard Thevenet left St Gaudens on his way to his first stage victory in La Mongie.
In the 1976 edition, the St Gaudens - St Lary-Soulan stage was decisive in the fight for victory between Lucien Van Impe and Joop Zoetemek. After his solitary win in the Pyrenees, the Belgian climber took the yellow jersey and kept it all the way. In the morning he had signs that it was probably going to be his day: “When I’m in shape, I drink very little. It’s bad for the stomach. This morning I left St Gaudens with only one bottle. It’s still half full,” he said at the finish.
|475||The town, known as Mas St Pierre, welcomes the body of a young shepherd, Gaudens, beheaded by the Visigoths for refusing to renounce his Christian faith.|
|9th century||The St Gaudens cult grows. The town takes the name of the saint.|
|11th century||Construction of a collegial church to house the relics of the martyr.|
|1202||The inhabitants obtain a charter from Bernard IV of Comminges.|
|1258||Gaston VII of Bearn takes the town over from the Comminges.|
|1309||Pope Clement V, a former bishop of Comminges, acknowledges the authenticity of St Gaudens relics.|
|1569||The town is plundered by the Huguenot soldiers led by the count of Montgomery.|
|1607||The town and its region pass under France’s rule under King Henry IV.|
|1661||On August 30, the relics of St Gaudens, concealed during the Wars of Religion, return to the collegial church.|
|2003||First edition of the Jazz in Comminges festival.|
With its cloister and chapter house, the church was an important religious building in the Comminges county. It housed a community of canons created by bishop Bertrand. The 11t century Romanesque building replaced an older church. It was restored in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as the bell tower.
The most interesting capitals were painted by masters from Aragon. They picture the downfall of Adam and Eve and monstrous animals. The collegial also shelters exceptional tapestries.
Website : www.morbihan.fr
Ce département illustre parfaitement le contraste entre
The first lord of Aspet whose name was preserved was called Ramon-Athon. He lived around 1068. Several Aspet knights took part in the Crusades, notably Arnaud II, who took to sea with Philip Augustus in Genoa in 1190. In the beginning of the 15th century, the barony passed over to the Coarraze family. Its last member was lady Catherine, whose fountain still stands in the middle of the town’s main square.
Behind the current church, the Gothic chapel keeps the armouries of the Coarraze. The Chucaou tower, watching over Aspet, is of unknown origins.
The memorial to Fabio Casartelli can be found shortly after the pass on which he met his death in 1995. The 1992 Olympic champion crashed heavily in the descent. The marble monument, sculpted by Bruno Luzzani, was inaugurated in October 1995. It represents a wheel gradually changing into an Olympic flag. Casartelli’s bicycle when he crashed can be seen in the Madonna del Gisallo chapel on top of the eponymous mountain pass in Italy.
The Col du Porte d’Aspet is a classic climb on the Tour and the last rider to reach the top in the front was Frenchman Laurent Lefevre in 2007.
Prefecture : Foix
Subprefectures : Pamiers, Saint-Girons
Population : 148,600
Website : www.cg09.fr
Nestled in the heart of the Pyrenees, its back to Spain and Andorra, Ariege is an area of mountains, valleys and lakes, which has been inhabited forever. Twelve painted caves are invaluable testimonies of our far past while the Middle Ages have left a treasure of castles and roman churches in the former land of the Cathars. Water, sun, snow and fresh air: everything is combined to make Ariege the ideal place for nature lovers. Food is as tasty and copious as it used to be while catering has kept its authenticity.
The building of a new motorway, the A66, has made Ariege much more accessible while the department keeps true to Napoleon’s saying which went: “Ariege produces men and iron”.
The village took part in a local 19th century revolt known as “la guerre des demoiselles” (the young ladies war). While its parochial church is the 13th century St Martin, the Notre-Dame de Tramesaygues church is the one worth a visit. Built and improved from the 13th to the 16 th century, it is a World Heritage site thanks to its campanile, its medieval frescos and its painted porch. A pilgrimage existed as early as 1139 and the original chapel was extended gradually to hold the pilgrims. The pilgrimage gained momentum when a congregation settled in the chapel in 1315.
At the crossroads of the Bellongue, Biros, Bethmale and Balagueres valleys, Castillon has a long history: human presence is recorded since prehistoric times. The valleys, depending on the Counties of Comminges and Foix in the Middle Ages, were always a land of exchange with Spain through the Val d’Aran.
Each valley had its own special know-how. Breeding always thrived in the Bellongue valley, while the Biros was famous for its waters and its mines: a tramway was in function between 1911 and 1936. The Bethmale valley was renowned for its women, who often went to Toulouse to work as nannies.
The valleys shared privileges that led them to revolt against a new forest code in 1827. It was called the “guerre des demoiselles” (the young ladies war).
Castillon is also the home of a sheep breed, the Castillonaise.
St Pierre church
It is a great example of the typical Romanesque style which developed in the Couserans region in the 12th century. Built as the chapel of the old castle of the Viscounts of Couserans, it was rebuilt in the 13th century. A circuit of Romanesque art in the Pyrenees takes visitors to the many remarkable religious sites of the region.
Bethmale was originally the name of the valley regrouping six villages not bearing the name. As a result, the commune does not have a locality to its name. It regroups the villages of Ayet and Samortein while Aret, Arrien, Tournac and Villargein regrouped in 1921 to form the commune of Arrien en Bethmale
Bethmale is noted for its cheese, btehmale or oustet, dating from the occupation of the Moors in the 8th century. It is a cow cheese weighing around 4.5 kilos.
The first category pass, 17.5-kms long, is not extremely step with an average slope of 5.1 pc. But it opens on splendid views over the Bethmale lake. It was climbed for the first time in 1984 and Jean-Rene Bernaudeau was first at the top.
Located in the Regional natural park of the Ariege Pyrenees, Seix is the main village of the Haut-Salat valley and hosts the local high school. It lies at the crossroads of he Esbintz and Salat valleys. Since the end of the exploitation of tungsten mines in Salau, the economy relies mostly on tourism (ski, green tourism) and on sheep breeding.
The town was founded from a pairing between the local lords and King Philp the Bold in 1280, making Seix a royal enclave in the middle of the Comminges County. In exchange for watching over the border, the locals obtained favourable rights from the King. The village’s history is closely linked to the Spanish border and the cattle often spent the summer on the Spanish side while markets were a chance to trade meat and cheese against Spanish wine, oil and wool.
Seix was also from the 19th century a crossing point for Spaniards fleeing the Civil War or French partisans and Jews trying to reach Spain. In 1942, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, heir to the imperial family, was arrested in Seix.
Its two towers, its watchtower and its surrounding wall make the Seix Castle one of the remarkable monuments of the Couserans region. Overlooking the roofs of the mountain village, it watched over three major passes through which men and goods still transit today. It was built on the remains of an old mediaeval fortification, part of a defensive complex surrounding the village. The castle was purchased in the 1990s by the Community of communes of the Oust canton. Carefully restored, it houses a centre of regional heritage.
Close to the Spanish border, the Ustou valley used to be crowded but many men left during the industrial revolution. The valley was known for its bear tamers. On the commune’s soil is the ski resort of Guzet Neige, which hosted three Tour de France stage finishes between 1984 and 1995.
At the bottom of the Garbet valley, Aulus-les-Bains combines its sheep breeding tradition at the top of the village with tourism at the bottom, modern part of town. Not far from Aulus is the Ars waterfall, one of the highest in the Pyrenees. The village lived for long from the exploitation of lead mines, but in the 19th century, water took over from lead. In 1822, an officer named Darnagnac, affected by syphilis, found comfort in the local spring water. It received medical agreement in 1845, leading to the building of thermal baths and several hotels. The golden age ceased with WWII. In the last 30 years, the municipality has attempted to rejuvenate the spa. The new Aulus-les-Bains thermal baths, completed in 1989, are renowned to deal with metabolic troubles (cholesterol, diabetes).
The first category pass, 10.2-kms long for an average slope of 8.1 pc, was climbed first in 1988 on the Tour. Scot Robert Millar was first at the top.
Tarascon is an Indo-European word meaning rift. Its prehistoric heritage is exceptional. Its is still possible to admire the wall paintings of the Niaux caves or visit the larges cave in Europe, Lombrives, the home of Hercules lover Pyrene.
During the antiquity, the iron mines were extremely disputed while Tarascon was invaded by the Franks, the Vandals, the Visigoths and the Moors. In the 16th century, the Wars of Religion were especially bloody. Protestants and Catholics in turn seized the castle, massacring their enemies.
Tarascon later lived on agriculture and gypsum quarries before switching to tourism. The town hosted a rest day and the start of a Tour stage in 1998.
Prehistoric art park
In a mountainous park scattered with ponds and rocks, the superb site leads to an original approach of the prehistoric heritage of Ariege. Inside contemporary buildings, several interactive applications and a lightshow recount the history of the arts of our ancestors and are destined to adults as well as children. A reconstitution of the Niaux caves makes it possible to admire paintings now inaccessible to the public. Modern art exhibitions are also held to confront contemporary artists with their colleagues of old.
Ussat-les-Bains is a spa town renowned for the cure of stress-induced psychosomatic diseases and neurological affections like Parkinson’s disease.
The calming effect of its waters accounts for stays based on relaxation and anti-stress. The virtues of the Ussat waters have been documented since the 15th century while the first medical treatise dates from 1771. The population had always used the water as a cure but the commercial exploitation started in the early 19th century thanks to Louis de Fraxine, Baron of Ornolac. Celebrities like the King of Holland, Louis Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother, or poet Lamartine, made the international repute of Ussat. The Grands Thermes, now a listed monument, were built in 1845 to replace older facilities. The spa gradually went out of fashion but new private owners are now working hard to bring new life.
Faraway from the ski business and the hustle and bustle of ski lifts, Plateau de Beille offers packages allowing you to live for one day as a trapper or an Eskimo. Alone or in a couple, it is possible to immerse completely in the Nordic forest. Equipped with snowshoes, you can walk in the local nature and amidst the wildlife before a mountain dinner in a trapper’s hut. These activities can be paired with skiing on the domain.
The beginning the stay consists in building the igloo in which you spend the night. Other lodgings consists in tipis, trappers cabin in the forest or Mongolian yurts.
Toulouse is only an hour away yet driving to Beille amounts to going to Scandinavia. Between Toulouse and Foix, oak trees predominate. Then the beech appears above Tarascon. Fir trees take over at Les Cabannes . Only on Plateau de Beille do you find birch, mountain pine, calluna and rhododendron. The change in vegetation is exactly the same when travelling from the south of Europe to Nordic countries.
In the same way, the ptarmigan found in the region has close cousins in Sapmi.
The bird followed the withdrawal of the glaciers which disappeared from the area 15,000 years ago. Beille, a Nordic Skiing haven, is like a little Norway, minus the deer but plus the Pyrenean gastronomy.
A Nordic skiing resort, Plateau de Beille quickly earned its credentials as a major Tour de France mountain finish with four stages in ten years. Marco Pantani was a pioneer in 1998 and he was followed by Lance Armstrong, winner at the top in 2002 and 2004. The series continued with Alberto Contador, who won the stage here in 2007. The result was that every stage winner at Plateau de Beille so far was the final winner in Paris.
Pantani’s 1998 win was particularly impressive. Swiss Roland Meier had gone early in the morning and looked set to take the stage laurels as he held a 2:40 lead at the bottom of the climb in Les Cabannes. It took only six kilometres for The Pirate to make up for lost time. The Italian attacked with 12 kms to go and caught Meier with six kilometres left. Yellow jersey holder Jan Ulllrich finished 1:40 behind Pantani, unaware that it was the beginning of the end of his Tour ambitions.
|10th century||Building of the Lordat Castle, dismantled by King Henry IV in 1582.|
|12th century||A castle is mentioned in Castelverdun, probably the ruined castle still visible in Chateau-Verdun today. Its lords ruled the region for all the Middle Ages.|
|Late 13th century||The Cabannes canton, belonging to the Count of Foix, becomes a Cathar land.It is the home of Beatrice de Planissoles, famous Cathar lady from Montaillou.|
|1293||Iron ore is exploited.|
|16th century||The lordship becomes the Barony of Gudanes.|
|1750||Construction in Château-Verdun of the Gudanes Castle close to the old Château-Verdun castle.|
|19th century||Opening of the largest talc quarry in the world in Trimouns.|
|1854||A cholera epidemic claims many lives.|
|1998||First Tour de France finish at Plateau de Beille. Marco Pantani wins.|
The waters of river Ariege dug this cave which spreads over 39 kms and seven levels. The cave stretches underground from Les Cabannes to Tarascon-sur-Ariege.
The Niaux cave has more than 200 entrances. Some halls are huge. The Hall of the Cathedral, 250 metres from the main entrance is as big as Notre-Dame de Paris. The Hall of Satan’s Empire, 4 km from the entrance, is three to four times larger. The cave served as a refuge for Cathar priests in the 13th century. It also sheltered priests and aristocrats during the French evolution and Republicans during the Empire.
Several circuits are open to visitors.
Parralle to the east-west axis of the Pyrenees is a very hilly one. The changes in declivity are owed to rifts or different varieties of rock. Schist, a softer stone, usually forms more lenient ascents than granite. A few miles from the finish, as the peloton leaves the Ariege valley to head for Plateau de Beille, the biggest talc quarry in the world can be found.
Located in Trimouns, at 1,800 meteres high, it exploits a site formed some 300 million years ago. Enormous rocky masses of different natures were broken and squashed when a rift took place and later bathed by intense floods which created this white and exceptionally soft stone.