- The Race 2010
- All about the race
We mentioned the French singing priests in last year’s Tourist Guide and they even gave a concert during the Tour stay in Gap last year. Since then, their success is sensational. Some 750,000 copies of the first CD were sold, making it one of the best-selling records in France in 2010. Les Prêtres recently released their second album.
It all started as an idea from Gap bishop Jean-Michel de Falco, who took inspiration from Irish band The Priests to convince three members of his clergy to make a record to fund the construction of a new church in the village of Notre Dame de Laus. The trio recorded an album called Spiritus Dei, which became an instant best-seller and chart topper. Jean-Michel Bardet, curate in the centre of Gap, was a trained musician while Charles Troesch had sung with a famous child choir. The third man in the band, Dinh Nguyen Nguyen, is a seminarist. Royalties from the record will also be used to buy computer equipment for a school in Madagascar. Les Prêtres sing classics of the religious repertoire like Ave Maria or Minuit Chretien but they also tackled songs by Jacques Brel or Leonard Cohen. A recent tour has been extremely successful.
On the flanks of the mountain overlooking Gap, the domain of Charance stretches from 100 metres to 1,903metres in altitude, displaying an exceptional view. Since 2004, the domains hosts the National Alpine Botanic Conservatory, which studies, preserves and promotes the plants and flowers of the region. Guided visits, lectures, training sessions and other activities are organised on site while a museum and part of the gardens are open to the public. The conservatory itself opens up in the summer to teach nature lovers about the local vegetation. The Gap municipality and environmental associations are working hand in hand to provide the most comprehensive information to tourists and students.
In Tour de France history, Gap will long be associated with the finish of the 9th stage in 2003. Four kilometres from Gap, in the descent of the Cote de la Rochette, Joseba Beloki’s wheel snapped, sending the Spaniard onto the canvas just in front of Lance Armstrong. The American was forced to ride his bike across a field to make it back on the road, displaying convincing mountain-bike skills. Thanks to his sense of balance, Armstrong again avoided disaster and went on to win his fifth Tour. As for Joseba Beloki, the crash marked the actual end of his career.
In 20 visits to Gap, the Tour saw victories by cycling greats such as Raphael Geminiani, Gastone Nencini, Jean-Francois Bernard, Erik Zabel or Alexandre Vinokourov. But the town was also the start of legendary stages towards Briancon marked by the triumphs of Louison Bobet, Fausto Coppi or Federico Bahamontes. In 2010, the winner was Portugal’s Sergio Paulinho.
|20 BC||Creation of Via Cottia, linking Turin to Valence. A Roman camp is located near Gap.|
|14th century||The installation of popes in Avignon results in numerous travels from and to Italy and Gap thrives on wool and tannery.|
|1626||Death of Francois de Bonne de Lesdiguieres, the last Constable of France. His mausoleum can be found in the Gap museum.|
|1692||The troops of Victor-Amedee of Piedmont destroy the city and the population flees.|
|1790||Gap becomes the Hautes Alpes Prefecture.|
|1802||Baron de Ladoucette, prefect of the Hautes Alpes under Napoleon, develops the city and creates the local museum.|
|1815||On his return to Paris from the Elba Island, Napoleon makes a stop in Gap.|
|1875||Arrival of the train.|
The museum holds the mausoleum of Francois de Bonne de Lesdiguieres, the last Constable of France. It was made in black marble by sculptor Jacob Richier.
Built between 1866 and 1904, the neo-Gothic cathedral Notre Dame and St Arnoux replaced an older medieval building.
Population : 132 000 hab.
Hautes-Alpes (High Alps) is the highest department in France in average. The Durance river is the backbone of its territory, on which live a population of 118,000. Isolated until the arrival of the train, the department has learnt through history to live on its own resources, which helped in hard times. It is a mainly farming area – forests, pastures, fruit, milk – but tourism has been developing quickly thanks to the ski resorts of Serre-Chevalier Vars, les Orres or Montgenevre and in the summer to the many campsites around the Serre-Poncon artificial lake.
In seven centuries, the village changed locations three times. In 1282, when Rodolphe de La Font de Savines ruled, the village was on the right bank of the Durance river, where the ruins of the La Font de Savine castle can still be seen. Floods forced the locals to build another village. But in 1961, the new village was in turn demolished when the Serre-Poncon dam took over and flooded the valley. The third village was named Savines-le-Lac.
The village hosted the start of a Tour de France stage in 1974.
Tragic floods of the Durance in 1843 and 1856 led to the idea of dam. However it was only in 1948 that a Russian engineer, Ivan Wilhem, put forward a viable project. Works on the site started in 1955 under the helm of architects Jean de Mailly and Jean Prouve and valley was finally flooded in 1961. Some 1,500 were displaced while their villages - Savines, Ubaye, Rousset – disappeared. The new Savines-le-Lac was inaugurated in 1962. Serre-Poncon is the second largest artificial lake in Europe.
On the banks of the Serre-Poncon lake, Crots combines the charm of a typical village with several tourist activities linked to the lake or to its Nordic skiing site in La Draye. There is a lot to see in town – the 12th century Boscodon abbey, the 13th century Picomtal castle and the St Laurent church.
It was built by the lords of Embrun, ruling along with the archbishops of their city. Kicked out by the archbishop and the bourgeois in 1080, they built a wooden keep in Crots, replaced in the 13th century by a stone tower called Boniface Tower today. In the 14th century, a square castle with four towers was erected. In 1507, Martin de la Vilette, who inherited the castle from the Embrun, doubled the surface of the castle and rebuilt two towers.
Notre-Dame de Boscodon abbey
Founded in 1142, the Notre-Dame de Boscodon abbey was built by hermit monks of the Chalais order tahnks to funds given by Guillaume of Montmirail. The monks lived from the forest and from sheep breeding. In the 18th century, the abbey passed under the rule of the archbishop of Embrun and some of its building were demolished. During the French Revolution, the abbey and its lands were sold and hamlet was built around the convent, which was turned into a stable. In the 20th century, the villagers left for the city and the owner sold the premises to Dominican monks, who restored th abbey and settled in.
Overlooking the Durance from its rock, Embrun meant Mound by the water in Celtic. It was the capital of the Cottian Alps during the Roman Empire and was fortified by Vauban in the 17th century. The old fortress still appears in places. Nowadays, Embrun hides several traces of her past in its little streets. The chapel of the Cordeliers convent dates from 1447 and keeps beautiful 15th century frescos rediscovered in the 1970s. The chapel now hosts the Tourist Office. Several fountains, corbelled houses, the house of the governors or the House of the Chanonges are still remarkable. The Notre-Dame du Real cathedral, built between 1170 and 1220 remains the most important religious monument in the French Alps. At the top of the town, the Brown Tower is the 13th century keep protecting the archbishop of Embrun.
Embrun today thrives on tourism, at the crossroads of the main skiing resorts of the Hautes-Alpes. The Serre-Poncon lake is also a focal point.
Embrun hosted the start of two Tour de France stages in 1974 and 2008.
Notre-Dame du Real cathedral
The Notre-Dame du Real cathedral, built between 1170 and 1220 remains the most important religious monument in the French Alps. Its architecture is largely inspired by the Lombard tradition. The Real porch, flanked by two lions, was covered for two centuries by a fresco representing the Adoration of the mages The cathedral’s treasure, on display in the St Francis chapel, is a priceless collection of ritual furniture, paintings and clothes from the 15th to the 19th century.
St Clement is a passage way between Embrun and Guillestre by the river Durance, long seen as one of the three plagues of Provence with the mistral winds and the Aix-en-Provence parliament. A boating site, St Clement remains protected by its 13th century Lombard tower. The village is known by geologists for the cliff overlooking the village, a perfect example of the Alpine orogeny.
The city of Guillestre lies on a plateau at the altitude of 1,000 metres overlooking the gorges of the Guil shortly before its junction with the Durance.
In a mountainous cirque, it is sheltered by its mountains and has one of the lowest rain levels in France. Guillestre is the main entry point towards the Queryas valley and a passage between Embrun and Briancon.
Place forte of Mont-Dauphin
At the confluence of Durance and Guil rivers, overlooking the impressive canyon of the latter flowing down from Queyras valley, Mont-Dauphin is one of the many places fortified by Vauban in the second half of the 17th century. In 2008, the place forte of Mont-Dauphin, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as part of the "Fortifications of Vauban" group.
While L’Argentiere has an agricultural past, silver mines gave it its name and its main source of wealth from the Roman times. The exploitation of the mines intensified in the Middle-Ages and went on until the beginning of the 20th century. The old industrial and mining facilities have been restored and are now open to visits. A museum was created to honour this industrial heritage. The silver mines obviously gave their name to the city, called Castrum Argenterie in 1202.
L'Argentière-la-Bessée was also marked by the growth and decline of its aluminium industry. The closure of the Pechiney plant in 1985 bore a hard blow to the local economy now turning to tourism.
St Jean chapel
Formerly linked to a house of the Knights Hopsitaller, the chapel was built on a rocky mound by the old mountain path known as “via per alpem”. The chapel played a major part in the history of the region.
SSt Martin de Queyrieres is a succession of picturesque hamlets scattered with churches, chapels and oratories as the village was a halt on the St James Way route starting from Turin.
At 1,326 metres, Briancon is the highest city of more than 10,000 inhabitants in the European Union. The sub-prefecture of the Hautes Alpes is a mountain town and a ski resort, part of the Serre-Chevallier ski domain. Briancon was listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2008 for its fortified complex. Its strategic position close to the Italian border always made it a garrison town.The presence of numerous forts built over more than three centuries confirm this military vocation and the whole is a unique example of mountain military architecture. Partly fortified by Vauban, the town keeps remarkable fortifications and countless monuments.
The absence of humidity and the healthy climate made Briancon famous for the treatment of respiratory diseases and especially asthma.
Fighting raged for months during the Second Worl War and Briancon was finally liberated in September 1944.
Briancon hosted 33 stages of the Tour from 1922 and 2007 and crowned all the biggest names in the sport: Thys, Pélissier, Bartali, Bobet, Coppi, Bahamontes, Gimondi or Merckx.
Briancon was always a military town and a compulsory crossing point for armies attacking the other side of the Italian border. In the late 17th century, Louis XIV sent Vauban on the spot with the mission of fortifying the south-eastern part of his kingdom. Vauban arrived in October, 1692 an his orders quickly spread far beyond the town itself. To control Briancon, it was also necessary to be in command of the neighbouring summits. Vauban ordered the building of the Salettes redoubt and a camp on the Montagne des tetes. Back in Briancon in 1700, Vauban also built a bridge over the Durance to link the various forts. The main fortifications were completed between 1720 and 1734 – the Fort des Tetes was the central and biggest defensive spot, the Fort du Randouillet watched over the Cervieres valley, the Communication Y was a gallery linking those two forts while the Fort Dauphin, an outpost at the foot of the Infernet pass, blocked the road towards Italy.
The oldest French ski resort, Montgeneve is known worldwide for its mountain pass, used to cross the Alps almost forever and notably by Caesar’s troop in 58 BC. Given its position, the village has always been protected by fortifications and the most impressive is arguably the Fort du Chaberton, also named the Fort in the clouds. At 3,315 metres high, with an Italian and a French side, it is the highest fort in Europe. It was built between 1900 and 1914 on what was then Italian soil.
In 1907 was organised in Montgenevre the first ski meeting which made the sport popular in France.
The resort was the finish of a Tour stage in 1976, won by Joop Zoetemelk.
Standing at the end of the village on the spot that used to be the Franco-Italian border until 1947, the oblesik marks the end of the construction of the road to Montgenevre, completed in 1804.
An historical mountain pass between France and Italy, the Montgenevre pass was used nine times by the riders of the Tour de France between 1949 and 1999. Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi annexed it in the first two occasions but Richard Virenque remains the King of Montgenevre which he reached in the lead three times.
After using the Montgenevre pass in 58 BC, Julius Caesar decided to build a better road for his legions: the via Cottia per Alpem. It started in Turin and went through Susa (Segusium), Oulx (Villa Martis), Cesana Torinese (Gadaone o Gaesao) and the frightful gorges of Claviere. The road remained a simple path during the Middle-Ages until Napoleon built a paved road in 1804. Claviere settled on this roads and is now a popular ski resort which was part of the 2006 Olympics in Turin. The Franco-Ityaian border is at the end of the village.
Close to the border, the Province of Turin was always rocked by the conflicts with nearby France. Turin, as a result, was once the capital of Savoie and even briefly, of Italy. Turin is the focus of the province. Founded by Augustus, the fourth biggest Italian city is also one of its main industrial centres and the home of Fiat, the country’s emblematic carmaker. At the foot of the Alps, in a zone of exchange between Italy, France’s Rhone-Alpes and Switzeland, Turin takes full adntage of the situation. Yet the Province of Turin is also an alpine region, proud of its mountain agriculture and the beauty of its landscapes. The province, with 2.3 million inhabitants, held the 2006 Winter Olympics and is a popular tourist area.
Cesana Torinese lies on the remains of a Roman road going from the Po valley to France and it even though it lost its commercial importance in the Middle-Ages, it retained a crucial military role. From the 14th to the 17th century, Cesana was indirectly affected by the Wars of Religion because of the presence of the Waldensian church in the Pragela valleys). The town’s economy relies today on tourism and winter sports. Cesana has a ski resorts belonging to the Via Lattea domain. It was one of the 2006 Olympic sites, hosting luge and bobsleigh.
Built by the Agnelli family, owners of Fiat, in 1935, it became one of the most famous ski resorts in the country, home of the ski events at the 2006 Olympics, host of the alpine skiing world championships in 1996 and of several World Cup races. Its architecture remains marked by the Mussolinian style, especially its hotels in the shape of towers. Sestriere is also renowned for other sports like athletics – Sergei Bubka beat his last pole vault world record in the resort in 1994 at 6.14 metres. The Tour de France stopped in town four times between 1952 and 1999 with wins by Coppi, Chiappucci, Riis and Armstrong.
In French Pragela (frozen field). Pragelato was first mentioned in the late 11t century as belonging to the Ste Mary of Pignerol Abbey. In the 11th and 12th century, the area was ruled by the Dauphins of Viennois, like most of the Val Chisone. In 1343, Pragela was joined to one of the four escartons created by the Dauphins in their mountain possessions, the Oulx Escarton. In the 14th century, the Waldensian church settled in the valley to escape from French repression. In the 15th century, the Val Chisone, mainly protestant, became the Pragela escarton. In 1713, the treaty of Utrecht handed the area to the House of Savoie. In 1747, a battle took place in nearby Assietta between French and Sardinian troops. The 19th and 20th centuries saw a massive emigration towards France. Pragelato held the Nordic skiing and Nordic combined events in the 2006 Olympics.
The Great Wall of the Alps spreads along the crest of Mount Orsiera over three kilometres. Built in the 18th century, the Fenestrelle fortress includes three forts, three redoubts and two batteries on a slope of more than 600 metres in declivity. Its construction was ordererd by Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia and it was conceived by architect Ignazio Bertola to protect the Piedmont against a French invasion. A stair with 4,000 steps climbs up the fortress along the three kilometres of walls. It was so impressive it was never attacked. It was later used as a jail.
The Apple Road (Strada de mele) is a 63-kms cycling path between Pinerolo and Cavour, ideal to discover on a bike or by car the Piedmont’s biodiversity and the variety of its agriculture. The region is noted for its orchards and especially for its apples. Along the way, a pleasant flavour of cider accompanies the visitors and a halt is compulsory to discover the cider drawn from 40 ancient breeds of carefully selected apple. Apricot or peach are other fruit whose smell entertains the nostrils. The course can also be done on a horse, Pinerolo being the Italian capital of the animal.
The story of the Man in the Iron mask remains one of the main mysteries in French history yet one thing is sure about it – the famous prisoner began his detention in Pinerolo, called Pignerol at the time of French occupation. The presence of a masked prisoner is first mentioned in 1669, when the marquis of Louvois, a minister of Louis XIV, wrote to Benigne Dauvergne de St Mars, governor of the prison, asking him to keep the detainee in an armoured jail to keep him away from other prisoners. The governor is instructed to only visit him once a day. Arrested in Calais, the prisoner, named Dauger, arrived in Pinerolo in August 1669. The first rumours spread about this man who was masked permanently as if to hide his identity.
In any case, Pinerolo was a prison reserved for criminals thought to be a menace to the kingdom. In Pinerolo at the same time as Dauger were an Italian diplomat named Antonio Mattioli, the marquis of Lauzun, a lover of Madam of Montpensier, and the disgraced finance superintendent Nicolas Fouquet. Fouquet was in contact with Dauger, who served as his valet when his own servant was sick. No one knows whether he recognised the man. Fouquet died in detention in Pinerolo in 1680.
Dauger followed governor St Mars in his several postings to the St Marguerite island, to Lerins and to the Bastille, in which he died in 1703 under the name of Marchioly. Nobody ever clarified the mystery even tough some pretended he was a two brother of the King. Pinerolo honours its most famous host every year in the Maschera di Ferro, a historical show in which a celebrity plays Dauger’s part.
While the Tour never visited Pinerolo before, the Giro stopped in town in 1949 for a stage belonging to the race history. With five mountain passes, it was the queen stage of the edition and a ride from Cuneo that Gino Bartali was tackling with care, having suffered from stomach pains since the start.
“The Maddalena pass would have sufficed to exhaust a bull. And it was only a start,” wrote writer Dino Buzzati, the Corriere della Serra special envoy. That day, Fausto Coppi bore the fatal blow to his elder: “Today, Bartali realised he had reached his dawn. And for the first time, he smiled.”
It was almost funny for the 1938 and 1948 Tour de France winner as bad luck struck repeatedly. “Coppi went when I punctured. I was about to catch him when I punctured again. I was still second, five minutes behind. But the worst was when a spectator threw a bunch of flowers at me and it got tangled in the derailleur. I could hardly change gears. But I never gave up,” Bartali said.
|981||First mention of Pinerolo, which belongs to the March of Turin.|
|1064||The town becomes the property of Benedictine monks from the San Verano abbey.|
|12th century||Pinerolo becomes the religious capital of the Waldensians sect.|
|1235||The town passes to the House of Savoie.|
|1295 to 1418||Pinerolo is the capital of Piedmont.|
|1536||Pinerolo becomes French until 1574.|
|1631||Pinerolo becomes French again by virtue of the Treaty of Turin in 1696. Vauban builds a fortress which will be used as a jail, notably for the legendary Man in the Iron mask.|
|1680||Death of Nicolas Fouquet, the disgraced finance superintendent of King Louis XIV exiled to Pinerolo.|
|1748||On request by Charles-Emmanuel III of Sardinia, Pinerolo becomes a bishop see.|
|1801||Piedmont is annexed by France for the last time (until 1814) . March 17, 2011 – 150th anniversary of Italian unification and the separation of France and Piedmont.|
Set in the premises of the Horse-riding School, the museum keeps weapons, uniforms, harness and standards from the Italian and foreign Horse Guards from 1500 to the 20th century. It is one of the largest museums in he world dedicated to military equestrianism.
Symbol of the town, it is preceded by a romantic alley lined by horse chestnut trees.
The Great Wall of the Alps spreads along he crest of Mount Orsiera over three kilometres. Built in the 18th century, the Fenestrelle fortress includes three forts, three redoubts and two batteries on a slope of more than 600 metres in declivity. Its construction was ordererd by Victor Amadeus II of Sardinia and it was conceived by architect Ignazio Bertola to protect the Piedmont against a French invasion. A stair with 4,000 steps climbs up the fortress along the three kilometres of walls. It was so impressive it was never attacked. It was later used as a jail.
The peloton crosses the Alpine massif from end to end and changes geological continents. The Alps mark the end of the collision zone between the European and African plaques some 30 million years ago. Traces of the event are visible at the Montgenevre Pass – the green stones known as ophiolites are pebbles pushed back to the surface by the African push. The finish takes place in the plain of the Po, a sedimentary basin filled by a 10-km layer of sediments coming from the erosion of the Alps.