- The Race 2010
- All about the race
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. And Modane is its showcase. 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.
By its position on the border, Modane always was a passage point and saw its history marked by the transalpine relationships which were materialised by two tunnels, the Mont-Cenis (rail) and the Frejus (road).
In 1857, king Victor-Emmanuel of Savoy ordered the beginning of works for a railway tunnel. The works ate conducted by engineer Germain Sommeiller who invented the pneumatic hammer for the occasion. The junction between both sides takes place on Christmas Day, 1870, with a minimal gap between both galleries, which is a feat at the time. The tunnel is inaugurated in 1871 in a convoy going from Turin to Modane. It was the longest railway tunnel in the world until June 1, 1882 and the opening of the 15-kms Gothard tunnel in Switzerland. In 1881, to avoid landslides, the entry on the French side was brought back by one kilometre. Until 1980, shuttles to carry cars were in service while the Mont-Cenis pass was closed. The service ended with the construction of the Frejus road tunnel. Nearly 13-kms long, the Frejus opened in July 1980. It cost some two billion francs (700 millio euros) at the time. The safety was reinforced after the accident in the Mont Blanc tunnel in 1999.
Valfrejus never hosted a Tour de France stage but held the finish of a big cycling race, the 6th stage of the Dauphine Libere from Chambery in 1987. The stage was won by Colombian Henry Cardenas and saw France’s Charly Mottet take his first yellow jersey in his favourite event. Mottet went on to win the race that year. In all, the Frenchman spent 12 days in the lead of the Dauphine Libere, which he won three times. As for Cardenas, he finished second in the 1987 Dauphine and best climber. It was his best result before he chose to work as a team-mate for Luis Herrera and later for Claudio Chiappucci.
|12TH century||A cartulary mentions a man named Amaudanes, who may have given its name to the town.|
|1572||Construction of the fountain, now listed as a monument.|
|1857||– Digging of the railway tunnel of Mont-Cenis.|
|1871||Inauguration of the tunnel of Mont-Cenis. The population of Modane, a small rural border town, is multiplied by five in thirty years.|
|1943||– Modane, an important rail junction, is bombed by the Allied on the station and the tunnel of Mont-Cenis.|
|September 13 and 14, 1944||Liberation of Modane and Fourneaux. The two towns receive a War Cross.|
|1957||Floods of the Arc river.|
|1963||Creation of the National Park of Vanoise.|
|1980||Opening of the tunnel of Frejus.|
|1983||The Arrondaz ski resort is renamed Valfrejus.|
|2002||Digging of the first gallery for the Lyon – Turin railway|
|2009||Digging of the safety gallery on the Tunnel of Frejus.|
|2010||15t0h anniversary of France’s annexion of Savoie.|
|2020||Scheduled opening of the Lyon to Turin railway line.|
In the form of an antique temple, the old rice-mill is one of the most interesting industrial building in Savoie. It was built by Genoa architect Francesco Cattaneo in the beginning of the 20th century. The mill now houses a showroom for the new railway link between Turin and Lyon.
The first entry of the tunnel of Mont-Cenis collapsed after a landslide and it was replaced by a new monumental gate made of numbered cut-stones so as to rebuild it easily should it be demolished again. The façade is covered with the armouries of Modane, Savoie and Piedmont. The site is now home to an exhibition recounting the digging of the tunnel while a steam engine and an old convoy recall the early days of the tunnel.
The “leaning house” is Savoie’s most visited monument and it has a peculiar story. Originally a blockhouse built to defend the Mont-Cenis tunnel, it was sent flying metres from its original setting when the Germans exploded two wagons inside the tunnel on its French side. It now rests in an awkward position, a peculiarity that made it a local attraction.
An element of the Maginot line, the St Gobain fort is a WWII building comparable to an earthly sub-marine, allowing some 150 crew members to live in complete autonomy for more than three months. Its state of preservation is exceptional and can now be visited.
Four halls reconstitute the atmosphere of period cafés (Italian, military, bourgeois and railroad) in a small border town between 1880 and 1935.
Subprefectures: Albertville, Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne
Population : 409 000
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 – rhe department offers plenty of opportunities to visitors. Metal and energetic industries combined with cross-border exchanges accounft for a low rate of unemployment. 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.
The town is at the crossroads of the road of Les Grandes Alpes linking Geneva to Nice and Italy, at the foot of the resorts of Valloire and Valmeinier. St Michel de Maurienne is a classic Tour de France spot because of the nearby Galibier pass. Ideally placed on the sunny side of the Arc river, the town saw the peloton ride past several times but never hosted a stage start or finish. St Michel was tragically marred by the most serious rail accident ever in France, which took place at the end of WWI.
Late in 1917, a train overloaded with soldiers on home leave derailed and some 600 were killed. Coming from Modane, the train reached a speed of 135 kph when the maximum allowed was 40 kph.
The medieval town
Starting from the market place, a walk in the restored pedestrian streets of St Michel take the visitor inside the most important communities ruled the Counts of Savoie. Two vaulted gates let the visitors in the St Antoine and St Marcellin streets. Behind the town hall, a rural path leads to the Round Tower, remain of the old St Michel castle, home of a Savoie garrison. Its construction dates from the 10th or 11th century.
The Maurienne valley is renowned for aluminium. It took advantage of its exceptional geography to develop electrochemical and electrometallurgical industries as early as the 19th century. The presence of several waterfalls was used to produce power for the numerous plants in the valet. From 1892 to 1907, six aluminium metal-works settle dbetween St Jean de Maurienne and la Praz: Calypso, La Praz, Saint-Félix, La Saussaz, Prémont and Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. A museum, called Espace Alu, recounts this industrial history.
Overlooking the commune of St Martin d’Arc at the north end of the Telegraphe Pass, the fort was built between 1888 and 1890 and was improved with batteries in 1908. The pass and the fort were called Telegraphe because a telegraph was installed at the top by French engineer Chappe. The fort was used by the military in 1996. It now belongs to the municipality of Valloire.
Thus named because of the Chappe telegraph once installed on the cliff, the pass was used 27 times as a registered climb in the King of the Mountains classification. It was also used several times from the other side from Valloire but the slope is too lenient to be classified. A launching ramp before the Galibier, it was first used in 1911 and Emile Georget was first at the top, like on the Galibier.
At the foot of the famous Galibier pass, Valloire means valley of gold, not because gold ore was to be found on its soil but because its location at the crossroads between the north and the south of the Alps always brought prosperity to the town.. As a result, Valloire was more populated during the Renaissance than nowadays with 1,900 permanent inhabitants. Today, tourism and skiing attract ten times more visitors than the population of 1,300 of a town stretching between 1,400 and 1,800 metres. Mountain lakes in Cerces or Les Rochilles, magnificent forest around the Telegraphe, alpine valleys of Neuvachette and Valloirette or imposing summits at Le Galibier, the settings are varied and splendid. The presence of the Galibier shaped the open-mindedness of the inhabitants, who remain deeply tied to their country like skiing world champion Jean-Baptiste Grange. Valloire held two Tour stages, a stage won by Eddy Merckx in 1972 and a start three years later.
The Maurienne valley possesses several monuments of the Baroque period the peak of which was in the 17th and 18th centuries. The outside of the buildings remains simple while the inside is exuberant: vivid colours, gildings, altar-pieces, twisted columns and countless angels. The decoration is usually the work of local artists like St Michel’s painter Dufour, who was famous in his time. In Valloire, Beaune, Orelle and St Martin la Porte are four stages of the Baroque way. The most representative monument is Valloire’s Notre-Dame de l’Assomption.
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.
Destroyed by fire, the St Martin church was rebuilt between 1866 and 1870. It is characteristic of the religious buildings of the time. The Lautaret golden tuff gives a local touch to the neo-Gorhic style of the monument. It was financed by emigrants who became rich in exile. Too big for the terrain on which it was built, it jas not been used for more than 20 years. The Church Square is remarkable for its old houses and especially the Bec de l’Homme Hotel, a former coaching house and the house of Blois, with a pretty wrought iron balcony.
At an altitude of 1,500 metres on a rocky mound overlooking the valley, La Garde is labelled as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France. The village was once surrounded by a wall now completely gone. The village kept from the time a dense network of small streets called “trabuc” linking house between them. The listed church was built in the 11th century and belong to the Lombard school. With the White Penitents Chapel and the cemetery, it forms a beautiful whole with the Meije glaciers in the background. In spite of the rugged terrain, there are traces of households since antiquity. But it was in the Middle-Ages that La Grave became the commercial and administrative centre of the High Oisans valley. The town was then the most populated community of the region. Nine months in winter, three in hell was the rhythm imposed by the climate and many men went into exile in the winter to become peddlers. In the Second Empire, the epic construction of the road by the Lautaret broke the isolation of the valley and had the double effect of sending more men into exile while attracting tourists in the summer. Hotels and inns were built to shelter alpinists eager to tackle the spectacular glaciers. La Meije was the last alpine summit to be conquered in 1877. Skiing followed much later in 1964 with the first lifts in Le Chazelet and was boosted by the construction of a telepherique in 1976.
La Grave hold an annual festival honouring composer Olivier Messiaen, who had a house in La Grave.
Notre-Dame de l’Assomption church
Perched on a rock, the tuff church is in the Lombard Romanesque style, and is the oldest building in the area. It probably dates from the 11th century. It was damaged in 1587 by the troops of Lesdiguieres during the Wars of Religion and rebuilt in the 17th century. It is now surrounded by a cemetery with tombs topped by characteristic wodden crosses. On the crosses, a triangle represents the Holy Trinity and the circle the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
White Penitents chapel
It was built in the 17th century, as confirm a beam dated 1631 and a 1646 sculpted stone above the porch. One of the White Penitents main role was to bury the dead and to pray for their souls. Rediscovered only recently, the chapel houses numerous ritual objects and a ceiling covered with canvas. Restoration is underway.
A mere three hours from Paris by TGV, Isere is a very diverse department, from the mountains of Oisans to the almost Mediterranean flavour of Vienne, the “Roman city”. Among the many monuments to discover, the domain of Vizille is worth the visit with its huge park and its castle hosting a permanent exhibition on the French Revolution. The medieval village of St Antoine l’Abbaye is also extremely picturesque. Vienne’s Roman theatre is every year the home to a famous jazz festival while the bustling Grenoble is impossible to miss with its lively student life and long history. Wtih three natural parks, Isere is an ideal destination for tourists and nature lovers, but it is also a pleasant place to live for its population of 1.2 million.
Le Chambon dam
The dam is a hydroelectric dam located on the communes of Freney d’Oisans and Mizoen. Its is 294-metres long, 90-metres high and 70 metres wide. The lake has a surface of 140 ha, 40 metres deep and holds some 54 million m3 of water. It was built between 1929 and 1935 and flooded the villages of Le Dauphin and Le Parizet. It was at the time of construction the highest dam in Europe. A chapel nearby is dedicated to the 30 workers who died during construction.
The typical Oisans village is linked to the ski resort of Les Deux Alpes by lift or by road. The traditional life of the area can be discovered in the old streets or in the Chasal Lento museum of arts and traditions. The Serres footpath leads to a great viewpoint over the Chambon lake, the Romanche valley and the summit of La Meije, at 3,982 metres. The history of Mont de Lans is marked by the passage of troops during the many wars against Italy and the population suffered from plunders and thefts.
On the road between Grenoble and Italy, Bourg d’Oisans was originally located on a Roman road. The village ruler had a castle in a place called La Paute. The plain was at the time covered by a lake which often threatened the locality known as St Laurent. Villagers left for a safer place and celebrate the move each year on St Laurent’s day. Several mines and quarries were exploited in the area, and especially slate, which brought added revenue to the local farmers. There were also iron mines in Articol, goldmines in La Gardette as well as silver, lead and coalmines. Crystal extracted in La Gardette was used to manufacture the chandeliers in the Versailles castle. The Museum of minerals pays homage to this natural wealth.
From ancient times, travellers used the locals as guides through the mountains and valleys and many left farming to become peddlers. The salesmen from Oisans announced the change of seasons when they arrived in distant towns and villages. Walking over long distances, they sold local products like flower bulbs. One of them, know as Veyrat de Venosc, became the Russian tsar’s personal florist.
The industrial era started in the early 19th century with the development of hydroelectricity.
Bourg d’Oisans was also an alpine resort for a long time and was linked by a tramway line from 1894 to 1946.
In 2004, Bourg d’Oisans held the start of a stage to Le Grand Bornand, won by Lance Armstrong.
Skiing is of course as popular as cycling and Bourg is the hometown of former slalom world champion Fabienne Serrat and former snowboard Olympic champion Isabelle Blanc.
La Garde-en-Oisans, overlooking Bourg d’Oisans is an old medieval village known as the hometown of the warden of the Dauphins. It is well known to cycling fans as ten of the 21 turns to l’Alpe d’Huez are on its soil. The St Pierre church, an old priory, signals to the riders that the slope is becoming more lenient.
The only film festival in France dedicated to comedy, the Alpe d’Huez festival has made its reputation by showing films which became instant cult movies like Bienvenue chez les Chtis (Welcome to the land of Sthis), the most successful French film of all time. For a week in the end of January, the whole of the French film industry comes to l’Alpe for a joyful and friendly event around the films which will make France laugh in the following months. The general public is also welcome and some 12,000 spectators watched the films in competition in recent editions. Admittance is free, which is rare in film festivals.
The programme consists in several projections of long and short films, some blockbusters and other peculiar or unusual discoveries. The films are for the most part shown in L’Alpe d’Huez Palais des Congres. Among the films premiered in the festival feature: Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis , L’Arnacœur, La Première Etoile, Tout ce qui brille, Juno, La Vérité si je mens, Shooting Fish, Fantastic Mr Fox and many others.
From the 12th to the 14th century, close to l’Alpe d’Huez, was a mining town known as Argenteria de la Branda or Brandes. Habitations and mining facilities were on the spot, making it probably the highest settlement in Europe at the time. At an altitude of 1,800 metres, in the cold and snow, workers extracted argentiferous lead for more than two centuries. The inhabitants exploited the mine on behalf of the Dauphin who financed with the silver thus produced the building of the St Andre collegial church in Grenoble. Remains from the site are on display ay the Museum of Huez and Oisans, located in the heart of the resort. Models, pictures, objects from everyday life, clothes, cutlery, mining tools have travelled through time to tell the story of these early inhabitants of l’Alpe.
The Tour is in its 39th edition when, for the first time in 1952, the course tries a new challenge, the 21 turns of l’Alpe d’Huez. The 262-kms Lausanne - Alpe d’Huez stage is the first mountain finish of the edition and was as such particularly feared by the riders. In spite of the victory by Fausto Coppi, who became the first man to achieve the triple feat of winning the stage, taking the yellow jersey and finally winning the tour, the climb did not impress the fans or organisers as much as it does today.
Coppi might be to blame. He climbed so comfortably that the organisers may have thought that the climb was finally too easy.
“If you were on Friday on the steep slopes leading to l’Alpe d’Huez and you saw Coppi ride past, straight up on his bike, the hands up on the handle-bars, you might have told yourself: I have been lied to! This road is flat!,” wrte Max Favalelli, a special-envoy on the stage.
The campionissimo chose the tactics which his followers emulated. He left Geminiani and Robic break away early to the point of exhaustion before attacking. Even former Tour winner Andre Leducq was impressed: “I was watching him climb the turns of l’Alpe d’Huez with Robic, whom he had just caught after his attack at the foot of the climb, in his wake. His cheeks were pink, his stare clear, his leg light. Behind him only suffering men were left. It must be fantastic the feeling of gliding, to have everybody else at one’s mercy.”
At the finish, Coppi unwittingly started a tradition. Three Italians were topping the GC, Coppi, Carrea and Magni. With seven stage victories in l’Alpe, the Italians are only one short of the Dutch and can rightfully claim the climb as their own too.
|3rd century BC||Apparition of the village of Uceni. The locals live on breeding and farming.|
|12th to 14th century||Development of the Argenteria site where the locals exploited a lead-mine.|
|19th century||The inhabitants work as peddlers or in the anthracite mine in L’Herpie, closed in 1950 after an avalanche.|
|1936||First mechanical ski-lift in France, the L’Eclose lift, conceived by Jean Pomagalski.|
|1945||The ski resort develops with ski lifts and hotels.|
|1952||First stage finish of the Tour de France in l’Alpe d’Huez.|
|1962||Installation of the telepherique of the Pic Blanc (3,330 m).|
|1964||Creation of a tunnel giving its name to the mythic ski piste linking the the Sarenne glacier to the south-side of the massif.|
|1968||L’Alpe d’Huez hosts the bobsleigh events at the Grenoble Olympics.|
|1976||Opening of the Sarenne piste, the longest in the world at 16 km.|
|1988||Artificial snow is introduced. The resort now has 923 ski guns.|
The site of the highest medieval village in Europe stretches over 5 ha. It comprises a castle, overlooking the village by 40 metres, a parochial church with its necropolis, 80 houses, open air and underground mines, metal-works and hydraulic systems. The site is open for guided or free visits.
In the warm-up to the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, the idea came about to replace the small wooden chapel of L’Alpe d’Huez by a bigger church from which the La Meije glacier could be seen. Spurred by Dutch priest Jaap Reuten, who was the church curate from 1964 to 1992, the Notre-Dame des neiges church was funded by donations and inaugurated in1969. It is remarkable by its architecture in the shape of a tent, its organ like an open hand and 13 stained glass windows paintedby Arcabas.
The peloton leaves Modane and returns to Le Galibier. From the pass, it follows the African plaque which, like a bulldozer, pushed forward the bottom layers of the lost ocean which piled up. The oldest and deepest stones are found in the area between La Grave and Villard-de-Lans. They were eaten up and pushed westward. The rifts of the Oisans massif conceal natural jewels, rock crystals. The quartz crystals were formed in the interstices between the rocks in high pressure and temperature conditions.