- The race 2011
- All about the race
Rieucazé and the Pic de Cagire, five kilometres after the stage start© Eric Sentucq
• Stage town on 12 previous occasions
• 12, 160 inhabitants
• Sub-prefecture of Upper Garonne (31)
Saint-Gaudens, the central town in the Pays de Comminges, is the perfect logistical base. Sub-prefecture of the Haute-Garonne, the town benefits from a number of services and amenities backed up by commercial knowledge and expertise. But Saint-Gaudens and the Comminges are also part of a green area that attracts fishermen to its rives, such as the Garonne; it’s about the ski resorts with their white gold; it’s about the hiking and mountain bike trails, and the roads taken by touring cyclists; it’s about the famous sites of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, the church at Saint-Gaudens, the Montmaurin Gallo-Roman villa, the spa towns of Luchon, Salies-du-Salat and Barbazan… It’s about leading a cultural and sporting life through the National Centre for Street Arts in Encausse, the Pronomade(s) arts festival, the Comminges jazz festival, the women’s International Tennis Open, the International Indoor Trial (motorbike trials riding), Les Pyrénéennes, a festival of agriculture taking place every three years at the largest farm in the Pyrénées, the Salon de la Montagne, celebrating Pyrenean culture, and a number of concerts and events. Saint-Gaudens is a town that certainly keeps itself busy!
Situated at the crossroads of the different main roads in the Pyrenees, the town has hosted nine stage finishes and ten stage starts, of which the last one was in 2009. For example in 1970, after leaving Saint-Gaudens, Bernard Thévenet secured his first stage victory in La Mongie. Above all, during the 1976 edition, the Saint-Gaudens- Saint-Lary-Soulan stage was decisive in the fight between Lucien Van Impe and Joop Zoetemelk for the Yellow Jersey. After his victory on his own in the Pyrenees the Belgian climber remained in the lead in the general classification.
Plateau de Beille in summer: Gascon cows and Méren horses are put out to pasture for four months on the plateau© ADT09
• Stage site on 4 previous occasions
• Winter sports resort of Ariège (09
• Part of the Communauté des communes (federation of municipalities) of the Valleys of Ax (5,600 inhabitants)
The stage finish is in the west of the département in the Pyrénées Ariègeoises national park. From the Bellongue, the countryside leads you to Bethmale – a valley of legends, known for its cheeses and clogs. Then it’s on to the climbs: the Col de la Core, the Col d’Agnes, the Port de Lers, leading to the Auzat valley. This is a playground for people paragliding, canyoning, climbing and caving. A little further on, the caves at Niaux are home to paintings which are 14,000 years old. Yet further, and we reach Plateau de Beille, which, at 1,800m, offers an amazing 360° view. A rich array of flora and fauna can be found here: prickly pine trees, lilies and another type of flower – all perfect surroundings for wood grouse.
In winter, Plateau de Beille turns into the Pyrénées’ number one Nordic skiing area, with 70km of ski-run and 42km of snowshoe trails. In summer, it’s a pasture land where Gascon cows and Méren horses roam free for four months. It’s an area that is an absolute must for hikers, horse riders or mountain bikers following the tour of the Vallées d’Ax.
Although cross-country skiing is principally carried out there during the winter, the Plateau de Beille has rapidly established its reputation in the summer as a determining factor in the Tour de France, with four stage finishes in 10 years. After Marco Pantani as a forerunner in 1998, Lance Armstrong was victorious there twice, in 2002 and in 2004, followed by Alberto Contador who won the stage in 2007. In short, all the Plateau de Beille’s winners have ended up wearing the Yellow Jersey.