- The race 2011
- All about the race
Aix les bains > Grenoble - 1936 - Frederico Ezquerra © Presse Sports
Aix les bains > Briançon - 1974 - Raymond Poulidor © Presse Sports
In 2011, the Tour will celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the first crossing of the galibier by the peloton, the mountain pass which has been visited the most by the race. The finishing line of the 18th stage will be marked out there at an altitude of 2, 645 metres!
The Tour’s peloton had hardly recovered from the shock of discovering the Col d’Aubisque and the Col du Tourmalet, on its trip to the Pyrenees during the 1910 Tour. And now there was talk of a new summit to be climbed, another whim resulting from the imagination of Henri Desgrange and Alphonse Steinès, the adventure enthusiasts. In 1911, the Tour de France’s peloton began its assault on the Galibier which was even higher, even harder and even colder than anything that any of the cyclists had ever experienced.
After expressing anger and hostility, the riders, who were perched between heaven and earth, were in fact fascinated by the setting and were conscious of the feat to be achieved. “It knocks you for six”, uttered proudly to spectators, émile Georget, the first rider to climb up to the summit of the Col du Galibier, at an altitude of 2, 556 metres, on 10 July 1911. The pioneer of pioneers, who did not get off his bicycle once during the entire ascent, had just completed the 34-kilometre climb, from Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne, via the Col du Télégraphe. As he was very impressed by the spectacular encounter of these heroes and was amazed by the historic day that had just been experienced by the Tour, Henri Desgrange wrote a hymn of worship for the riders in L’Auto (the daily sports paper):
“Haven’t they got wings, our men who have been able to climb up to heights where even eagles don’t fly? … Oh Sappey, Oh Laffrey, Oh Col Bayard, Oh Tourmalet! I shall not fail in my duty to proclaim to the world that you are like an insignificant and common beer compared to the Galibier: all one can do before this giant is doff one’s hat and bow.”
Out of respect for the prophecy of the Tour’s founder, cyclists have appeared before this giant for one hundred years with the same humility. Some of them have overcome it, and have even succeeded in using its steepests lopes to create a name for themselves. Gino Bartali, for example, succeeded in getting rid of the threat of Louison Bobet by dominating the Galibier, in 1948. However four years later, he suffered from the advent of the younger generation, due to the performance achieved by Fausto Coppi: “He’s like a cable-car on a steel wire rope”, said Jacques Goddet, with great enthusiasm, at the time.
Subsequently, Bahamontes, Gaul, Merckx, Zoetemelk, Ocana and Pantani have all gone over the summit first, which has moreover increased by one hundred or so metres since the tunnel was closed and the new road was built. And in 2011, a new name will become legendary, with the first finish judged at the summit of the Col du Galibier. At an altitude of 2, 645 metres, it will be the highest finish in the Tour’s history.