- The race 2011
- All about the race
The Saint-Austremoine abbey:a jewel in the crown of the Auvergne’s churches© Hervé Monestier
• Stage town on 3 previous occasions
• 14, 780 inhabitants
• Sub-prefecture of Puy-de-Dôme (63)
Issoire is at the centre of a small community near Clermont-Ferrand, whose architecture and landscape give it a Mediterranean feel, where its rich heritage sits side-by-side with its industrial know-how.
The Saint-Austremoine abbey, one of the largest churches in the southern Auvergne, shows off its bright stonework, its colours and ornamental style, while from the top of the clock tower, a fifteenth-century belfry, visitors are afforded stunning views of the town.
Issoire is also famous for its light aircraft industry thanks to the Wassmer family. The APM-20 Lionceau is manufactured here, for example. Alcan is home to the world’s first aluminium-lithium casting factory, while Issoire is also home to major businesses such as Aubert et Duval, Valéo, Praxy Bourbié and the Moniot group.
On a cultural level, concerts are a regular treat for those living in Issoire, which has welcomed artiists such as rap star Abd Al Malik and singer Thomas Fersen. Summer brings with it festivals for folklore and Roman art, night-time markets and a rugby tournament. A protected nature area (the town has been awarded ’three flowers’ for its flower displays and natural environment, and is a candidate to be awarded a fourth), Issoire prides itself on being a warm and welcoming town to all.
As it was not situated on the borders of France where the race route typically passed, the region became part of the history of the Tour de France in 1983. Situated south of Clermont-Ferrand, the commune of Issoire has nevertheless hosted a stage finish, which was won in 1983 by Pierre Le Bigaut. Two days later, the peloton left the town for an unusual stage that was won by a rider who crossed the finishing line in 7th place. Indeed, in Saint-Étienne, Michel Laurent was the victim of a fall caused by his breakaway companion, Henk Lubberding, 50 metres from the finishing line. In 2005, the peloton of the Tour left Issoire for a stage that was won by Giuseppe Guerini in Puy-en-Velay.
The Festival des Hautes Terres, and a concert by Nadau© JF Ferraton.
• Stage town on 2 previous occasions
• 7, 300 inhabitants
• Sub-prefecture of Cantal (15)
The capital of the Haute-Auvergne, Saint-Flour is a lively city served by the A75 motorway. It’s unique in that it split between two levels: the upper city on the volcanic plateau of Planèze at 900 metres, and the lower city down in the Ander valley. Known as an area of history and art, Saint-Flour boasts a rich heritage, and is home to the fifteenth-century Saint Peter’s cathedral and the Halle aux bleds – a fourteenth-century Gothic church, which has recently been renovated so as to show off its wooden archways, its volcanic rock sculptures and its bright colours once more. Nicknamed ’The Windy City’ by the poet Camille Gandilhon Gens d’Armes, Saint-Flour plays host all-year-round to a number of festivals. The Festival des Hautes Terres celebrates mountain culture, while la Festa del Païs brings together the world of agriculture. Then there’s the Chemin d’Art Contemporain, when works of art are displayed around the town, and the Dit d’Alleuze festival – a night-time spectacle in the heart of the Gorges de la Truyère.
Of the two stages which finished in Saint Flour, that of the 2004 edition remains engraved in capital letters in the history of French cycling. The longest stage of the race that year began in Limoges on Bastille Day and was illuminated by Richard Virenque, who spent part of his day in a breakaway with Axel Merckx, before covering the last 67 kilometres on his own. At the finish, Virenque won his 7th stage victory, and the bonanza of points that he acquired in the mountain stages allowed him to set out to win the polka dot jersey for the seventh time, an all-time record in this discipline.