Tour de France -- 2011

Placez-vous sur les chemins, regardez, Et demandez quels sont les anciens sentiers, Quelle est la bonne voie; marchez-y, Et vous trouverez le repos de vos âmes !
Tour 2012

The end of October 2011, marked the new pre-race public sequence, begun with the official announcement of the route of the 2011 Tour de France. As you may know Le Tour de France 2011 started in the Vendée (le Grand Départ) and finished on the Champs Elysées, from the 2nd through the 24th of July 2011, mostly on the roads of France. October 19, 2010 (11:30 A.M Paris Time), saw the LIVE kick-off broadcast on http://www.letour.fr/?ref=nf -- the official announcement of the 2011 route and Christian Prudhomme's discussion about all aspects of the event. It went off without a hitch -- a grande route for a grand tour has been chosen. More than 4,000 people and 500 media representatives from around the world arrived at the Palais des Congres de Paris, to learn in detail the stages that will become the Tour 2011.

For now, certainties about the program include a Grand Depart (from Passage du Gois La Barre-de-Monts to Mont des Alouettes Les Herbiers) organized in Vendée, and the final finish on the Champs Elysées, Paris. Between the two, speculation continued on the prominence that will be given to the Alps and the Pyrenées, the route of the key stages of the Tour to come, how many time trials . . . . In January 2011, more detail was available on the Website. This summer will be the 98th edition of the Tour.

Karte at left will change 
to a 2011 map when route is announcée

The first several days are spent starting and stopping in the Vendée, a department in the Pays-de-la-Loire region in west central France, bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The name Vendée is taken from the Vendée river that runs through the south-eastern portion of the area. The area was originally known as the Bas-Poitou. The village of Nieul-sur-l'Autise is believed to be the birthplace of Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204) and was part of her kingdom. Eleanor's son, Richard I of England (the Lionheart) often had his base in Talmont. The Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) turned much of the Vendée into a battleground. The "War in the Vendée" (1793 to 1796) was a Royalist rebellion and counterrevolution in the Vendée region of France during the French Revolution. This conflict was ruthlessly resolved, as was the later revolt against Napoléon in 1815. Perhaps the contrariness grows out of the Wars of Religion (16th Century), when the area was a hotbed of Protestant reform, yet it was the Catholics (over 400 thousand) who died when they refused the secularism of the Revolution. La Roche-sur-Yon is its capital (préfecture) today. Some popular resorts include Les Sables-d'Olonne, La Tranche-sur-Mer and Saint-Jean-de-Monts.

The first day was warm and sunny, Philippe Gilbert won the day. A number of crashes occurred, which may have already affected the ultimate outcome of the event. Last year's champion was delayed over a minute because of one of these events. Shown from day one are église Saint-Nicolas-de-Brem and Château Talmont. Thor HUSHOVD from Norway and team Garmin-Cervélo (USA) won the second day, a team trial that lasted about 25 minutes. This day was the second day in the Vendée, from Les Essarts to Les Essarts. Hushovd wears the yellow jersey.

Les Essarts is a rural town with about 4800 inhabitants and is main town (chef-lieu) of the Canton Les Essarts in the Arrondissement of La Roche-sur-Yon, the department of Vendée. It sits in an old Gallo-Roman area. Historical attractions include a crypt of the 12th Century, the Château des Essarts (built of wood in the 9th Century and rebuilt in stone in the 12th) and the entrance of the old Roman church of Saint-Pierre d'Essarts.

Gwenn-ha-du

Day 3 saw continued Garmin dominance. Tyler Farrar won his first Tour stage today. Hushovd retained the yellow jersey. A great finish for the US team on July 4th. Yes the Tour has arrived in Brittany. Redon sits at the border between Breton and des Pays de la Loire.

Brittany / Bretagne is unlike anywhere else in France. The old pilgrimage called le Tro Breizh (le tour de Bretagne), has pilgrims walking around Brittany from the grave of one of the seven founder saints to another. Historically, the pilgrimage was made in one trip (a total distance of around 600 km) for all seven saints. These days, however, pilgrims complete the circuit during several years. In 2002, the Tro Breizh included a special pilgrimage to Wales, symbolically making the reverse journey of the Welshmen Sant Paol, Sant Brieg, and Sant Samzun. http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bretagne The third day of racing ended in Redon, which bears a name derived from the celtic tribes that once inhabited the region. http://www.cc-pays-redon.fr/index.jsp Very little contemporary information exists about this area prior to 9th century, however it appears that a parish named Riedones gave the town its name. In 832AD, Conwoion, a Breton monk, with the help of the Carolingian Emperor Louis le Pieux, founded the Abbey of Saint-Sauveur de Redon. Redon sits at the junction of the Oust and Vilaine rivers, which often flood in the autumn and winter time.

During the minority of the Duchess Anne of Brittany, the ducal court inhabited Redon for a while. In February 1489 (when she was twelve), King Henry VII of England concluded a pact with the young duchess. Under the "Treaty of Redon," England agreed to furnish military aid if a conflict should arise against between her Duchy and France. History will evolve somewhat differently as Anne married two Kings of France, the first being Charles VIII, when she was 14. Redon remains a popular port for tour boats along the Nantes-Brest canal (1836). La gare fut inaugurée en 1862. Elle est située sur la ligne Nantes-Rennes et Paris-Quimper.

L'allée couverte de Coët CorrecLorient to Mûr-de-Bretagne; Carhaix to Cap Fréhel are other stops and starts along the way during the events Tour of Brittany. For instance the port of Lorient (on the Atlantic and the start point on July 5th) is a gallo-romain village with traces of far more ancient inhabitance. But, 1400 years later there was no town. Lorient was established in 1666 for the French East India Company, founded by Jean-Baptiste Colbert 2 years earlier at Port Louis. The size of Port-Louis dictated the need for a shipyard in an area of wasteland called le Faouëdic located above Port Louis, at the junction of Scorff and Blavet rivers. The first vessel built there was called "The Sun of the East" (Le Soleil d'Orient). The inhabitants, who were accustomed to go to "The Orient" to see its construction progress, gave the name to the new city. This name became official by 1744. Some say the name of Lorient also had a Breton origin by the Lords of Rohan-Guémené, who possessed in fee this land under the name of Loc Roc'h Breton Yann, but that seems a stretch of imagination.

Stage 4 saw Cadel Evans (BMC) winning his first Tour stage of this year at Mûr-de-Bretagne (Breton: Mur), a commune in the Côtes-d'Armor department in Brittany in north-western France. Hushovd retained the yellow jersey, but he had to work very hard during the last few kilometers to hold on to his overall lead (just one second over Cadel). As on the day before, a great finish for the US teams on July 5th.

The department of Côtes-du-Nord was established in the French Revolution, March 4, 1790. It includes part of the ancient province of Brittany and is composed of the bishoprics of Cornwall and Trégor, substantially all of the diocese of Saint-Brieuc (the southernmost still being attached to the Morbihan). Further north one finds the diocese of Saint-Malo, a small portion east of the bishopric of Dol, as well as two small parts in the north of the bishopric of Vannes. For nearly two centuries the department had this name (considered demeaning), until it was changed to Côtes d'Armor, meaning "the country's coastline from the sea" in the French-Breton dialect.

Carhaix (start point for July 6th) began as Vorgium, a minor Gallo-Roman capital. It stood at the hub of a star network of Roman-built military and trade roads. Many Roman relics have been found (including a 3rd century treasure-trove), as well as the remains of the city's 13km (10 mile) long aqueduct. The excavations at the site of Carhaix's modern-era hospital revealed that Roman motifs while copied were adapted for a small city. It contained official buildings (a forum, heated baths and temples) and other common facilities necessary in the Gallo-Roman era. Vorgium included a district comprised of artisans, however the actual place of the forum has not yet been confirmed. The end point for this day of racing is Cap Fréhel at ocean's edge (picture above on right). Nearby is the Château of La Roche-Jagu, the oldest part of the current structure dating from the late Middle Ages. It uses its the façade on the river to ensure defense along with its round with battlements. The first defensive castle was built there in the 11th Century (and perhaps earlier).

Dinan (the start point for stage six on July 7th) in North East Brittany is well restored and well preserved; a walled medieval town, complete with imposing ramparts, towers and of course a Castle (Château). Dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, the old city retains its cobbled rambling streets. Its history centers around feuds with the English landed gentry, most notably, the Duke of Lancaster's invasion of 1357. The Museum of Rail is of interest, particularly if you are a railway buff. It lies outside the old town at the start of the D2 road to Ploubalay. Other attractions include the Jacobins' Theatre dating from 1224, the flamboyant Gothic-style Saint Malo's Church with its beautiful stained-glass windows, the Romanesque-style Saint Saviour's Basilica, Duchess Anne's Tower and the festival that takes place around the ramparts (an event that occurs only every other year). Dinan's old port sits astride the Rance River. http://www.globosapiens.net/travel-information/Dinan-1180.html

The race ends that day in ancient Normandy at Lisieux (Calvados département). Lisieux (a Gallo-Roman city) sits at the confluence of the river Touques and three of its tributaries -- the rivers Orbiquet, Cirieux and Graindain. Calvados is known as a fine wine spirit made from fruit such as pears or apples. Lisieux has become one of the premier pilgrimage places in the world, second only to Lourdes in France (which is also on the Tour this year). It sees more than two million pilgrims a year. The city is well suited for receiving pilgrims, with a number of places to visit related to the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a modern saint. In that regard, the most prominent of these consist of the Carmelite convent, her home (Les Buissonets), the Cathedral (Saint Pierre) and la Basilique. http://www.therese-de-lisieux.catholique.fr/?lang=fr Interestingly, Pierre Cauchon, the supreme judge during the trial of Joan of Arc at Rouen, became the bishop of Lisieux. He commissioned the building of the side chapel of the current cathedral, in which he is now buried. The town was liberated on August 23, 1944, after being damaged by bombardment during the June (D-Day) campaign.

The heart of the Pays d'Auge as well as Normandy's Camembert (the largest small village in the France-Orne département) is missed as the Tour jumps to Le Mans for the start of the next stage (étape 7 - July 8th).

La cathédrale du Mans sur une peinture du XIXème siècleLe Mans France, lies southwest of Chartres at the confluence of the Sarthe and Huisne rivers. By tradition the capital of the province of Maine, it is now the préfecture (capital) of the Sarthe département. Its inhabitants are called Manceaux et Mancelles. When the Normans had control of Maine, William the Conqueror was able to successfully invade England; however in 1069, the citizens revolted and expelled the Normans, which led to Hugh V being proclaimed Count (comte) of Maine. As might be expected a struggle ensued in which William's successors eventually won. The Palais of Comtes du Maine, was the birth place of Henry II of England. Indeed, Le Mans has a well-preserved old town named for his family (La Cité Plantagenêt, also known as Vieux Mans). The cathedral at Le Mans also contains the tomb of Berengaria of Navarre (Spanish: Berenguela, French: Bérengère -- born between 1165 and 1170, and died December 23, 1230), queen of Richard, Cœur de Lion (Richard I, King of England). Richard dropped his very public betrothal to a daughter of the King of France in order to marry Berengaria. After his death, she became a benefactress of the abbey of L'Epau, entered the life of its religious order and eventually found eternal rest, buried in the abbey. Berengaria was also a German-made (Vulcan) Cunard Line steamship (1913). Berengaria VII is a major planet in the United Federation of Planets, located in the Berengaria system. Mr. Spock encountered a dragon-like creature on this planet.

First mentioned by historian Ptolemy, the Roman city Vindinium was the capital of the Aulerci, a sub-tribe of the Ædui. Le Mans was also known as Civitas Cenomanorum, this city lying in the ancient Roman province of Gallia Lugdunensis (capital Lyon). An amphitheatre built in the 3rd century AD remains visible. There are remnants of a Roman wall in the old town and Roman baths by the river (Crypte Archéologique des Thermes Romains). La Cathédrale St-Julien is dedicated to Saint Julian of Le Mans, who is honored as the city's first bishop from at least as early as the 4th century. The oldest portion of the cathedral dates from the 11th century (Roman-style), with several later gothic additions. http://west.france-province.net/LeMans-cathedral.html To call it beautiful would do it the injustice of understatement. More photos are HERE. On the outskirts of the city, the Cistercian Abbey of l'Epau (Abbaye de l'Epau) is also rather impressive. Other churches: l'église de la Couture au Mans, Chapelle de la Visitation.

Today, LeMans may be best known for car racing. But, why not make a pit stop in the beautiful Loire Valley for a relaxing day learning all about the region's (Pays de la Loire) wines (which are arguably some of the best in the world). Only an hour's drive from the race circuit, it's the perfect opportunity to indulge in another of life's other great passions - golf. Or you can visit all the stately houses of Kings and Queens, Princes and Counts, and others with wealth and influence, Châteaux that populate the cœur of the region.

The tour ends this day in Châteauroux, where in 2008 Mark Cavendish one his first stage. To the east of Châtellerault, some 40 miles, is Châteauroux on the Indre River, the capital of the Indre département in central France and the second-largest town in the région of Berry, after Bourges. L'église Saint André stands prominent in the town; but, Châteauroux derives its name from Château Raoul (Castellum Radulphi), a fortress which has towered over the town 1000 years. Be sure to visit: Chateaurouxdailyphoto @ Blogspot dot com, where you will find great pictures (especially page 2: messages plus anciens) and some English explanations. Saint Martial's Church (l'Église Saint Martial) is located on the Grand Rue, in Châteauroux. The website of the city deals with a 30 m long gothic nave, a 22 m high bell-tower from the 15th century (referenced as an historical monument) and sculpted modillions. Inside the church are preserved the relics of the Venerable Bonencontre (Bonocuntrus a compaingnon of Saint-François d’Assise) who established the couvent de Saint François de Chasteau-Raoulx (Cordeliers de Châteauroux).

La Ville de Châteauroux a été précédée dans l’histoire par celle de Déols (palais de Déols (937AD) et l’abbaye fondée en 917). La présence gallo-romaine y est attestée par des pierres sculptées, des monnaies de la céramique, des urnes. The Hundred Years War brought insecurity to the area. In 1356, the Black Prince, son of the King of England, could not take the castle of Raoul at Châteauroux, however the city was burned. Looting took place a little later in 1374. The Barony of Châteauroux became a county in 1498. In 1503 came the death of Andre III Chauvigny led to several hundred years of uncertainty over title. French King Louis XV eventually acquired the duchy in 1737 and gave it in 1743 to the Marquise de Tournelle. http://www.ville-chateauroux.fr/ Châteauroux became the administrative capital of the department during the French Revolution.

The Tour continues to move south and east, bypassing the Limousin Region and Périgueux. On the 8th day the climb begins toward the volcano. It starts in Aigurande, a small town in France's Centre region and Indre department. The town just lies southeast of Châteauroux, capital of the department. Crayfish (l'Ecrevisse) is a food specialty in Aigurande, and during the third week of August the town devotes an entire 4-day festival to it. Highlights during the year also include the Pentecost fair at Whitsun, a large brocante the first week in August, a bi-monthly fair (and weekly Friday market) and a Pilgrimage to the source of the nearby Bouzanne during May or June. The day's ending point, Super-Besse Sancy, sits in a popular sports area. The ski resort of Super-Besse is situated in the Monts D'Auvergne area of the Puy de Dôme department in the Massif Central region.

July 10, 2011 (stage 9) -- Issoire to Saint Flour: Issoire is due east of Super-Besse, but today in the mountains of the Massif Central region, the Tour begins to head west again, toward Pau, an ancient city close by the Spanish border and somewhat near to the Atlantic. Issoire is a gallo-roman site, with its principle abbey built in the 8th Century. Saint Austremoine, for whom the Abbey (abbaye bénédiction) was named, evangelized the area in the 5th Century AD during the time of the Vandal attacks. Issoire is located on the Couze River, near its junction with the River Allier, 40 km (25 mi) SSE of Clermont-Ferrand on the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée railway to Nîmess. Issoire lies in one of the fertile plains of the Petites LimagnesÑbasins that follow the Allier from its source in the Massif Central to the Grande Limagne north of Clermont-Ferrand and then on to the River Loire. The Church of Saint-Austremoine is built on the site of an older chapel, raised over the tomb of St. Austremoine (Stremonius). It represents an excellent specimen of the Romanesque architecture of the Auvergne style.

Saint Flour (at the end of Stage 9) sits astride a volcano. Indeed, Saint-Flour's old town sits on the Auvergne's highest volcanic outcrop. Surrounded by the mountainous landscape of the Mastif Central and atop of the outcrop rests a finely preserved medieval village. Much of the upper town's construction employs basalt. Visit the nearby volcano park to visit when you're done seeing St. Flour. http://goeurope.about.com/---/saint_flour.htm Saint Flour also is the home location of the Diocese of Saint Flour-Cantal (Dioecesis Sancti Flori), has a Basilica (Our Lady of Miracles) and Cathedral (St-Pierre et St-Flour). Beautiful race, but today will be known for its crashes, as the lead changes hands.

July 12, 2011 (Tuesday after one day's rest is stage 10) -- Aurillac to Carmaux: Aurillac (en occitan Orlhac) est une commune française de la région d'Auvergne. C'est la préfecture du département du Cantal. Ses habitants sont appelés les Aurillacois. The gallo-roman city sits in the mountains. Its name comes from Aureliacum, which means the villa of Emperor Aurelius. The earlier oppidium of the celtic tribes sat on a nearby hill, however it was abandoned when the Romans arrived. The Château Saint-Étienne sits midway between the two sites and appears to be built on the foundations of a fortress built in the dark ages. After suffering the fortunes of numerous wars and a few revolts, the arrival of the railway in 1866, accelerated the development of the city from a village to the small city we see today.

Sylvester II, the first French Pope, was born near Aurillac, a relation of the local Count, but some say not a direct family descendent. He was educated at the nearby abbey of Saint-Gérauld, founded in 885-894 (abbaye bénédictine). He has credit for the invention of the pendulum clock and for the introduction of the use of Arabic numerals into western Europe (the zero sum game). Saint Gerald of Aurillac was the patron Saint of Upper Auvergne. Gerald was born into the Gallo-Roman nobility, being the son of the Comte d'Aurillac, to which title of Count he later succeeded. His memorial feast day is October 13th, as the patron of the disabled, handicapped and physically challenged. http://assentingcatholic.blogspot.com/2009/10/commemorating-feast-of-namesake-saint.html

The abby church (l'église Saint Géraud) can not be said to reflect the usual Auvergne-style. Elsewhere, one can see an immediately recognizable form, such as St-Nectaire shown here or at Orcival, dominated by the stunning Romanesque church of Notre-Dame. More at: http://www.pbase.com/alastairneil/nectaire. Both structures lie in the volcanic region north of Aurilliac and south-west of Clermont-Ferrand.

Carmaux A large coal deposit, known as the Basin Carmausin, profoundly affected the history of the city and its surroundings. Carmaux was an important coal mining (l'exploitation charbonnière-from the 13th century to 2000) and famous for its glassworks (from eighteenth century to 1931), which were at the center of the famous strike of 1895. This industrial center sits by the River Cérou, a tributary of the Averyon. The representative member of the family Ciron was called the Lord Marquis of Carmaux until the the seventeenth century. It was that family which promoted the heavy use of coal. In the eighteenth century (ending with the Revolution), the family of Solages came into possession of this regional stronghold. The last lord was Antoine Paulin Solages, Marquis d'Carmaux. see http://catholique-tarn.cef.fr/spip.php?article2374

Several other escapees (from the crowd) in the final kilometers, however there was in the end a sprint battle between only two contenders. The man from Mann (Mark Cavendish) almost won the day, but it was a new rider who prevailed by just half a wheel. Monsieur Greipel has claimed his first victory on the Tour on this Stage 10 of the 2011 event. Voekler has the yellow jersey. Wednesday's 167.5-km eleventh stage to Lavaur is almost entirely flat and could see a repeat of the day's battle between Cavendish and the Rostock born Greipel.

la cathédrale Saint-Alain de Lavaur et son Grand-orgue (1876)   

Wednesday (Stage 11-July 13th) involved a path from nearby Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur, the chief city of the Tarn region and Capitale du Pays de Cocagne. http://www.ville-lavaur.fr/un-peu-d-histoire_61.php Lavaur was overun in 1211 by Simon de Montfort during the wars of the Albigenses (d'hérétiques Cathares), and today a monument marks the site where Dame Giraude de Laurac (Lady of Lavaur) was killed by him. The town changed hands several times during the 16th century wars of religion. From 1317 until the French Revolution, Lavaur was the seat of a bishopric. Lavaur Cathedral was dedicated to Saint Alan. Portions of it date from the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, marked by a prominent 8-sided bell-tower in the center and two much smaller side towers. Lavaur comes from the Gaulish vobero meaning "hidden river" or "ravine". This etymology, has passed through Occitan Vauro and corresponds completely with the topography of the site. see also a picture of Blaye-les-Mines in the snow is here. Almost same result as yesterday, however Cavendish won the sprint and Greipel took second -- Tyler Farrar was 3rd -- in the heavy rain at the finish. Mountains tomorrow.

Luz-Saint-Sauveur, France: Eglise fortifiŽe de Luz July 14th -Bastille Day- Cugnaux to Luz-Ardiden -- Stage 12: Cugnaux is a commune in the Haute-Garonne department in south-western France (la région Midi-Pyrénées), a suburb located southwest of Toulouse. It sits on the Saint-Martory Canal. It has been a Parish since the 13th century, but the churches that exist today are from the 19th century. In contrast, Luz-Ardiden is a modern ski resort in the Pyrénées. The road to the finish line, which sits about a mile above sea level, has seen the finish to several Tour races. Lance Armstrong was the stage winner in 2003. Today it will be the first big mountain stage of the 2011 Tour.

This day finishes very close to the Spanish border at the Luz-Ardiden ski resort. It sits in the Hautes-Pyrénées départment, in the Midi-Pyrénées. The base of this resort, which lies at a height of 1720 meters, opened on January 16, 1975. The the road to Luz-Ardiden has served as the stage finish in the Tour on more than one occasion. Yes, the Col du Tourmalet is the finish for (stage 12 on Stage 22 July 22nd of the 2010 Tour de France). Towards the end, at about 13km (9 miles), the riders make sharp right turn on to a bridge, Pont Napoléon at Luz-Saint-Sauveur. Luz is the name of the river crossed. A monument topped by an imperial eagle stands astride the bridge in the town. Sur la colonne érigée au bout du pont on peut lire: "A leurs Majestés impériales Napoléon III et l'Impératrice Eugénie, les habitants de LUZ St SAUVEUR reconnaissants"

Argelès-Gazost Stage 13 -- July 15th: This day appears to be a shorter day, traveling from Pau to Lourdes (first time in 60 years); but, it is spent in the foothills and mountains. We invite you to use the Pau link for a more detailed exposition of this area. Lourdes (Hautes-Pyrénées), a small market town lying in the foothills, most is noted for Marian appearances (le 11 février 1858) and the resulting mass pilgrimages to a place of healing. Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to Bernadette Soubirous on several occasions. Bernadette became a nun, dying at an early age. The burial place of Sainte Bernadette Soubirous (Convent of the Sisters of Charity) is at Nevers. Her remains have been placed in a gold and crystal reliquary in the Chapel of Sainte Bernadette at the mother house. Many pilgrims visit the body of Saint Bernadette, which to this day remains intact despite being nearly one hundred and thirty years old. http://www.thongdiepducme.org/apparitions/lady_of_lourdes/lourdes.html Lourdes lies just 10 miles south of the Tarbes city centre. Thor Hushovd won the day, an unexpected surprise, a victory set up by his early break away from the peleton. Voekler retained the yellow jersey.

The next day is July 16th -- Stage 14 (Saint-Gaudens to Plateau de Beille), another Mountain stage: Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), is an Irish-born American sculptor, made famous by his beautiful gold coin designs. He has nothing to do with Saint-Gaudens, a commune in the Haute-Garonne (Midi-Pyrénées region) department in southwestern France. It faces the Pyrenees and is a natural crossroads for routes between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and between Toulouse and the Val d'Aran in Spain. It has been inhabited since ancient times (traces of the Iron Age and of Roman occupation) and was originally called Mas-Saint-Pierre, before taking the name of the young shepherd, Gaudens, martyred by the Visigoths in about 475AD for refusing to renounce his faith. The town later developed around the 11th century Romanesque abbey (Collegiate Church of St. Peter and St. Gaudens). The town was granted a city charter in 1202 and became the capital of the Nébouzan province, protected by solid ramparts. As an important regional marketplace, Saint-Gaudens became the economic capital of the Comminges.

Nearby is St-Bertrand de Comminges, built on the site of a Roman city, at the base of the Pyrenees, and it still retains Roman remains. It was a large town called Lugdunum Convenarum, where Pompeii ruled over 100,000 inhabitants. Today about 250 people live there. Just north of this year's route (near its ending point) is Foix. The riveting views of the town are still a vivid memory from the 2008 Tour.

Seix in Ariège Situated at the heart of the department of Ariège, Foix is best known by the three towers of its castle. Standing atop a rocky perch, the castle (10th-15th centuries) recalls the Counts of Foix (and Viscounts of Béarn), notably the flamboyant Gaston Phœbus (1343-1391), who composed a livre des oraisons (Book of Prayer) and livre de la chasse, a writing related to the hunt. A statue of Gaston stands outside the Château de Pau. Foix remains a small town, but it benefits from the nearby Toulouse (north), Spain and Andorra (south). More pictures from and information about Foix -- here & here.

Near the midway point in the course is Seix, a small town at the base of a long run off a mountain. It is mostly a narrow road along a river, but in it you'll find l'église Saint Sernin, with its interesting belltower façade, with a baroque altarpiece representing the stoning of Saint Stephen. During the time of Charlemagne it was at the border of civilization. Le Château de Seix dominant le village.

Plateau de Beille is in the mountains close by border of la Principauté d'Andorre, close to one of last year's finishing points (Ax-3 Domaines-Stage 14) and Ax-les-Thermes. Ax (from Latin aquæ or water and the French Thermes meaning hot springs), situated at a height of 2300 feet (also in the Ariège), is well known for its warm sulphur springs (77 degrees to 172 degrees F.), of which there are about sixty. The waters, which were used by the Romans, are claimed to treat rheumatism, skin diseases and other maladies. The springs at Ax were developed in the mediæval period under the orders (to Roger, Count of Foix) of Saint Louis to treat soldiers returning from the Crusades afflicted with leprosy. The Bassin des Ladres (Lepers' Pond), in the centre of the town, is fed by warm springs supplying water from the ground at a temperature of 77 degrees Centigrade. Plateau de Beille was also the ending point of a Tour stage in 2007.

CathŽdrale Saint-Pierre 
Limoux to Montpellier Stage 15 (July 17th): Today's start jumps east to Limoux, in the Aude department, a part of the ancient Languedoc province and the present-day Languedoc-Roussillon Région in southern France. It lies on the river Aude about 30 km (19 mi) due south of Carcassonne. The monolith (Menhir) called La Pierre Droite is a relic that testifies to this early Neolithic occupation. The town grew around its 8th century church In 844, a charter from Charles the Bald permitted the abbey of Saint-Hilaire. Limoux thereafter falls under the authority of the Archbishop of Narbonne. Limoux sits in the middle of the Cathar region, and was subject to its influences. Eventually, the crown of France annexed the town between 1296 and 1376. Limoux is in the middle of the Corbières wine area. One of the original vineyards of the Abbey of Fontfroide (closer to Narabonne), reflects a history going back to Roman times. Recovery of the cultivated vine of the ancients, which was lost with the collapse of the Roman Peace, came many centuries later at Fontfroide. This Abbey was an outpost in the fight against the Cathar heresy of the 12th and 13th centuries. One of its abbots, Jacques Fournier, was elected Pope under the name of Benoît XII (1334 - 1342). This proved to be its zenith in influence.

Montpellier (Occitan Montpelhièr) sits near la mer Méditerranée in southern France -- the capital of the Languedoc-Roussillon region, the préfecture (administrative capital) of the Hérault départment. Served by regular railway (SCNF), it also has TGV (fast-train) access as well as a modern tramway system. The name of the city, originally Monspessulanus, may have stood for mont pelé, a hill with no vegetation, or ... (Pestalario). Montpellier, first mentioned in a document from 985AD, is one of the few cities in France without a Gallo-Roman background; never-the-less, the region's history goes back to these times and much further. In contrast to the city's relatively recent founding, the University at Montpellier remains one of the oldest in the World (1160). More HERE.

Bridge over Orb-Route de Réals
Bridge over Orb on Route de Réals


It is just west of Murviel.
This is an ancient area and Murviel appears to have been a Roman fortress at one time. Château de Murviel overlooks the city and is the site of the original fortifications
Along the route of Stage 15, just south of the Cévennes

17 Juli -- Stage 15

Le nom du village vient du pluriel latin muri vetuli: "les vieux moors"

July 18th is the second and final rest day.

Murviel-lès-Béziers

Saint-Paul-Trois-Châbeaux The next day of racing jumps north and east on July 19th. Stage 16 goes from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châbeaux to Gap, that is into the Alps. Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux lies just east of the Rhône River in the department of Drôme. Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Paul de Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux once was the chief church of a Roman Catholic diocese. It remains national monument of France. The diocese (sometimes, like the town, also known as Saint-Paul-en-Tricastin) was created in either the 4th or the 6th century and was abolished under the Concordat of 1801, when its territory was divided between the Diocese of Avignon and the Diocese of Valence, known since 1911 as the Diocese of Valence, Die and Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux. The present cathedral was built in the 12th-13th centuries, replacing an earlier one, from which some mosaics survive. It maintains the Provençal- Romanesque style and well-displays the art of reusing Roman-era building materials.

Gap, Hautes Alpes (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) was also Tour de France 2010 Host City. The Voconces, Romanized Gauls, absorbed the territory of the Gapençais during the conquest of Narbonne in 125-124 BC. AD (whose capitals were Luc-en-Diois and Vaison-la-Romaine). About 145-50 years later Cottius, a tribal leader from the Val de Suse (Valley of Susa -- in the Piedmont of Italy), allied with Rome, and urged by Augustus, began building a road in the valley of the Durance. He had to submit the various tribes involved as they want to retain some independence. This route, was named Via Cottia per Alpen, linking Turin to Sisteron. It had six stations. The town of Gap grew out of one of these stations. Roman emperor Augustus seized the town in 14 BC and renamed it Vapincum.

In 22 AD, Vapincum became the start-point of a Roman road to Valencia (Valence), thereby connecting to the North-south route from Lyon to the South along the Rhône. Gap, then a Roman camp, was protected by a wall reinforced by a ditch. It was the largest garrison between Sisteron and Montgenevre (with 360 men). Gap gained importance as a transportation a hub. During the first several centuries, the population increased. Towards the end of the third century and fourth century, it acquired new fortifications. These walls completely surrounded the first ones (composed of eleven sides and eleven towers) that kept the inhabitants of the city from barbarian invasions.

The Gap Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-et-Saint-Arnoux de Gap) is the seat of the Bishop of Gap. The current structure was built between 1866 and 1904 in Neo-Gothic style by architect Charles Laisné on the site of a former mediaeval building. Le style néo-gothique est très en vogue dans la seconde moitié du XIXème siècle à l’instigation de Napoléon III et du très actif Viollet-le-Duc. http://www.jedecouvrelafrance.com/f-2406.hautes-alpes-cathedrale-gap.html The diocese is suffragan to the archdiocese of Marseille. In turn, the modern See of Gap was absorbed into the authority of the Archbishop of Aix until 2007. In 2008, the title was reattached to the diocese of Gap by the Pope. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06378a.htm

Pinerolo

Stage 17 (Montagne -- mercredi 20 juillet) Gap to Pinerolo: We wander in the mountains today (north and east) then move south to Pinerolo (French name Pignerol), an Italian town. It lies at the entrance to the Valle del Chisone, at the foot of the Alps. In the Middle Ages, the town of Pinerolo was at the site of one of the main crossroads in Italy, and was therefore one of the principal fortresses of the dukes of Savoy. Its military importance was the origin of the well-known military school that still exists today. The Fortezza di Fenestrelle, the longest fortress in Europe, in which the "Man with the Iron Mask" was imprisoned, sits nearby. When French troops invaded the Piedmont (1536), Pinerolo was conquered and it remained under French control until 1574. With the treaty of Cherasco it again fell to France's domain (1631), and it remained under French rule until restored to the house of Savoy by the treaty of Turin. Its cathedral dates from the 9th century. The current structure, the Duomo, built in the 11th century, was reconstructed in the 15th century, but only a little remains of the original Gothic building (the doorway and the campanile). This is first time the town has hosted a Tour stage, and it was chosen to commemorate the unification of italy 150 years ago. For the second day in a row a Norwegian has taken the stage, and there are only two racing this year. Beautiful, sunny -- much better weather than the previous day. Some long steep dangerous downhills that would have been murderous if they had been ridden on Tuesday.

Stage 18 (Montagne -- jeudi 21 juillet) Pinerolo to Galibier Serre-Chevalier: Today we leave the Chisone Valley and head back to France. Galibier is a residential area in the broader resort of Serre-Chevalier named after a famous pass. The Col du Galibier was first used in the Tour de France in 1911. We repeat one-hundred years later, ending the stage here today. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Col_du_Galibier Indeed, the next day the Tour passes through this gap in the mountains once again, no doubt to reinforce the significance of this spot to the Tour. Indeed it did as Voekler retained his lead only by a few seconds now. Tomorrow in the mountains (Alpe-d'Huez) will decide who has the advantage in the time trials Saturday.

Modane-ValfrejusStage 19 another mountain stage in the Alps (Friday 22nd), Modane-Valfréjus to Alpe-d'Huez: Mondane is a small town on the Italian border in Haute Savoie in which Valfréjus is a resort stop. In the summer this is a paragliding site, as well as a center of bicycle tours of the Alps. http://www.modane-valfrejus.com/ The always famous pass -- once more a finish (from the south) at Alpe-d'Huez. L'Alpe d'Huez is a ski resort at 1,860 to 3,330 metres (6,100 to 10,930 ft). It was once only a mountain pasture in the central French Alps, in the commune of Huez, in the Isère département in the Rhône-Alpes region. The Alpe d'Huez is one of the great climbs of the Alps, and was first climbed by the Tour de France in 1952 when Fausto Coppi won the stage. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpe_d'Huez This day France took the stage; Monsieur Rolland road up the mountain in style. The Schleck brothers ended the day in first (Andy) and second (Frank) place overall, Cadel Evans is in third. The time trial; will decide the order on the podium of these three in Paris.

Stage 20 (Contre-la-montre individuel-time trial) Saturday July 23, Grenoble to Grenoble: The city of Grenoble is the capital of the Department (or province) of Isère, a region north of and separate from Provence. The term Franco-Provençal refers to a distinctive group of dialects still spoken northeast of Provence, extending slightly into Switzerland and Italy, an area which includes Isère. The bridge at Claix, le Pont-de-Claix, is upstream (south) from Grenoble on the Drac river. Drac is the local name for a winged serpent or dragon, originating from a Latin word borrowed from the Greek term for a great serpent, drakõn. The appellation Drac refers to its fierceness and unpredictability due to the the mountain runoff that feeds it. Steep mountains, the Alps, surround the Isère valley. Grenoble and the Isère region share a reputation with Lyon as being centers of the Resistance during the last world war; but, such independent spirit has roots well back into times past. The French Révolution, began (June 7, 1788) just a few miles south, down the road from Pont-de-Claix near Vizille. The village of Vizille is home to the Musée de la Révolution Française, a rich depository of archival and rare materials devoted to the Revolution that changed Europe.

Pont du Port à l'Anglais (1912-1927) The last Stage (Étape 21) is Sunday (dimanche 24 juillet), Créteil to Paris and the Champs-Élysées: Créteil is a south-eastern suburb of Paris, just under 12 miles from the city centre, at the end of a Métro ligne 8. It has seen the Tour in the past. Créteil is the préfecture (capital) of the Val-de-Marne department as well as the seat of the Arrondissement of Créteil. The city is, moreover, the seat of a Roman Catholic diocese (bishopric) of the same name. The name Créteil was recorded for the first time as Cristoïlum in the martyrology written by a monk named Usuard in 865 (Abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris). The name Cristoïlum is made of the Celtic word igloo (meaning "clearing, glade", "place of") suffixed to a pre-Latin radical crist, whose meaning remains unclear. Some believe crist is a Celtic word meaning "ridge", a cognate of Latin crista and more modern French crête, in which case the meaning of Cristoïlum would be "clearing on the ridge" or "place on the ridge." A more traditional etymology was that crist referred to Jesus Christ, due to the very ancient presence of Christianity in Créteil and the veneration of Saint Agoard and Saint Aglibert, martyred in Créteil around 400AD. http://www.ville-creteil.fr/index.htmbelle epoque

Today is the traditional end point in Paris city centre. More about the City of Light is HERE. It's over, but not before the traditional victory laps on the Champs-Élysées: and the final sprint to see who can be the stage victor in Paris. Cadel Evans (maillot jaune), Mark Cavendish (Green Jersey) the narrow roads, the crashes -- who can forget this exciting -- epic -- year. One-hundred years in the mountains was celebrated with mountain climbing tests as tough as they have ever been; yet it was the final time trial event that was the final determining factor for the top 3, consisting of #1- Cadel Evans #2- Andy Schleck #3- Fränk Schleck. We await the announcements in October that begin the 2012 cycle.

Placez-vous sur les chemins, regardez, Et demandez quels sont les anciens sentiers, Quelle est la bonne voie; marchez-y, Et vous trouverez le repos de vos âmes !

A few of the places to host the Tour in 2011 were: Le Mans, Châteauroux, Aurillac, Pau, Montpellier, Limoux (near Carcassonne), Gap and Grenoble (time trial). Then it is a three hour TGV ride to end in Paris.

Our 2009 Tour Page is HERE -- 2010 -- Tour 2012

Current Newsletter -- Many more French Cities HERE

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New: October 18, 2010