Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tour de France in the Alps – Galibier, l’Alpe d’Huez and Announcement

Above is a poster showing the Tour de France riders climbing towards the Col du Lauteret in the Alps. This poster used to be hanging on the wall in my cubicle at work. I looked at it many times and it was always an inspiration. Col du Lautaret is on a ridge that separates the Northern Alps and the Southern Alps.

Col du Lautaret, photo courtesy Russell Stranding

On Thursday 21 July, 2011, for the 18th Stage, the Tour de France riders will get close to the Col du Lautaret on their way to the Col du Galibier. The Col du Galibier will be the highest ever finish location for the Tour - at an altitude of 2645 meters (8,678 feet) reached after a 23 kms ascent (14.28 miles.) The stage totals 5,180 meters (17,000 feet) of climbing. This is an historical climb as the original tour organizer, Henri Desgrange, first added the crossing of the Galibier one hundred years ago in the 1911 Tour de France. Émile Georget who won the stage in 1911 took over 13 hours to complete the route. The main riders had to go through six feet high walls of snow – some riders even had to walk. Henri Desgrange wrote in his newspaper L’Auto : “ Are these men not winged, who today climbed to heights where even eagles don't go, and crossed Europe's highest summits? They rose so high they seemed to dominate the world!

Picture of Émile Georget in 1912 (Wikipedia)

In July 2009 I wrote a post on the Tour de France called “What is the Tour de France” explaining its history – you can read it here.

But in short, the origins of the Tour de France go back to Henri Desgrange (1865-1940) who was a legal clerk in the 1890s in France. He was an amateur racing cyclist also. When he became the editor of a magazine called “L’Auto” he conceived the idea with another journalist, Géo Lefèvre, to organize a 2500 kms. (1553+ miles) cycle race around France so their magazine could report on it. Thus was born the world's greatest and most famous bicycle race.

Henri Desgrange on the cover of Voila July 7, 1934

The road to the Galibier was built from 1880 to 1891 and has been part of 57 stages in the Tour.

Road near Galibier, photo courtesy Christophe Ena

The Tour de France started Saturday July 2nd, 2011, and will end on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on July 24th, 2011. This year it is made up of 21 stages covering a distance of 3,430.5 kilometres (2131.6 miles.) The stages are set up to test different skills and endurance and include flat stages, 1 team time-trial stage, 1 individual time-trial stage, medium and high mountain stages with summit finishes. Some stages venture into bordering countries – this year the countries were Spain and Italy. Next year in 2012 (the 99th Tour) the Tour de France will start in Liège, Belgium.

Route of the 2011 Tour de France

I get up early every morning to watch the Tour live on television. I especially enjoy the views shown from the helicopters flying over the Tour. The scenery is beautiful and so varied. I tried to take some photos from the television, but the pictures are not as good as from the televisions in France and Belgium, since it is another system.

Because of the 100th anniversary of the race to the peak of Galibier the emphasis this year for the Tour is in the Alps. Some cyclists will have a difficult time climbing the steep hills and the yellow jersey may pass to another racer. This is what the leaders’ jerseys mean: the Yellow jersey (maillot jaune) is worn by the over-all Tour de France leader. The Green jersey (maillot vert) is the sprinter jersey with the highest number of sprint points. The White with Red Polka Dots jersey is the “king of the mountain” jersey awarded to the best climber in the stage and the White jersey is awarded to the best young rider, under 25 years of age. The jerseys are awarded to riders at the end of each stage. So far Thomas Voeckler of France has been wearing the yellow jersey since Stage no. 9.

Thomas Voeckler was born in the Alsace region of France in 1979. His father was a psychiatrist and his mother is an anesthesiologist. When he was 7 years old his parents decided to go to the island of Martinique in the Caribbean so that his father could use his sailing boat and enter boat races and cross the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately in 1992 his father was lost at sea with his sail boat. Thomas joined a cyclist club in Martinique when he was 12 years old. When he was 17 years old he came back to France for his studies. He became a professional cyclist in 2001. He is not a strong climber so he may have to surrender the yellow jersey after the tough stage to the Galibier peak which is followed by the Alpe d’Huez the next day.

Thomas Voeckler on the podium receiving the Yellow Jersey on 14 July, 2011

The Tour de France has riders from many countries. I do not have a favorite rider – I watch the way they ride and support the ones I think did a good “job of work” as the TV announcers say. After watching the Tour for so many years I know some of the riders well, such as Thor Hushovd from Norway, Frank and Andy Schleck from Luxemburg, Cadel Evans from Australia, Philippe Gilbert of Belgium, Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, Tyler Farrar of the USA, Mark Cavendish of the UK and big George Hincapie from Greenville, South Carolina (who is married to a French woman.)

Thor Hushovd of Norway winning the Stage in Lourdes

The Tour de France is really a prestigious race followed by fans from all over the world. Thousands of fans line the route, some sleeping in tents in fields nearby and other bringing their campers from stage to stage. At the top of mountains when the riders are approaching huge crowds get close to them on the road, some wearing outlandish clothes, like a German fan called “el Diablo.” I always worry that someone will get in the way and a rider may fall – accidents happen often as it is.

Friday, July 22, 2011, will be Stage 19 which ends in l’Alpe d’Huez. Alpe d’Huez is a winter and summer resort nicknamed “the island of the sun” as it averages 300 days of sun per year. It is an hour away from Grenoble, two hours from Lyon and two and a half from Geneva. Panoramic viewpoints show one fifth of the French territory with the Mont Blanc, Mont Ventoux, the Massif Central, Switzerland and Italy. This is a very important and popular stage and where the Tour can be won or lost.

The first winner of the Alpe d’Huez stage was Fausto Coppi in 1952. We did not have a television then but I remember hearing about it on the radio. Coppi (1919-1960) was a “Campionissimo” a super-champion. He was the first to win the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France the same year. He won many races but unfortunately died prematurely from malaria which he had caught in Africa. Below is a book on Fausto Coppi.

The formidable 21 laces which go to the Alpe d’Huez are relentless for runners; many of them are afraid of this climb which brings failures for those who cannot stand high altitude and whose legs become weak. It is a tough stage and a thrilling one to watch. Just 4 more days to watch the Tour – Thursday to Sunday then I’ll watch TV rarely until next July. By Friday though, after the Alpe d’Huez stage, we may get a better idea about the expected winner of the Tour de France. The winner will get 450,000 Euros (the purse total is 3.2 million Euros awarded to the top team and riders i.e. US $4.565 million.)

While watching the Tour de France every day I knit or crochet a baby blanket. So far I have done 14 of them. Last year I knitted one for a friend of my daughter. He requested a blanket looking like the French flag, so this is what I did. I also crocheted a small car seat blanket – they are below.

This year I knitted a rainbow blanket because my daughter was expecting another baby. It is already finished and I brought it with me to Nashville last week.

I was pleased that it was finished because …….ANNOUNCEMENT - we had another grandson, born last Wednesday, July 13th. He is a strong boy of 9 lbs 4 oz. I know he is strong because as I was holding him last Saturday he lifted his head away from me – which is unusual for a 3-days old infant. Now at 5 days old, last Monday, he went with his parents from Tennessee to Florida – he may become a traveler like many in his family.


Course Cycliste 1902, Georges Duchesne, French


French Girl in Seattle said...

Bonjour Vagabonde. Another great post! First, félicitations on the birth of your grandson "the future great traveler." You must be proud. As for your Tour deFrance story, it brought back fond memories of many summers spent with my family on the side of local roads, waiting for the "peloton" to zoom by. A favorite racer was Raymond Poulidor, aka "Poupou" Do you remember him? Veronique aka French Girl in Seattle

Pierre BOYER said...

Très beau post sur les pionniers du Tour de France et son histoire...
Je crois qu'il va passer dimanche non loin de chez moi pour la dernière étape.
Belle journée,


Pondside said...

Congratulations, Vagabonde! What lovely news - a new grandson - such joy.
We are watching the Tour here as The Great Dane is a great fan. In 2004 we were in France and stayed in a hotel with many of the support people. It was so exciting!

Diane said...

Congratulations on your grandson.
Watching the tour yesterday I was delighted that it was not my legs doing that climbing :-) Diane

Ginnie said...

You know that Astrid and I both LOVED reading this post, Vagabonde. We've been glued to our TVs, especially during the last hour of every day, watching Voeckler in particular keep his Yellow Jersey. If he loses it today, he can still be proud of what he has accomplished thus far.

Astrid has been on late shift this week but for tomorrow's (Friday's) étape, she will switch shifts with a co-worker so she can watch l’Alpe d’Huez, where the Dutch man is honored. She knows more about that than I do but it's a biggie for her. We'll watch that together...and then the rest of the Tour on Saturday and Sunday.

We're like you: it's a TV 'must' of the year! I love how you have written about it here, hitting all the highlights. Lucky for us, we get to watch it live during the same time zone!

claude said...

Coucou Vagabonde !
Comme tous les français je suivais le tour de France, sans plus et sans vraiment être accro à cette course. Mais depuis l'affaire Richard Virenque( qui s'est assis sur une seringue à l'insu de son plein gré) je ne me suis plus intéressée au Tour de France. D'autres affaires de doppage ont suivi et ternissait le Tour. Cette année je suis le résultat seulement car le maillot jaune est français. Allez Thomas !!!

Friko said...

I remember your post in praise of the Tour from last year. Only Wimbledon can excite the English to the same fever pitch.

Congratulations on your new grandson, perhaps he will become a cyclist?

DJan said...

Congratulations on the new addition to your family, VB! He is definitely a strong one, more than nine pounds. I must admit that I don't follow the Tour, but now I know much more about it than I ever did before. As usual, a wonderfully written post.

Anonymous said...

Welcome to your little grandson. Maybe one day, he'll be on a bike in France.
I enjoyed your post about the history of La Tour. Right now, at Gilabrier Voeckler is behind by about 5 seconds and Andy Schreck is out in front.

Sandy said...

Congrats on your grandson! I saw the Tour de France once from my grandmother's house in Luchon...I think it was in the late 80's. It was electric but I think I prefer to watch it on TV- better views of France. =) I didn't know about the beginnings of the race. Great post!

Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Congratulations on your new grandson. That's wonderful news.

I love all things French and this is one more fun event to watch. It must be very exciting to be in Paris at the end as they approach the Champs-Elysees.

astrid said...

Glued to the tube!!!
Voekler still in Yellow by 15 seconds.... wow..
Impressive post you have with a lot of things I did not know.
As you already know we LOVE the Tour de France.
Alpe d'Huez is called the Dutch Mountain, there will be a few thousand lunatics cheering the riders.
Some did camp there along the road for a week... to make sure they don't miss anything
The Tour de France does something strange to people, like the speedskating, it is a fever.
Tomorrow I switched shifts to be able to see the Alpe d'Huez.
I love the fact that you make those wonderful blankets while watching... my mom could do that too, watch TV and knitting.
That is a wonderful picture of you with your grandson, maybe one time we will see him riding up hill in the Tour de France, you never know ;)

Dianne said...

congratualtions on your grandson!!
a good strong boy :)

I love the shot of the riders coming round the curve in the road, it's beautiful

Pat said...

Such an informative post. I shall take more note now of the Tour de France.
Congratulation on your beautiful grand-son. Coincidentally I have just had a phone call from our French son who is on holiday with his family in Florida.
Love your rainbow blanket.

Vicki Lane said...

Congratulations on the new grandson!

Darlene said...

Congratulations on your very adorable grandson. I know you must be a proud grandmother.

I am amazed that the cyclists can breath and not pass out when going over those high altitude roads. It is a very rigorous tour.

Mary said...

Again dear, congrats. on this gorgeous new little boy who's arrived to join your family. Loved seeing a pic of you too - and it's a lovely one.

My brother, who lives near Carcassonne, was on a picnic last Sun. at a spot where they could watch the Tour - he said it was great.

Very interesting post - thank you for sharing so much about this amazing race.

Hugs - Mary

OldLady Of The Hills said...

This is such an interesting post! No matter how many times I have the "Tour" explained to me---I cannot grasp it. It seems so complicated and I don't understand the whole "winning" team, "winning" individual they all use sleeping bags at night?? Or do they sleep in Motels, or not sleep at all....(lol)..I know these seem like stupid questions--and I apologize for asking them...But, like I said, I just cannot grasp how this whole thing works, and it is frustrating to me....! The use of the word "stage" is confusing and there are some other words descibing certain things---Oh Dear! It makes my head spin...!
Forgive me, my dear....please.

OldLady Of The Hills said...

I didn't say how BEAUTIFUL I think your Baby Goodies are...And my deepest Congratulations on the birth of your newest Granchild!!!

I particulary liked the multo-colored one where you showed the three together....Very Very Beautiful!

Baino said...

Well firstly my friend, congratulations on your lovely little grandson! We're very proud of our Cadel here. All he has to do now is cruise into Paris. Awesome effort from a country boy. It's such a gruelling race. Sadly we don't get a lot of coverage here but I do grab the snippets on the news.

JoAnn said...

I really enjoyed reading this post and looking at all the wonderful pictures. Congratulations on the birth of your new grandson!

Marja said...

oh what a cute grandson. Congratulations You must be so proud. Here in NZ you hardly hear anything from the Tour the France but I remember it well. The Dutch are pretty good cyclist too. I remeber Joop Zoetemelk winning the Tour the France once and we had many other heroes. Thanks for your interesting article

Curvy Kitty said...

Yay Cadel. What a thrilling finish. Voekler has the heart of a lion!

Deborah said...

Bonjour Vagabonde!
Ca fait trop longtemps depuis que je viens ici - non par manque d'interet, mais les raisons habituelles.
You are incredibly knowledgeable about the Tour, and it is very obvious that you're a true enthusiast. I found it most interesting. We once saw the start of the Tour in Dublin, and my eldest son, who visited me two weeks ago and wanted to see something of it first-hand, arranged to be in Paris yesterday. I haven't heard yet whether he was able to be on the Champs Elysé but it would have been a dream come true if he was.
Congratulations on your new grandson - what a boy at 9lbs 4! How wonderful to have these children to love.

Olga said...

This is a great post. For me, it is especially interesting, because I frankly don't understand this obsession with Tour De France. However, your post gave me a chance to learn new things about it.

Shammickite said...

Cangratulations on the birth of your new grandson, I am so happy for you and your family! I will be becoming a new Nana soon too.... it's so exciting when new babies come into the world!
Thank you for your detailed explanantions and descriptions of the Tour de France. I have never followed it closely, but your post was so interesting! Congratulations to Cadel Evans from australia, the winner for 2011.

Vagabonde said...

French Girl in Seattle, Pondside, Fun Food and Life in the Charente, Ginnie, Friko, DJan, Dedene, Sandy, Sam@My Carolina Kitchen, Astrid, Dianne, Pat, Vicki Lane, Darlene, Mary, Old Lady of Hills, Baino, JoAnn, Marja, Curvy Kitty, Deborah, Olga and Shammickite – Thank you so much for your good wishes for my new grandson. I hope you had a chance to look at the Tour de France, which was spectacular this year. I appreciate your visit.

Pierre Boyer, Claude, Merci de votre visite, Je suis toujours en retard pour ma lecture de blogs, mais j’y arrive! Merci de vous être arrêté et d’avoir laissé un commentaire.

Dutchbaby said...

Congratulations on your brand-new, strong grandson! The photo of you as a proud grand-mère is precious. You knitted a beautiful blanket for him and I find the French flag blankets très élégants (especially the knitted one)!

Your reportage on the Tour de France is a tour de force! We watched it every day out here in California also. We have a Tour de Franc-style race called Tour of California since 2005. It's very exciting to watch also.

Jeanie said...

First of all, congratulations on the birth of your grandson! How very happy you must be!

Second, this is such a splendid post on the Tour, I had to share it with Rick. It didn't surprise me that it was informative and well written, but as one who knows the Tour and bicycling inside out, he was most impressed by your writing, your research, your history. I doubt he comments, but he reads!

You mentioned Coppi -- for Rick's birthday, I had my friend in Paris scour flea markets for Tour-related items and he found a wonderful old tabloid dedicated to Coppi (along with some other vintage Tour tabloids). I'll take photos one day and post them or share with you -- not the best shape, but still good. I (try to) read most gently! I need to keep the dictionary at hand!

Like you, I am suffering from Tour withdrawal, but posts like this help!

Kay said...

Congratulations on your beautiful, healthy grandson! You will have so much to teach him.

Thank you for showing us all about the Tour de France. I didn't know anything about it before.

madretz said...

I saw on Shammie's blog that you have another new grandbaby, too! So just wanted to pop in here and send my happy congratulations to you and your daughter!

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