Ah, springtime in Paris. It’s a site that inspires movies and love songs. But surely nothing can compare to the fevered pitch of spectators spurring on cyclists culminating 21 days of racing on the historic Champs-Élysées. And surely, this year promises to be the biggest celebration in Paris the Tour has ever seen. And the route covered over 21 days to get to the Champs-Élysées this year, the most spectacular. For the 100th edition of the Tour de France, race organizers have set out to make it the most amazing year yet.
Running three weeks – from Saturday, June 29th to Sunday, July 21st – the 100th edition of the Tour de France sets out to highlight the wonder and beauty that is France. For the first time since 1988, the entire Tour will take place solely on French soil. With this year’s course, race organizers made it their mission to celebrate the beauty of their country.
The official Tour de France website says that this is “a perfect Tour for tourists,” even those who are watching remotely:
The 100th Tour de France will be contested entirely in France and the route for this special edition offers fans from around the world a chance to see some truly magnificent aspects of the host country. Between the start in Porto Vecchio and finish in Paris, the 2013 event will visit 10 UNESCO World Heritage sites – while many other spectacular locations will be seen by a global audience.
There will be a vast array of things to admire on the route of the 2013 Tour de France: from the Gothic cathedral in Albi, to the imposing military fortress in Saint-Malo, and onward to the magnificent medieval town of Mont-Saint-Michel, this is a Tour that’s perfect for tourists. There are historic sites mixed with futuristic architecture – from Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace in Hauterives or the impressive new MuCEM in Marseilles… the visual treats extend well beyond the sight of the peloton. The terrain may be ideal for this sporting challenge but the route also exposes fans to many other elements of France.
Tourists and television viewers alike will be lured in by the beauty of the stages of a route that takes the Tour to Corsica for the first time. In the opening stanza of the race, the peloton will past the beautiful cliffs of Bonifacio, the creeks of Piana, and the peaks of Bavella.
After leaving the ‘Island of Beauty’, the theme of water will stay in the spotlight; there’s a visit to the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and the traditional visits to both the Pyrenees and Alps. The final time trial comes early (stage 17) and it takes the Tour to the shores of Serre-Ponçon.
Other sites for tourists this July include the old city of Lyon and Vaison-la-Romaine, and the chateaux of the Loire Valley. And, on the final day, the stage to Paris will start in Versailles. Before the winner’s jersey is presented, however, there will be a twilight journey through the heart of the capital of France. The peloton will race through the City of Lights at dusk on the final day that is destined to be spectacular. Even after the race is over, there are treats for the spectators including a light show on the Arc de Triomphe after the presentation of the champion’s yellow jersey.
Christian Prudhomme, the Director of the Tour de France, put it best when he said that this Tour was about the beauties of France:
The 100th Tour de France will be the Tour of the whole of France, of every kind of France, of every French people too. And while the race will not spread over the French borders, for the first time since its centenary in 2003, the event will largely extend beyond the race itself.
The course between Corsica and the Champs-Elysees will be far more than a showcase for the number one tourist destination in the world. Thanks to the images of France Televisions, it will bear witness to the love for a race which, while not a World Heritage site like the Mont St Michel or the Calanques of Piana, is still a national treasure. This Tour will be the Tour of all the beauties of France, but also the Tour of everyone involved in it. The riders of course, who will write with their sweat the 100th chapter of a long saga and will be greeted in Paris by all the Giants who showed them the way.
A New Beginning, le Grand Départ
After having neglected only two départements in metropolitan France: Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse, the 100th edition of the Tour de France will embrace them both. Forgoing the typical prologue to “take the fullest advantage of Corsica,” the Tour spends its first three days winding through the island.
Day three of the Tour begins and ends with a lot of history in between. The start city of Ajaccio is the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte. The city itself only became French in 1769, a short time before the birth of the Emperor. Signs of the Empire are everywhere in Ajaccio – places, statues and of course the house where Napoleon was born which has become the National Museum of the Bonaparte Residence. Then the day ends at Calvi, the birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
The third day on Corsica will be one for the Tour history books as well. Jean-François Pescheux, ASO’s Director of Competitions, said, “We are not going to hide our feeling of satisfaction: this is the kind of stage we’ve been looking for for years! It’s simple: there’s not a single meter of flat, which means the peloton will get very stretched out, presenting the very real possibility of splits occurring.” Pesheux went on to say, he expects this to be “the most physically demanding Grand Départ since San Sebastián in 1992!”
After a short hour-long flight from Corsica, the Tour finds its way to the French mainland, where it will stay for the remainder of the Tour. The team time-trial will showcase Nice, the capital of the Côte d’Azur.
On the south-eastern corner of France, by the Mediterranean, with the Italian border to the east and the Alps to the north, the French Riviera is one of the world’s most famous tourist areas. The Côte d’Azur extends from the shores of the Mediterranean to the ski resorts of the Mercantour National Park. 80% of its territory is mountainous.
The département’s particularity, outside the beauty of its seafront, is to display steep and rugged landscapes so close to the shore – here the Alps literally drop into the sea. Beaches and summits are only an hour apart. The département boasts ski resorts as well as beach resorts.
Situated in the heart of a region of timeless beauty, Nice is a modern and active city that has successfully preserved its style. The second international tourist destination after Paris, Nice finds itself undergoing a veritable ecological, economic, cultural, artistic and architectural revolution. Creative, dynamic, cosmopolitan and young, it bursts with achievements worthy of the greatest cities. Innovation is everywhere and touches all spheres.
Following along the coastline, day five of the Tour takes riders through the region of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. The third most populous region in France, with a population near five million people and ends in Marseille, the region’s capital and second largest city after Paris.
Marseille was founded by Greek sailors in about 600BC, making it the oldest city in France. As the number one French port, Marseille is a crossroads of civilizations and a natural link between Europe and the Mediterranean. The city is renowned for its university, its medical research laboratories and its multimedia industry.
Continuing along the coast, day six of the Tour begins in Aix-en-Provence, often referred to simply as Aix. Aix and the rest of the département of Baux-de-Provence boast a beautiful landscape, but the riders won’t be able to sit back to enjoy the view. Instead, after the previous day’s 219km, they’re likely to be battered by extreme heat and wind. The wind in this region, on a very similar course in 2009, certainly affected Contador’s race.
Languedoc to the Pyrenees
The next stop along the tour is the city of Montpellier. In the heart of the Languedoc region, as all along the shores of the Mediterranean, is an ancient land of people and of passage. It took ten centuries to turn what was originally agricultural territory, le Monte Pestelario, into the Montpellier of today.
With a rich history, sometimes tumultuous, sometimes dramatic, often brilliant, Montpellier, the regional and economic capital, won’t fail to seduce you with its medieval streets. Young and dynamic, Montpellier is also one of the sportiest towns in France.
As the riders approach the Pyrenees, they will visit the historic and cultural town of Albi. Albi was the seat of the Archbishop of Albi and is the seat of the Diocese of Albi. The episcopal city, situated in the center of the actual city, was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Every year, Albi attracts more than 800,000 tourists. They come to see the Sainte-Cécile Cathedral, the largest brick built religious building in the world and a veritable masterpiece of southern French Gothic style. The Palais de la Berbie is home to the Museum Toulouse-Lautrec and a superb collection of paintings and posters by the painter who was born here.
After eight days of racing, the riders reach the Pyrenees. Stage eight gives riders 219km to compete for placement before they begin very difficult climb up the Col de Pailhères, peaking at 2,001m. This should be the first key test of this year’s Tour. A rapid descent will bring them to Ax-les-Thermes, seven hundred metres below. Its medieval streets and thermal spa, the water cure for lepers in the 13th century, offer a reprieve for tourists and skiers, but not for the Tour riders. Instead, they have one more chance to prove themselves king of the mountain at the 1,375 peak of Ax 3 Domaines.
Stage nine will complicate the racing strategy. A relatively short stage (165km), it features no fewer than five mountain passes. It begins at the town of Saint-Girons. Nestled at the foot of the Ariege Pyrenees, in the shadow of the Gallo-Roman ramparts of the ancient episcopal city of Saint-Lizier, Saint-Girons is the capital of Couserans. Two rivers that fall from the highest mountains, the Salat and the Lez, meet in the center of the city.
After five climbs, the day ends with a long and demanding 30km descent into the finish at Bagnères-de-Bigorre. At the heart of the Adour valley, Bagnères-de-Bigorre is the number one thermal resort in the High Pyrenees. But hydrotherapy is not Bagnères’ only asset. The town is home to several businesses specializing in aeronautics and electrical and mechanical engineering. The Grand Tourmalet, the largest ski area in the French Pyrenees, also lies on part of its territory.
After nine days of racing, riders get their first rest day. They’ll take a flight to Saint-Nazaire, in the Loire Atlantique département, named for the picturesque Loire River that runs through it and the Atlantic ocean that borders it. Time has fashioned a mosaic of landscapes and cultures in this region: the effervescent Nantes, Guérande and its saltmarshes, Clisson and its Italian architecture, La Baule, Pornichet, Le Pouliguen and Pornic, popular beach resorts.
Le Croisic and Piriac-sur-mer… classed as small towns of character, Saint-Nazaire, a metamorphosed town, resolutely turned towards the sea… the great maritime Port of Nantes in Saint Nazaire is the fourth largest in France. It is also here that over the decades the giants of sea and air have been built but the town has also diversified its know-how into marine renewable energies.
Check back next week for your virtual tour of week two of the Tour.
For more on the 2013 Tour de France, check out the following links:
- For the Tour schedule, notable days and major players, check out our summary of the 100th Edition of the Tour.
- For complete Tour coverage, visit the official Tour de France site
- NBC’s coverage of the 2012 Tour
- Detailed analysis of the route for the 2013 Tdf
- Bicycling.com’s list of most critical, can’t-miss stages of the 2013 Tour
- Bicycling.com’s rankings
- Bicycling.com’s interview with Tour favorite Chris Froome
- For the biggest Tour-a-philes out there (who speak French), here’s a link to the official ASO presentation of the 2013 Tour de France
In addition to being our resident fitness guru, Joy Sherrick is also a self-proclaimed Francophile.