If stage 14 was only a prelude to what was to come in stage 15 of the Tour, the grueling stage 15 up the slopes of Mont Ventoux was only a prelude to the third and final week of the 100th edition of the Tour de France.
This year, the Tour organizers set out to highlight the wonder and beauty that is France for this centennial edition. This next week begins by celebrating the spectacle – both the beauty and sporting challenge – of the Alps.
After a day of rest in Vaucluse, riders return to the Alps. Of the next five days, leading up to the Tour’s finish at the Champs-Élysées, four are mountain stages and two end in summit finishes.
Jean-François Pescheux, ASO Director, said:
Never will a rest day have been as well deserved! After the Ventoux, the riders will be able to breathe a little easier for 24 hours in the Vaucluse. It is a short respite, as another series of difficulties await them.
The Alps are one of the great mountain range systems of Europe. Stretching approximately 1,200k across eight countries, they reach from Austria and Slovenia in the east, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany and France to the west and Italy and Monaco to the south.
The Alps were formed over hundreds of millions of years as the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collided. Sedimentary rocks that had been on the sea floor rose by thrusting and folding and formed into high mountain peaks. Mont Blanc spans the French–Italian border, and is the highest mountain in the Alps.
The Alpine region has a culture of farming, cheesemaking, and woodworking. However, the tourist industry began to grow early in the 20th century and, after World War II, became the dominant industry. While the region is home to 14 million people, 120 million visitors come to the Alps each year.
The Winter Olympic Games have been hosted in the Swiss, French, Italian, Austrian and German Alps. The winter certainly attracts many snow sport enthusiasts, especially with the area’s many peaks over 4,000m. Cycling and Tour enthusiasts add to the number of tourists each year, making their attempt at what Jon Brand, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, referred to as, “the holy grail of cycling.”
The Alps have been tied into the Tour de France from its earliest days. In this, 100th edition of the Tour de France, they stand to play a key role in determining a victor.
While the riders return from their day of rest with a short 168km ride, according to ASO Director, Jean-François Pescheux, “This is testing terrain where the Tour has almost been lost in the past.” Stage 16 begins in at the foot of Mont Ventoux, in Vaison-la-Romaine, the capital of the good life of Provence. But the riders will certainly not be enjoying the pleasures of Provence.
Gap, the city where stage 16 finishes, is capital of the Hautes-Alpes, a département dear to cyclists who dream of conquering its grand mythical cols (Agnel, Galibier, Granon, Izoard, etc.).
Previous winners in Gap include Vinokourov, Fédrigo, Paulinho and Hushovd.
Gap is situated on the Napoleonic route that will celebrate 200 years of the return of the Emperor in 2015. Capital of the Southern Alps, Gap easily combines the gentle energy of Provence and the purity of the Alps.
Stage 17, from Embrun to Chorges, is the last time trial event of the 2013 tour. The day begins in Embrun, a tourist destination situated at the heart of the Hautes-Alpes, between rivers, lakes and mountains. Riders will follow the beautiful Lake Serre-Ponçon until they reach Savines-Le-Lac, where they will turn further inland and approach the Cote de Réallon and Les Ecrins National Park.
The day finishes in Chorges. This village was built on the via Domitia, an ancient Roman way linking Italy with Spain. Julius Caesar spoke highly of the the Caturigues, the name given to residents of this area, as formidable fighters. Chorges is also home to Saint-Victor, a church built in the 12th century. Chorges is on the banks of Lake Serre-Ponçon. The famous turquoise waters of Saint-Michel and Chanteloube Bays are enjoyed by many.
Jean-François Pescheux has this to say about stage 17:
The riders will have the blue waters of Lake Serre-Ponçon as a backdrop. It is a picture postcard setting. But don’t imagine this is going to be a bucolic day. Indeed, this stage could turn out to be one of the turning points of the Tour. It has been conceived with the idea of spicing up the duel between the rouleurs who can climb well.
…Those riders who don’t perform well on this stage will have some real problems on the next one to Alpe-d’Huez. There won’t be any miracle comebacks.
And that brings us to Stage 18, the stage that everyone has been waiting for since its announcement last October. Today will have riders seeing double! They return to Gap and its Categorie 2 Col de Manse to begin the day. But what makes this day the most challenging of, perhaps, any in the history of the Tour is the double ascent of Alpe-d’Huez!
Riders will begin the first climb of the Hors Categorie Alpe D’Huez, and its 21 turns, 110k into the day. Here, they face a 12.3k climb, averaging 8.4%. Immediately following this climb, riders approach the Col de Sarenne. Towering 234m over the Alpe d’Huez at 1,999m, the back of the Categorie 2 Col de Sarenne will provide more than 20 miles of high-speed and technical downhill riding before riders face the ultimate challenge. Then, for the second time in the same day, riders face the Alpe-Huez. This time the Hors Categorie climb will average 8.1% over 13.8k.
Alpe d’Huez, nicknamed the Sunshine Island, is situated at the heart of the Grandes Rousses massif. At 1,860m and facing south, it is blessed with plenty of sunshine. Alpe d’Huez receives an average of 300 days of sun each year. From the highest point, at 3,300m, there is a superb view of the Écrins National Park, Mont Blanc, Mont Ventoux and the Massif Central as well as Switzerland and Italy.
There are two more stages in the Alps following the historic double ascent of Alpe-d’Huez. They bring three more Hors Categorie climbs and one more summit finish. They also bring us through more picturesque and charming alpine villages. They include:
Bourg-d’Oisans, the gateway to the Ecrins National Park. The park is a climatic crossroads between Northern and Southern Alps, hence an exceptional variety of landscapes and species. Bourg-d’Oisans is a veritable paradise for both mountain and road cyclists. Electronic timing chips, which can be picked up at local tourists offices, allow cyclists to indulge their passion for climbing. Try your hand at attacking the legendary cols of the Tour de France or choose any of the 30 routes that allow you to calculate your performance with your timing chip.
In Savoie, riders will tackle the 2,000m high climb of the Col de la Madeleine. This mountain pass links the Tarentaise and Maurienne valleys. It is a classic Tour de France ascent, a Hors Categorie climb that averages 7.9%, and has been included 23 times since 1969.
Albertville was host to the 1992 Winter Olympics.
Le Grand-Bornand’s ski resort is one of only 15 to receive the TOTFA (Top of the French Alps) label, a mark of prestige for the most beautiful resorts in the Alps.
Annecy is nicknamed the Venice of the Alps for the three canals crossing the historic town. It rests on Lake Annecy, which lies at the bottom of an old glacier valley and is the purest lake in Europe. The town is at the foot of the alpine massifs of the Aravis and the Bauges, and is close to Switzerland and Italy.
Massif des Bauges Regional Nature Park, named a geopark in 2011, is home to 65 communities and over 60,000 people. Neotlithic remains have been found here.
Sevrier was an important village back in Roman times, when it was a stop along a road between Annecy and Faverges. It dates back even before that. Two of the 111 stilt house villages in the Alps listed as World Heritage sites by UNESCO can be found here.
This will be the first time the Tour passes through the Col des Prés. The foothills of this pass, which links the Leysse Plateau to Hautes Bauges and Aillon, are rich in orchids.
The final appearance of the Alps in the 100th edition of the Tour will take place at Annecy-Semnoz, where the riders will face one last Hors Categorie climb. On a 125m course with little chance to rest, riders will tackle an average incline of 8.5% over their final 10.7k. Stage 20, and the Tour’s visit to the Alps, thus concludes at the 1,655m Semnoz summit.
The Semnoz massif is situated at the heart of the Bauges Natural Regional Park. Roman cartographers baptised it with the name Salmon due to its fish-like shape. Aside from its peak, this mountain is entirely forested.
The Gateway to Paris
All of this has lead to the final day of the Tour. Of this day, Jean-François Pescheux gushes:
It’s the final day, and it’s going to be incomparable in the strictest sense because we really wanted to pay full tribute at the end of this 100th edition.
From the celebratory point of view, we have an unforgettable route, which will start in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, pass the monument to Jacques Anquetil, then go through the courtyard of the Louvre, before turning not in front of but around the Arc de Triomphe. The finish will be at dusk, at around 9.45pm. It will be magical…
Forgoing the typical morning start, the final day of this 100th edition of the Tour will depart from the city of Versailles, in the Ile-de-France, at 3:45pm. The Ile-de-France is home to 11.7 million people throughout eight départements, including Paris itself. It is Europe’s leading economy and fifth in the world behind Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and Osaka.
As the gateway to Paris, Versailles is a town with an endless wealth of culture. From the Jeu de Paume Oath, the founding event of French democracy, to the first National Assembly, with the Declaration of the Rights of Man in between, Versailles has been the place of thoughts, writings and decisions that have had a universal impact on man.
The famous Versailles castle, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the most beautiful examples of 17th century French art. Louis XIII’s former hunting pavillion was transformed and enlarged by his son Louis XIV who installed his court and the French government there in 1682. Each year seven million people visit the chateau.
For the first time ever, the Tour will ride 10k through the gardens of Versailles. The gardens of Versailles occupy part of what was once the Domaine royal de Versailles, the royal property of the château. Situated to the west of the palace, the gardens cover some 800 hectacres of land, much of which is landscaped in the classic French Garden style.
One of the features of the gardens is The Royal Walk, also called the “Green Carpet,” because of the strip of lawn that runs down the middle. The Royal Walk is 335 metres long and 40 metres wide. Originally laid down under Louis XIII, Le Nôtre widened it and lined it with twelve statues and twelve vases, placed in symmetrical pairs.
Hidden away from the peering eyes of the court and the Hall of Mirrors can be found the Queen’s Estate. Queen Marie-Antoinette is the only queen to have imposed her personal taste on Versailles. Sweeping away the old court and its traditions, she insisted on living as she wished. Her Petit Trianon domain, which Louis XVI gave her in 1774, lies on the outskirts of the Versailles garden. It was her own private refuge. Nobody could come there without her invitation.
Before leaving Versailles again on its way to Paris, the Tour will ride through the Vallée de Chevreuse, a valley of the Yvette River, flowing though the Yvelines and Essonne départements. It is within the boundaries of the Parc naturel régional de la haute vallée de Chevreuse and encompasses two of the towns that will be visited on this stage’s route: Chevreuse and Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse. The region gets its name from the history there of breeding goats, or “chevres.”
Then, at 33.5k into the stage, the Tour will pass Châteaufort, a community in the département of Yvelines. Here at Côte de Châteaufort, there is a short Categorie 4 climb, less than 1k long of 4.7% grade. At the top of what was named the Trinite climb, a bronze statue of Jacques Anquetil on his bike was erected in 1989, after the death of the five times Tour champion. The statue was stolen and replaced by a plaque. The climb was on the course of the Grand Prix des Nations, which Anquetil won nine times.
En route to Paris, the Tour will pass through Sèvres. When Louis XIV decided to build his palace in Versailles, the material and equipment required for the construction were carried on the Seine towards Sevres. To make the trip to and from Paris easier, the King later had a bridge built, now known as Pont de Sèvres.
When the wood bridge fell out of order, Napoleon ordered a new stone bridge to be built. It opened in 1820. A train line led Parisians out of town and Sèvres quickly became full of secondary residences for such celebrities as Sisley, Renan, Balzac, Gambetta and Eiffel.
The last city the Tour will pass through on the peripherique of Paris is Boulogne-Billancourt, the second largest town in Ile de France after Paris. The city was made famous by the huge Renault factory that was there. There are many buildings in Boulogne that stand as a monument to the beautiful architectural heritage of the industrial boom of the 1930s.
Near the suburbs of Boulogne-Billancourt and Neuilly-sur-Seine, but inside the 16th arrondissement of Paris, is a large public park that was created between 1852 and 1858 during the reign of the Emperor Louis Napoleon. The second largest park in the city, after the Bois de Vincennes on the eastern side of the city, the Bois de Boulogne holds many attractions. One such attraction is Roland Garros, home of the annual French Open tournament.
The Tour will cross over the Seine at the Pont de Billancourt and turn on the Quai de Point Jour to cross the Seine. Once the riders pass underneath the Boulevard Peripherique, the dual-carriageway ring road in Paris and one of the busiest roads in Europe, riders will officially arrive in the city proper, at around 5:45pm in Paris.
The City of Light
According to the official Tour website:
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.
Riders will follow the Seine as it travels through Paris. The name of the road will change several times. They will pass a miniature of the Statue of Liberty placed at the Pont de Grenelle. Before anyone gets confused about why this icon of American democracy is making an appearance in France, remember that the Statue at New York Harbor was a gift from the people of France. It’s original name was La Liberté éclairant le monde, or Liberty Enlightening the World.
With more reminders of the United States, soon riders will find themselves on Avenue du Président Kennedy, then Avenue de New York. Riders will pass in front of the Palais de Chaillotand, in the site of the former Palais de Trocadéro, and its beautiful gardens and fountains.
Across the Seine from the area known as the Trocadéro is Paris’ most iconic site. Erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the 1889 World’s Fair, the Tour Eiffel has become both a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognizable structures in the world. The tallest structure in Paris is also the most-visited paid monument in the world.
In the seventh arrondissement, the Tour Eiffel towers above Champs de Mars, a park named for the Roman god of war. At the southeast end of the park is the École Militaire, a vast complex of buildings housing various military training facilities. The school was founded by Louis XV in 1750 with the aim of creating an academic college for cadet officers from poor families.
If the cyclists took a left at Place de l’Alma, they would find themselves on l’Avenue George V. In the eighth arrondissement, Avenue George V is one of Paris’ most prestigious addresses. There, one can find luxury boutiques, restaurants and night clubs, many done in the Haussmann style. One of the most famous locations on George V is the Hotel George V, the famous luxury five-star Four Seasons hotel done in the Art Deco style. Its Royal Suite was $24,550 per night in 2012.
The Tour route will then cross the Seine at Pont Alexandre III, now on the left bank and in the seventh arrondissement. The route will follow the river along the Quai d’Orsay and will soon come upon the Musée d’Orsay. The museum building was originally a railway station, the Gare d’Orsay, which was in time for the 1900 World’s Fair. In 1986, the building was converted to a museum.
Artwork in Paris is divided between the museums, primarily by period. The d’Orsay holds French art from 1848 to 1915. The museum houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces in the world, by such painters such as Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin and Van Gogh.
Before it can reach Pont Neuf, the oldest standing bridge which crosses the Seine in Paris, the Tour will cross the river one last time at the Pont du Carousel, to return to the right bank at the Place du Carousel. This is a public square in the first arrondissement of Paris. Located at the open end of the courtyard of the Louvre Palace, it sits directly between the museum and the Tuileries Garden.
To the immediate right is the Pyramid. Behind it, the Louvre. The Louvre is a former royal palace. It was the actual seat of power in France until Louis XIV moved to Versailles in 1682, bringing the government with him. The Louvre remained the nominal, or formal, seat of government until the end of the regime in 1789. Since then it become home to the celebrated Musée du Louvre.
The now iconic, yet still controversial Louvre Pyramid, is a steel and glass pyramid designed by the architect I. M. Pei. The pyramid was completed in 1989 after being commissioned by the President of France François Mitterrand in 1984. It was part of Mitterrand’s “Grand Louvre” Project (1981–2002) where a vast underground complex of offices, shops, exhibition spaces, storage areas, and parking areas, as well as an auditorium, a tourist bus depot, and a cafeteria, was constructed underneath the Louvre’s central courtyards. Many do not realize that it is surrounded by three smaller pyramids, in the main courtyard (Cour Napoléon) of the Palais du Louvre. The large pyramid serves as the main entrance to the Louvre Museum.
The Tour turns left at Rue de Rivoli, one of the most famous streets in Paris. It is a commercial street whose shops include the most fashionable names in the world. The new street that Napoleon Bonaparte pierced through the heart of Paris bears the name of his early victory against the Austrian army, at the battle of Rivoli. The large street was a transitional compromise between the aristocratic squares of old and the new modern town planning. The original street was extended later by Bourbon King Charles X, then King Louis-Philippe and, finally, by Emperor Napoleon III.
Standing opposite of the north wing of the Louvre is the Palais-Royal, originally called the Palais-Cardinal. The palace and its garden, which face the Place du Palais-Royal, was constructed in 1633-1639 as the personal residence of Cardinal Richelieu.
Across the Place du Carousel from the Louvre lie the beautiful Tuileries Gardens. Created by Catherine de Medici as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564, it eventually became a public park after the French Revolution. At the west end of the garden, close to the Seine, sits the Musée de l’Orangerie. Befitting for this open air garden, the l’Orangerie is an art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings, most famous for housing Monet’s enormous Water Lilies murals.
Just as the Place du Carrousel delineates the eastern end of the gardens, the Place de la Concorde defines its western end. The Place de la Concorde is the largest public square in Paris. Originally designed in 1755, it was built to honor the king and named Place Louis XV. During the French Revolution the statue of Louis XV of France was torn down and the area was renamed “Place de la Révolution.” The new revolutionary government erected the guillotine in the square. It was here that King Louis XVI was executed in January 1793. Other important figures guillotined on the site including Marie Antoinette, Madame du Barry, Antoine Lavoisier and Maximilien Robespierre. The guillotine was most active in 1794, during a period labeled “the reign of terror,” when in a single month more than 1,300 people were executed. As a gesture of reconciliation after the turmoil of the French Revolution, the square was renamed Place de la Concorde.
In the center of the Place, where the guillotine once stood, is a 75-foot high, 250 ton Egyptian obelisk. The obelisk, decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaoh Ramesses II, once marked the entrance to the Luxor Temple. The Luxor Obelisk was gifted by the Egyptian government to France in 1829. It arrived in Paris in 1833. Three years later, King Louis Philippe had it placed in the center of Place de la Concorde. It is one of two obelisks the Egyptian government gifted to France in the 19th century. The other one stayed in Egypt, too difficult and heavy to move at that time. In the 1990s, President François Mitterrand gave the second obelisk back to the Egyptians.
At the Place de la Concorde, the Tour turns down the famous Champs d’Élysée. The name Champs-Élysées refers to its origin as fields and market gardens, which it was until 1616, when Marie de Medici decided to extend the axis of the Tuileries Garden with an avenue of trees. The landscape of the avenue was then transformed according to the wishes of Louis XIV. It was commissioned in 1670 and was then called “Grand Cours” (the Great Course). It was christened Champs-Élysées in 1709. The name Élysée deriving from Elysian Fields, the place of the blessed dead in Greek mythology.
On the left, toward the Seine, riders will pass the Petit Palais before then passing the Grand Palais. The Petit Palais was built in 1900 for the World’s Fair. It now houses the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts. Adjacent to the Petit Palais, the larger Grand Palais was also built in the style of Beaux-Arts architecture for the 1900 World’s Fair. Its large main space, almost 240 metres long, was constructed with an iron, steel and glass barrel-vaulted roof, inspired by London’s Crystal Palace (which was built for the World’s Fair in 1851). The Grand Palais was used as a military hospital in WWI. Then in WWII, it was first used by the Nazis before it became the headquarters of the resistance during the Liberation of Paris. Now the Grand Palais is used to house temporary exhibitions.
Across the street from the Grand Palais is the Palais de l’Élysée, the presidential palace, with its rounded gate. The Palais is the official residence of the President of the French Republic. It contains his office and is where the Council of Ministers meets.
The Champs-Élysées ends at the Place de Charles de Gaulle-Étoile, a large roundabout in Paris. This roundabout is the meeting point of twelve straight avenues, hence its historic name, the Place de l’Étoile, which translates as “Square of the Star.” It was renamed in 1970 following the death of General and President Charles de Gaulle.
Standing at the center of the Place de Charles de Gaulle-Étoile is the Arc de Triomphe, built to honor the victories of Napoleon Bonaparte. Standing 50m in height, the Arc is so colossal that three weeks after the Paris victory parade in 1919, marking the end of hostilities in World War I, a biplane was flown through it.
The Arc, whose design was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus, was commissioned in 1806 after Emperor Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz. It honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. It has the names of all French victories and generals inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces. Beneath its vault lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.
The Arc de Triomphe is the linchpin of the historic axis (Axe historique) – a sequence of monuments and grand thoroughfares on a route which begins with a smaller arch, the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, in the courtyard of the Louvre, and ends at the Grande Arche de la Défense.
In recent memory, the route of the Tour de France has turned before the Arc, to retrace its path down the Champs-Élysées and then follow a rectangular route along the Seine, back through the Tuileries, and back on to Rue de Rivoli. This year, for the first time, the riders will instead ride around the Arc de Triomphe before following the path back to the Tuileries and back again. They will make 10 loops of this path, with the first beginning near 6:00pm in Paris.
The finish will be at dusk, at around 9.45pm, with the Arc de Triomphe adorned in yellow lights. ASO Director, Jean-François Pescheux, promises, “It will be magical.” The celebrations continue into the night with a fireworks display, podium presentations and some surprises cooked up by the Tour officials.
One thing is for sure, this, the 100th edition of the Tour de France promises to be epic.
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
What an amazing tour of France the Tour race organizers have given us for this, the 100th edition of the Tour de France. We look forward to 2014…
In addition to being our resident fitness guru, Joy Sherrick is also a self-proclaimed Francophile, who once lived among the beautiful monuments in Paris.