France

Cyclists reach gruelling Pyrenees stage

Photo: Reuters

It’s 100 years since the Pyrenees mountains were first featured in the Tour de France and since then the Tourmalet has featured in all but 14 races. It remains the Tour’s most crossed mountain peak.

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To mark the 100th anniversary and to pay tribute to what is known as the “Giant of the Pyrenees”, the Tour organisers have decided that this year it should feature twice. The first ascent was on Tuesday in stage 16 between Bagneres de Luchon and Pau, and the second will be on Thursday when the riders climb up the other side to end the stage at the top of the Tourmalet.

This will also mark another first for the Tour de France, and the finishing line will be placed in front of a bust placed at the summit of the first Tour de France director Jacques Goddet.

It was Goddet who first brought the Tour to the Pyrenees, and every time the race passes over the Tourmalet, he is there to salute the riders.

Back on July 21st 1910, the first-ever rider to make it to the top of the Tourmalet was Octave Lapize. He was reportedly so breathless that he had to get off his bike several times and push. Bikes in those days were not as sophisticated as they are today and neither was the asphelt. But since Lapize made it up for the first time, the rest, as they say, is history.

And although the Tour de France was already seven years old when the Tourmalet was featured for the first time, it is undoubtably on this mountain peak that the legend of the Tour de France was first created.

And the Tourmalet may well be the place where Luxembourg’s Andy Schlek attempts to reclaim his overall leaders yellow jersey. Schlek lost the jersey on Monday to Spain’s Alberto Contador after the chain on his bike snapped on the final hill climb on the Port de Balès.

After trailing Schlek by 31 seconds, Contador is now eight seconds ahead and determined to keep hold of the yellow jersey until the race ends in Paris on Sunday. But Schlek said afterwards that he was very angry about what had happened and was determined to take his revenge.

Questions are often asked in the Tour de France as to when another Frenchman will win the race. The last French winner was Bernard Hinault in 1985. And although no Frenchman looks set to win this year’s race, French fans are encouraged by the fact that there have been five French stage wins so far.

Two stages were won by Sylvain Chavanel, one by Sandy Casar, one by Christophe Riblon and the latest on Monday by French champion Thomas Voeckler.

An impressive showing for the French riders in a Tour de France which is becoming increasingly international.

In this year’s Tour de France for example, there are riders representing 31 different countries which statistically means that it is becoming increasingly hard for a French rider to win the Tour.
 

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