Tour de France Stage 9 preview: a journey through French ski culture

Posted By: The Ski Channel on July 12, 2010 11:09 am

As we’ve been covering, the Tour de France is currently rolling through the mountain stages of Le Tour, and in the process, journeying through several famed French ski areas. Even with the European summer rolling on, it’s hard not to imagine these riders wanting to carve some turns through these beautiful areas.

Alberto Contador, who as the race’s favorite is in third place overall, has expressed plans to conserve his energies and let the other team’s dictate the pace of Stage 9. Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, who looks like the only man able to compete with Contador in the mountains, will likely be charging as he is likely to lose a lot of time to Contador in the final time trial, a 52-km effort from Bordeaux to Pauillac.

Since today, July 12th represents a rest day for Le Tour, today’s coverage will serve as a preview of the Tour de France Stage 9. Throughout the length of the 204.5 km (127.8 miles) the cyclists will be treated to an extensive trip through French ski culture including looks at former Olympic venues, possible future Olympic venues, and hometowns of famous French skiers.

Starting Line: Morzine-Avoriaz

The Tour’s stay in Morzine occurs exactly one year before the IOC decision on France’s bid for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Morzine is part of the Annecy bid and would be the host of the women’s downhill should France be chosen by the International Olympic Committee. Part of the biggest skiing domain in the world – Les Porte du Soleil – with 650 km of pistes, Morzine has a long tradition of organizing ski races. The resort has hosted has 11 World Cup races, and served as training grounds for Vancouver Olympic Skiers Cyprien Richard and Olivia Bertrand.

50.5 km: Le Grand Bornand

On the western side of the Aravis massif, Le Grand Bornand is a popular ski resort which blossomed in the 1920s from an old village which gained the majority of its wealth from reblochon, a famous local cheese. Most of Le Grand Bornand’s celebrities are ski champions like 2006 Nordic skiing Olympic silver medallist Roddy Darragon or giant slalom specialist Tessa Worley.

The peaks of Le Grand Bornand

The Haute Savoie resort has hosted two different Tour de France stage starts. In 1995, Alex Zuelle won the stage finishing in La Plagne and four years later Lance Armstrong started from here to take the win in Sestriere. The 7-time champion Armstrong also won a stage finish here in 2004. Last year, victory went to Frank Schleck at the end of a great battle between the Schleck brothers and Alberto Contador.

63 km: La Clusaz

La Clusaz gains its name from the word “cluse”, meaning a steep road between two mountains. For centuries, life in La Clusaz was extremely difficult, with timber and reblochon cheese providing the backbone of their economic resources. Skiing was introduced in 1907 and changed local life. The first ski club was founded in 1926 by the village schoolteacher. In 1928, a skating rink was created and 1935 saw the installation of the first ski lift. Since then, many champions were born or trained in La Clusaz, from Guy Perillat to Edgar Grospiron, Regine Cavagnoud or Vincent Vittoz. Perhaps the most well known skier to Americans is X Games champion Candide Thovex, star of edits such as Candide Kamera.

Photo: French freeskier and native of La Clusaz, Candide Thovex

86 km: Notre Dame de Bellecombe

Like many villages in the area, Notre Dame de Bellecombe is famous for producing ski champions. Jacqueline Rouvier and Catherine Quittet were two World Cup skiers hailing from here.

97 km: Les Saisies

The Les Saisies pass played a pivotal role in WW2 when the Allies, in August 1944, provided 899 containers of weapons to help the French Resistance and its 3,000 men hidden in the Savoy maquis. Before skiing was popularized, the pass was used primarily for pastures. A village grew in the 1970s thanks to winter sports and Les Saisies was the Nordic skiing site for the 1992 Olympics. The resort is also famous as the hometown of 1988 Super-G Olympic champion Franck Piccard.

128.5 km: Albertville

Host of the 1992 Winter Olympics, Albertville was founded in 1836 by King of Sardinia Charles-Albert.

The 1992 Winter Games were the pinnacle of the steady growth which dramatically transformed the landscape of the busiest ski area in Europe in winter. The Tour previously made a stop in Albertville in 1998.

Finish Line: St Jean de Maurienne

St Jean de Maurienne is the hometown for famous slalom specialists like Jean-Noel Augert or Jean-Baptiste Grange but the proximity of such famous passes as Croix-de-Fer, Telegraphe, Lautaret, La Madeleine, Glandon, Iseran, Mont-Cenis and Galibier was bound to make it a cycling land.