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Lac des Moutons, close to the Grand Col ski piste

Saturday, 30 June 2012

TOUR DE FRANCE: Les Arcs 2009

The Tour de France stage to Bourg St Maurice lacked the drama of the 1996 visit to Les Arcs (scene of Indurain's downfall - more here.

What could be better - a start in Switzerland, through Italy, down into Bourg St Maurice, via the Grand and Petit St Bernard passes, before a final climb up to Arc 1800.

Except the decision was taken for the riders to finish down in the valley in Bourg St Maurice - so that the suspense could continue right until the final Saturday and the climb of Mont Ventoux.  Here's the Wikipedia account of the 2009 Tour.

In the event, the Ventoux stage proved to be a bit of a let-down, and the stage to Bourg is little remembered.  Or at least remembered for the wrong things.  The winner of the stage, Miguel Astarloza, later tested positive for drugs, and the stage was awarded to Sandy Casar.

Here are the riders on the descent to Bourg St Maurice.



The finish line was in the road leading from the SNCF roundabout to the Funiculaire:


The following day the riders left from Bourg St Maurice.  Here they are on the very lower slopes of the Cormet du Roseland.


Lance Armstrong and co stayed - of course - in Arc 1950.  The Euskatel Euskadi team, on the other hand, stayed in the more modest environs of Arc 1800.  As did The Tour Doctor:



More on cycling in Les Arcs this summer here.  If you think the 1st category climb from Bourg St Maurice is too easy, go down to Landry, take the (much harder) climb to Peisey and up to Arc 1800 on the summer road, and then continue to Arc 2000.  The final climb from the Comborciere lift at 1800m to Arc 2000 (actually at 2100m) is a tough one....

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

TOUR DE FRANCE 1996: Les Arcs and The Beginning of The End for Miguel Indurain

The 1996 Tour de France can hardly go down as the greatest in history, given that the winner Bjarne Riis admitted taking drugs during the tour, with most of the other riders also implicated - see wikipedia account for some of the background.

Aside from this depressing backdrop, it is notable for two reasons: the first inclusion of the climb to Les Arcs, and the beginning of the end for Miguel Indurain.  Here's the route, which included the Chambery to Les Arcs stage, via Col de la Madeleine and the Cormet de Roselend:



Other features of the 1996 Tour include:

  • Lance Armstrong having to give up at Aix-les-Bains - the start of his fight against cancer.
  • Snow stopping the racing on the Cols de l'Iseran and Galibier
  • Chris Boardman in his heyday, albeit not on the Les Arcs stage.

The stage to Les Arcs was also notable for seeing yellow jersey holder Stephane Heulot abandon on the Cormet de Roseland.

On the climb itself, we see Indurain dropped just before the Arc 1600 roundabout, and (in contravention of the rules) taking a drink.  Was he wearing too much, speculate the commentators.  Have a look at around 2:45 for the moment Indurain cracks, with Luc Leblanc going on to win the stage.


Gary Imlach was sent to Indurain's hotel (the Grand Hotel Paradiso) in Arc 1800 to find out more.  "I wasn't suffering but I didn't have the rhythm or strength to do it...."

It wasn't entirely the end of the road for Indurain - the next day he put in a very good performance in the Bourg St Maurice - Val d'Isere time trail.  But it was Les Arcs which marked the beginning of the end for "Big Mig".  It isn't the hardest climb in the world, but it is long - 15km.  Arguably the 2009 Tour would have been much more interesting if the organisers hadn't wimped out of taking the riders up to Arc 1800, rather than finishing in Bourg-St-Maurice.....

More on cycling in Les Arcs here

And below is a fuller version of that 1996 stage:




Friday, 1 June 2012

FRENCH SKI RESORTS: THE PREMIERSHIP (REVISITED)

28 July 2013: for a 2013/14 update click here.

Here's an update on the 2011/12 French Ski Resorts: The Premiership league table.  The sad and geeky question is: if your favourite resort were a top-tier football team, which would it be?

The big headache for me is Manchester City.  Last time it was twinned with Tignes:



Man City = Tignes
Lots of investment; lifts now arguably superior to those of its neighbour across the mountain.  Clearly on the up.  Still lacks that je ne sais quoi.

In many ways this description still stands.  But...it's just that Tignes, like the Man City of old, has character, even though it may look a bit shabby around the edges.  It's where the real skiers go, rather than those show-offs over in Val d'Isere.  Etc.  But now that Man City can have whatever they want, whenever they want, the comparison feels slightly less appropriate.  I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt, but if it carries on like this, they will be twinned with Gstaad.....

Wolves (2 Alpes), Blackburn (Avoriaz) and Bolton (Valmorel) were all relegated. I think each of these resorts still deserve their place, so they have been replaced with Southampton, West Ham and  Reading.


Kassam Stadium, Oxford.
Set to join the Premier League in 2015/16,
once all the necessary pieces are in place....





Man City = Tignes
Lots of investment; lifts now arguably superior to those of its neighbour across the mountain.  Clearly on the up.  Losing its character?

Man Utd = Val d’Isere
A classic resort; famous around the world, consistently performs at a high level.  Popular with rich people from The South.

Arsenal = Meribel
Strong Anglo-French links, not as good as thinks it is but is still very good indeed.  Will never go out of fashion.

Tottenham = Les Arcs
Has had its ups and downs over the years, but a steady transformation over last decade - with slow lifts/players now largely a thing of the past.  By no means perfect, but can mix with big league.

Newcastle = Val Thorens
Big stadium, with great atmosphere and famous nightlife.   Improving in recent years, and can give the others a run for their money 7 days out of 10.  When the sun shines it’s great, but on a cold day...

Chelsea = Courchevel
Money talks; the domain of well-heeled Russians.  Oddly characterless.  Less affluent folk are scattered in distant suburbs away from the centre.

Everton = La Plagne

Was one of the "Big Five" in the 1980s, but no longer.  Shrewd management has papered over the cracks (slow lifts, short runs).  Had a good season last year.

Liverpool = Chamonix.
Fancies itself as the home of mountaineering.  Which in a way it is.  Has a tradition, character, real sense of place that everyone respects - fans all want to visit at least once...

Fulham = Megeve
Location and proximity to nice restaurants is just as important as the skiing.

West Brom = La Clusaz

Quietly goes about its business with little attention from abroad.  Unlikely to rise any further.

Swansea = Isola 2000
Somewhat remote geographically from rest of the league.  Was briefly in the top flight during the 1980s.  Surprisingly good when you see it in action.

Norwich = Serre Chevalier

Bit of a yo-yo resort between Prem and Championship.  Another remote location.  But has strong support, good foundations and real character.  And the food...

Sunderland = Alpe d'Huez

Great stadium, all the way to 3,300m; a World Cup venue.  It’s south-facing, though and therefore can lose interest towards the end of the season.

Stoke City = Les Sybelles

Has no discernible centre; a modest kind of a place.  Has made its mark on the Premiership without anyone really noticing how far they've come.  Top lifts often shut due to wind.

Wigan Ath = Areches/Beaufort

Few people go there, but those who do enjoy the welcome (and the cheese pies).

Aston Villa = Flaine
Has lots of support; good all-rounder and the infrastructure to mix it with the big league.  Could pack more of a punch if they ever get their act together.

QPR = Les Gets

Not the biggest but there's money there.  Struggles to last a full season, but in 2011/12 stayed open (just about) well into the Spring.

Reading = Valmorel
Not a "natural" in terms of the Premiership, but steady investment in recent years and new Russian investments means they could well hold their own.

Southampton = Les 2 Alpes
The Beautiful South.  Lots going for it, but lacks strength in depth (narrow ski area).

West Ham Utd = Avoriaz

Both really should be in the Premiership given their location, fan base, history etc.  They both lack consistency, but let's see....

AND MORE IMPORTANTLY….

Oxford United = Chamrousse
On the Grenoble Road, big university town boasting great ski area.  Was briefly in the top flight; Jean-Claude Killy once skied there.  Has strong following from the locals - on one rainy day in 2010, their numbers reached 33,000....

Barnet = Ste Foy
Where the ski instructors (aka Arsenal and Spurs fans) go on their day off.  Only a few lifts but packs in lots of action.  Noteworthy gradients.  Local authority resisting its bid to expand.