The 2012 Tour de France route is official.
Over the next nine months we will hear endless stories about the Tour de France route. Here are 5 "minor" facts that might get less press elsewhere. The goal is for you to learn something obscure but hopefully "slightly interesting" so you can impress your friends.
1. Col du Granier
Stage 12: Several years ago, Le Cycle magazine did an article on the 30 most beautiful climbs in France (Ventoux, Tourmalet, Galibier, etc). By far the lowest altitude-wise on the list was Col du Granier at 1134 metres.
Part of the Chartreuse Alps .... and above Saint-Pierre-de-Chartreuse - home of the Chartreuse monastic order - the Col is one of the most recognizable in France.
Below: the big massif at left is "Le Granier", the Col du Granier is through the "bite." If you are driving home from Val d'Isere, Courchevel, etc. .... this will be your view.
2. The Maquis de l'Ain
Stage 10 is through the French Jura mountains. It's in the department of l'Ain - just north/west of Geneva. The French number their departments in official documents, postal codes, license plates, etc.... and Ain is 01 as first alphabetically.
Being in a mountainous region, it was also home to one of the more active French resistance movements during WW2. The French resistance was called the "Maquis" - basically tall vegetation in the south of France - where resistant fighters could hide easily.
The final climb of stage 10 - Col de Richemond - has a monument at the summit commemorating 17 young men in the Maquis killed by the Nazis in 1944. These sorts of monuments are sadly littered through the Juras and Alps.
3. Barrières Canadiennes
Stage 10: I like cows, and I am Canadian. But until I arrived in France I had never heard the term barrière Canadienne.
Basically, it's a term for the metal rods in the road that stop cows passing through. On my favourite climb in the 2012 Tour - Col du Grand Colombier - there is not much up top except several barrières Canadiennes on each side.
4. Col de la Croix de Fer
Stage 11: Col de la Croix de Fer means "pass of the Iron Cross." It's one of the most beautiful climbs in the Alps - approachable from 3 directions.
Interesting if obvious fact: There is actually an iron cross above the summit (most tourists miss it):
5. Col de Peyresourde
Stage 16 & 17: As a rough generalization, there are two types of climbs in the Pyrénées: Climbs to newish ski stations (Hautacam, Plateau de Beille, Luz Ardiden, etc) and old historic routes like Aubisque .... and Col de Peyresourde.
Peyresourde will be crossed twice in the 2012 TdF.
Interesting fact: It is home to several old, beautiful churches famous for well preserved frescoes including the 12th century St. Aventin, 5 kms above Luchon. If watching the Tour, make sure to visit.