June 28, 2013 4 Comments
…et La Centieme: The 100th edition of Le Tour, the Tour de France, begins today, with the Grand Start in Corsica for the first time in the race’s history.
What a way to celebrate the centennial of the Tour!
Corsica, or La Corse, is a French island in the Mediterranean, and is comprised of two of that nation’s departments: Haute-Corse and Corse-du-Sud. It is the only region of France which has not previously hosted a stage of Le Tour.
The island has a long history, perhaps best told in one of the finer travel books I have ever read, The Granite Island, by Dorothy Carrington. The island has passed through many hands over its history: the Carthaginians, Romans, Genoans and others have all claimed the island for their own. The island even enjoyed an independent existence for some years: the Corsican Republic was formed in 1755 under the leadership of Pasquale Paoli. Corsica’s most famous son, Napoleon, was born there in 1769. And it was during the time of the “Napoleonic wars” that he set loose on Europe that the island became part of France. It has remained a part of that country ever since.
I have a special fondness for this land, known by the French as L’Île de Beauté: the Isle of Beauty. I have visited Corsica twice, and was smitten with the island from the first my eyes lay sight on the port of Calvi. (Some readers may recognize Calvi as the site of the 2011 IOC Advanced Team Physician course.)
Corsica is quite simply arresting: from its mountains and trails, to its beaches, to the very smell of the island (its vegetation, known as the ‘maquis’, has a distinctively lovely fragrance), it can put anyone under its spell.
That said, I suspect the cyclists in Le Tour this year may be smitten in a different way than I was on my visits. Like any beauty, Corsica has its caprices. The mountains I found lovely will almost certainly pose extraordinary challenges to the competitors.
The second stage of the Tour this year will traverse the mountains that form a spine through the center of the Island, heading from Bastia on the east coast, through the mountainous capital of Corte, and ending on the west coast in Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napoleon. The Tour’s website describes the ride as a rollercoaster; “Expect some real damage,” the site boasts menacingly! Let’s hope no one meets his ‘Waterloo’!