The Tour de France 2012, the world’s premier cycling event kicked off last Saturday with the Prologue in Liège, Belgium and will conclude on July 22 with the traditional ride into Paris and laps up and down the Champs-Élysées. Over the next 22 days the race will take its course briefly along the Northwestern coast of France through Boulogne-sur-Mer, Abbeville and into Rouen then into the mountains of the Jura, Swiss Alps and the Pyrenees.
We will be Live Blogging Le Tour 2012 every morning at The Stars Hollow Gazette starting at 7:30 AM EDT. Come join us for a morning chat, cheer the riders and watch some of the most beautiful and historic countryside in Europe.
Tuesday’s rest day and Wednesday’s start are in the town of Mâcon a small city (commune) in central France, in the region of Bourgogne, and the capital of the Mâconnais district. Mâcon is home to over 35,000 residents, called Mâconnais.
The city lies on the western bank of the Saône river, between Bresse in the East and the Beaujolais hills in the South. Mâcon is the southernmost city in the region of Burgundy. It is located 65 kilometres north of Lyon and 400 kilometres from Paris. The Saône river runs through the town.
Mâcon was a major crossroads in Roman times, and grapes would have been brought by the Romans if they were not already cultivated by the Celts. Viticulture was further encouraged by local religious foundations; the province was dominated by the bishopric of Mâcon during the Dark Ages.
The region formed the border between the Kingdom of France and the Holy Roman Empire from 843-1600 and grew rich on customs duties in that time. A secular Count of Mâcon is not recorded until after 850; from 926 the countship became hereditary. The last Count of Mâcon and of Vienne died in 1224 and the lands passed to his daughter, Alix de Bourgogne (Alice of Burgundy); when her husband died in 1239, she sold the Mâconnais to Louis IX of France. The 1435 Treaty of Arras saw Charles VII of France cede it to Philip, Duke of Burgundy, but in 1477 it reverted to France, upon the death of duke Charles the Bold. Emperor Charles V definitively recognized the Mâconnais as French at the Treaty of Cambrai in 1529.
After the fall of the Bastille in 1789, the mountain peasants of Mâconnais revolted. Many were executed by the urban militias of Mâcon, Cluny and Tournus after much brigandage.
The area west and north of Mâcon produces well-known wines from the Chardonnay grape. The best known appellation of the Mâconnais is Pouilly-Fuissé. Almost all the wine made in the Mâconnais is white wine. Chardonnay is the main grape grown, in fact there is a village of that name in the far north of the region. Some plantations of Gamay and Pinot Noir is made into red and rosé Mâcon, making up no more than 30% of the total wine production. Gamay is grown in the Beaujolais cru of Moulin-à-Vent which extends into the Mâconnais, but has little in common with the wines north of the border.
After 194.5 km and a 17.4 km climb up the Col du Grand Colombier. the race ends in Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, a commune in the Ain department in eastern France, located at the confluence of the Valserine and the Rhone.
The New York Times featured an article on this small industrial town nestled in the Jura Mountains:
It was last August when Régis Petit, the mayor of this small industrial town nestled in the Jura Mountains, received an unexpected phone call from Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme. [..]
Petit, a lifelong resident who has been mayor since 2003, was shocked. More than 250 French towns had applied to host the Tour; neither Petit, nor anyone else in Bellegarde, had sent in an application. But he quickly regained his wits.
“We said yes right away,” Petit said. “You can’t refuse the Tour de France.”
On Wednesday, this town of 12,000 will see its population temporarily triple as the race arrives here for the first time in history. [..]
In the late 19th century, it was one of the first French towns to have public electricity, thanks to a hydro-electric dam built on the Rhône. The electrification of the town, combined with its central position on a rail line from Lyon to Geneva, which is about 40 kilometers to the east, created a factory boom. Until the 1970s, textile, paper and electrometallurgy factories dominated the Bellegarde economy. Since then, outsourcing has rendered industry here a shell of its former self. “The factory of the world is in China now,” said Petit. “It’s sad, but it’s like that.”
In the last decade, Petit and a group of town leaders have tried to wallpaper over the town’s industrial past with projects aimed at increasing a white-collar work force, including the new train station, an architecturally incongruous plastic dome that stands out amid Bellegarde’s terra cotta roofs and modern apartment buildings. The €12 million high-speed rail hub has put the Champs-Élysées within three hours. It is an endeavor that makes what that the town is spending to host the Tour look like pocket change.