Stage 15: Givors to Mont-Ventoux
Givors is known as “the land of strong men” and the reputation has been confirmed by history. While the motto’s origins are unclear, local historians recall the existence of a man called Jean-Marie Jou and noted in the early 19th century for his extraordinary strength. While he was not too good at Givors jousting for lack of balance, he could easily lift a 40 kilos bludgeon, which he used as a walking stick. Jou is also known to have caught in his arms a worker who had fallen from scaffoldings, saving the man’s life. Nearer to our time, the tradition was respected with Djamel Bouras, who became judo Olympic champion in 1996 in Atlanta. He was dubbed “five hearts” or “ten lungs” because of his power. As for the local rugby union club, it produced two solid French internationals in former prop Sylvain Marconnet and current French captain, lock Pascal Pape. Known for his fighting spirit and his love for rough play, “the President” is known as a leader of strong men.
Inc cycling and particularly on the Dauphine Libere, Givors has always favoured Norwegian riders. Thor Hushovd won a stage in town in 2005. In June 2012, a stage starting from Givors and heading for La Clayette had been won by another Norwegian, Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Cité des étoiles (City of stars), listed as a 20th century heritage site, belongs to a series of exceptional construction operations undertaken in France in the 1970s. The work of architect Jean Renaudie – a national architecture Grand Prix winner in 1979 – the project aimed at reproducing the complexity of ancient towns with their variety of functions and directions favouring relationships between its inhabitants. The complex is similar to another one built at a later date by the architect in St Martin d’Heres around the same principle. Because of its walls all forming 45 degrees angles, the housing estate became known as Cité des étoiles (City of stars). The estate includes 207 homes, all different from each other. Each apartment is sunny and equipped with terraces and gardens while collective equipment includes a library, a theatre, a nursery, a police station and shops.
The St Gerald castle or fortress was built in the 13th century for Lyon archbishop Renaud de Forez to protect a new toll for goods transported on the Rhone. The medieval town developed around the castle, which was destroyed during the Wars of religion in 1591 by the Protestant Duke of Lesdiguieres. Its ruins were discovered in 1974 during the demolition of the old Givors and the construction of Cité des Etoiles.
What was left from1591 was enough to figure out what the castle looked like. The main fortification protected the houses of farmers, fishermen and shopkeepers. Two other ramparts existed. Near the keep, a church stood next to a graveyard, which was still in use after the destruction of the castle.
The Canal of Givors, of which very little remains, was the first part of a great canal between the Rhone and the Loire which came close to being built until WWII. At first, engineer Francois Zacharie was only allowed to build it between Givors and Rive-de-Gier (15 km and 26 locks). The company running it only looked for rapid profit and failed to extend a canal enjoying an important traffic. In 1843, threatened by the railway lone, the company extended the waterway by five kilometres. But it was too late and the company went bankrupt while France bought the canal back. Its equipment was obsolete and the canal was abandoned in the early 20th century.
This old 19th century bourgeois house is a unique equipment valorising the river Rhone, its landscapes, trades and traditions.
In 1988 the Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux (Crazy about Ventoux) brotherhood was created in the aim of proving that any cyclist with normal practice could climb the Giant of Provence three times in one day by the three main roads to the top. A quarter of a century later, the Cinglés are nearly 1,000 and have made it up the top three times until the age of 80.
Up to 1988, thousands of cyclists had climbed the Ventoux by one of the three main roads (Bedoin, Malaucene and Salt) and all were proud to add this ascent, seen as the hardest in Europe, to their personal record. In 26 kilometres, the vertical drop is 1,600 metres. The challenge launched in 1988 was to climb the Ventoux three times by the three main roads on the same day. The rider succeeding was immediately made a member of the brotherhood. Since 1998, an option allows the most dedicated Cinglés to become Galley Slaves should they complete a fourth ascent by the forest road starting in Bedoin. The brotherhood founder Christian Pic was the first cyclist to complete both courses.
In 2007 a new course dubbed Bicinglette allows the bravest to double the Cinglé course and to ride up the Ventoux six times in the same day.
Every year, cyclists, starting with Bradley Wiggins who made him his idol, have a thought for Tom Simpson, who died on the slopes of the Ventoux 46 years ago. Appearing on the Tour course in 1951, the Giant of Provence was first the finish of a stage in 1958 for a time trial that helped Charly Gaul largely build his final Tour victory. The first bunch stage to finish at the top was won by Raymond Poulidor in 1965 but it was not enough for the Frenchman to oust Felice Gimondi from the overall lead. The last visit to the Ventoux in 2009 was also marked by an exceptional crowd lining the roads of a stage won by Juan Manuel Garate. In the meantime, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Thevenet or Jean-Francois Bernard, in a fantastic time trial in 1987, had beaten the myth, like two exceptional climbers, Marco Pantani and Richard Virenque.