Stage 17: Embrun to Chorges
The hardest triathlon in the world
Since 1984,Embrun has held the Embrunman, which will celebrate its 30th edition on August 15. In three decades, the event has earned its reputation as one of the most gruelling if not the most gruelling triathlons in the world since it lasts two hours more than most other Ironman races.With 3.8-kilometres of swimming and a nightly start in the waters of the Serre-Poncon lake, 186 km of cycling including the Izoard pass and a real marathon, Embruman is a real test of strength.Since its creation, it mostly crowned Frenchmen like five times winner Yves Cordier or Spaniards like titleholder Marcel Zamora, a three times winner. The race record is held since 2011 by France’s Herve Faure in 9 hours, 34 minutes and ten seconds. In the ladies event, Britain’s Bella Comerford left her mark with three victories.For the 30th edition between August 11 and 15, organisers added new events – a short distance event, a tri sprint, an aquathlon, a duathlon and a “run and bike” allowing every talent to take part in the celebrations.
EMBRUN AND CYCLING
A sporting city, Embrun overlooks the artificial lake of Serre-Poncon, one of the largest in Europe, around which gather the best triathlon specialists in the world every summer for the Embrunman. In 2008, after a start in Embrun, Carlos Sastre achieved a great double at l’Alpe d’Huez, winning the stage and seizing the yellow jersey. In that 2008 edition, the town had the privilege to host the starts of two stages. The first one, ending in Prato Nevoso, was won by Australian Simon Gerrans. In 1973, the riders had made their way towards Nice and Spain’s Vicente had won the first of his three stage wins, a year before finishing on the podium behind Eddy Merckx and Raymon Poulidor. Embrun is also the hometown of Eric Boyer, fifth in the 1988 Tour and the former manager of French Team Cofidis.
PLACES TO SEE
Notre Dame du Real cathedral
Built between 1170 and 1220, it is considered the most important religious monument in the French Alps. Its architecture is largely inspired from the Lombard tradition. The Porch of the Real, surrounded by two lions, housed for more than two centuries a fresco representing the Adoration of the Magi. Are especially noteworthy the 18th century altar in polychrome marble, the preaching chairs and the baroque altars. An organ offered by King Louis XI is being restored. The cathedral’s treasure, on display in the St Francis chapel, is an exceptional collection of sacred art from the 15th to the 19th century, revealing the past glory of the Embrun archbishops.Chapel of the Cordeliers conventHousing the tourism office, it dates from 1447 and keeps magnificent frescos from the 15th and 16th centuries rediscovered and restored in the 1970s.
Tour brune (Brown tower)
Tour Brune is an ancient keep of the archbishops of Embrun, and the only remnant of the Episcopal palace built in the 13th century near the cathedral. The square tower is a important fixture in the Embrun landscape and was the symbol of the archbishop’s power.
The devastating floods of the Durance, in 1843 and 1856, led to the idea of building a dam. Technical difficulties were many and it is only in 1948 that a Moscow-born engineer, Ivan Wilhem, presented a viable project. The works started in 1955 and villages were flooded in 1959 and 1961.Some 1,500 persons had to be displaced and the villages of Savines, Ubaye and Rousset disappeared underwater. Savines was rebuilt and the new Savines-le-lac was inaugurated in 1962.The Serre-Poncon lake is the second largest artificial lake in Europe.Nearby: Picomtal castle at Les Crots:The castle of Picomtal was built by the lords of Embrun, who reigned over the town with the archbishops. Expelled by the archbishop and the inhabitants in 1080, they built a keep in the 13th century now known as Boniface Tower. In the 14th century, a square castle with four towers was finally erected. In 1507, Martin de la Vilette, heir of the Embruns refurbished the castle completely by doubling its ground surface and replacing two towers. The interior decoration dates from before 1692, when it was burnt down by the Duke of Savoy. The castle changed hands many times afterwards and now houses a bedand breakfast.CHORGES TODAY
A yachting destination
At the foot of the mountains, Chorges is however a hotspot for yachting activities and water-sports in general. The town owns the two most beautiful spots on the lake, the bays of St Michel and Chenteloube. Both offer a wide variety of sporting activities: yachting, waterskiing, wake-board, jet-ski, pulled buoy, angling. All the pleasure of the sea in the mountains.The St Michel
bay is the most visited thanks to its tiny 12th century chapel, rebuilt in the 17th just above the lake surface. It was the only remnant of St Michel when the valley was flooded by the dam.The Chantelobe bay is an alpine fjord relished by yachting fans. Its wild and sheltered creeks are ideal for boating.
CHORGES AND CYCLING
Time-trials held around lakes often delivered extraordinary performances and it should again be the case in Chorges, by the Serre-Poncon lake. In 2009, around the lake of Annecy, Alberto Contador had outclassed the rest of the field. In 1993, the banks of the Lake of Madine had seen Miguel Indurain conquer the yellow jersey. Three years earlier, by the lake of Vassiviere, Greg LeMond had dethroned Claudio Chiappucci one day before the finish in Paris.The Serre-Poncon lake is familiar with cyclists as it is regularly the site of the Serre-Poncon Gran Fondo, organised by associations Team 05 and Velo Chorges Passion.
PLACES TO SEE
The village church was first built between 354 and 374 on the site of an old temple to Diane. The second church was dedicated to St Victor, martyr of Marseille in the 6th century and handed to the monks of the powerful St Victor abbey in 1020. The current church was built in the new village in the 12th century and went through hard times. Plundered by mercenaries in 1517, it was destroyed by Protestants led by Louis Ayme in 1569 and occupied by Protestant leader Lesdiguieres in 1585. It was also burnt down one century later by the troops of the Duke of Savoy. Its moment of glory came in 1790 when thedepartment of Hautes-Alpes was created inside its walls.Viaduct of Les Moulettes The 234-metres long viaduct and its 14 arches were supposed to be part of railway line between Chorges and Barcelonette, which was planned in the early 20th century but was never completed and was abandoned in 1936.