Storming of the Bastille redux

February 16 th 2023 - 12:00

Brushes with history are inevitable when meandering around the roads of France. Any ordinary traveller on the route of the 2023 Critérium du Dauphiné would take a break to visit the Château de Vizille, where the Estates General of Dauphiné met in the run-up to the French Revolution. Cycling enthusiasts, on the other hand, look at the map of France through yellow-tinted glasses. For example, when the race starts from the Puy-de-Dôme department, they will take a tender glance at the famous summit, which will be visible in clear weather, and where the Tour de France is scheduled to return after 39 years. 

The Dauphiné offers a snapshot of where the best climbers in the peloton stand with just a few weeks to go until the big event in July. The Alps often turn out to be the top riders' favourite hunting grounds, and they are set to reach new heights this year, with the highest finish line in the history of the race, on the Col de la Croix-de-Fer, a whopping 2,067 metres above sea level.

Another kiss with history comes the next day, when the peloton of the Dauphiné will return to Grenoble in a stage decided at the Bastille, a fortress overlooking the city. The final wall (1.8 km at an average gradient of 14.2%) will bring down the curtain on a climb-fest that harks back to one of the most remarkable episodes of Bernard Hinault's career. In 1977, the 22-year-old rider had already taken control of the race on the first ever stage finishing on the heights above the city. However, after leaving the competition in the dust on the ascent to the Col de Porte, the Breton misjudged a corner on the descent to Grenoble, tumbled into the forest and got up from the ground with his yellow jersey sullied by dirt and blood. Hinault, not yet known as the Badger, was down but not out, and he jumped back on his bicycle to storm the Bastille without losing an inch to Thévenet and Van Impe. The legend had begun.

Christian Prudhomme

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