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Tour de France - Blazin' Saddles: Of Corse it can on Astini News

Fri, 25 Nov 10:03:00 2011

It's official: the Tour de France will celebrate its centenary with a visit to the only place in metropolitan France yet to get a tranche of Grande Boucle action.

Yes, the Grand Depart of the 2013 race will throw caution to the wind and take place at the Corsican port of Ajaccio as the peloton takes to the stunning Mediterranean island for the first time since its inception back in 1903.

Rumour has it that the two stages following the opening prologue in Napoleon's birthplace have got fellow pocket-rockets such as Samuel Dumoulin salivating in anticipation, putting the metaphorical Bona into Bonaparte.

Corsica, a tourist's dream but also the least economically developed region in France, has been groomed for this moment, what with ASO holding the Criterium International on the island for the past couple of years.

The argument against Corsica being used for the Tour in previous years centred on the island's lack of infrastructure and also the possible threat of terrorism from Corsican nationalist groups (blowing up a bike race is as good a way as getting your point over - just ask Philippe Gilbert).

But with the Vuelta now successfully back in the previously volatile Basque Region, and stage finishes being granted to towns (nay, places) deprived of anything remotely resembling a hotel, these arguments are pretty much old hat.

What's more, for years there was a Tour of Corsica, so it's hardly unknown territory. Both Stephen Roche and Bernard Hinault were Corsican winners in the 70s, while the inaugural victor of the race back in 1920 was actually called, believe it or not, Napoleon Paoli.

Alberto Contador 'winning' the Oviedo Criterium in Pinto is one thing, but a chap called Napoleon triumphing in Corsica's first ever major bike race is just taking the biscuit - unless, of course, rules stipulated it was a Napoleons-only event.

Either way, the win didn't bring much good luck to this Napoleon: during a narrow descent in the Tour later that same year, Paoli collided with a donkey and somehow ended up on the back of the petrified animal as it charged down the mountain for a kilometre before depositing its impromptu jockey on his backside.

Later in the stage, once our hero had, well, got off his ass and returned to the saddle, Napoleon was struck on the head by a rock - perhaps by someone still angered by the Corsican match-fixing? - and had to withdraw from the Tour.

(Slightly ribald history lesson over.)

With its stunning scenery and rugged terrain, Corsica will indeed be a welcome addition to the Tour, and using it as the curtain raiser to the 100th edition is certainly a stroke of genius from Prudhomme and his pals.

It's incredible that an island that until recently boasted two football sides in France's top division (Ajaccio and Bastia) could be overlooked by one of the world's biggest sporting events, an event so imbued in the geography and socio-political history of France.

Can you imagine a Giro d'Italia that had never set foot in Sicily or a Vuelta a Espana that had never flown around the Canary Islands (it did once, back in 1988, and is tipped to do so again in 2013)?

And don't you see where ASO are going with this one? Now they've ticked all the regions of metropolitan France off their list, they can concentrate on taking the globe's most prestigious bike race even further afield.

Why else do you think Team Europcar are holding their pre-season training camp in Guadeloupe, the cycling-mad island in the French Caribbean?

Europcar's exclusion from the WorldTour is just a big red herring. Far from being snubbed by the UCI, Jean-Rene Bernaudeau's men have instead been enlisted to investigate the possibility of hosting a Tour Grand Depart in 'la France d'outre-mer', or overseas France.

So far, this reconnaissance mission has not exactly gone according to plan: the team had a box of 30 jerseys and 40 pairs of shorts stolen from their bus while their riders were enjoying a spot of lunch on the beach the day they arrived.

But it's early days. The Giro's looking to start their race sometime soon in Washington DC, with the only ostensible link being the presence of a few downtown Italian-owned pizza parlours.

Meanwhile, the Tour can actually call on a tropical island where you can use euros to buy baguettes and bottles of Bordeaux.

It's Corsica in 2013 but just you wait, Guadeloupe will be in on the act by 2020. And Europcar will lead the revolution.

Anyway, back to Corsica. It got Saddles thinking: the last time the race started a long ferry ride from mainland France, spectators were given the infamous Willy Voet saga and the subsequent 1998 Tour du Dopage, which started with a couple of stages in Ireland.

Saddles imagines the port customs authorities at Marseille will have their sniffer dogs ready, presumably, if Yannick Noah has anything to do with it, hovering around the Spanish teams.

Noah, a dreadlocked French veteran tennis player-cum-musical performer with a penchant for the polemical, wrote in a newspaper column last week that there was something fishy about Spain's total dominance in world sport at the moment.

He suggested Spanish athletes were benefiting from the kind of 'magic potion' that made Asterix and Obelix so indomitable back in 52 BC.

It was funny that Noah should make his Asterix reference on the same day that Dave Zabriskie's singing from Garmin-Cervelo's pre-season meet-and-greet in Boulder should make Saddles conjure up images of Cacofinix, the tone-deaf warbling village bard.

And talking of everyone's favourite Gaulish double act, the best-selling title in the history of Goscinny and Uderzo's cartoon series is, incidentally, 'Asterix in Corsica'.

It tells the story of Asterix and Obelix returning a revolutionary leader back to his native Corsica from exile, with the Romans - led by a keen young soldier called Courtingdisastus - in pursuit, bent on recapturing their prisoner.

In the comic, the Corsicans are ridiculed for their renowned laziness and predilection for both siestas and vendettas, which hardly bodes well for the Tour's arrival.

Can you imagine the TV crew deciding to take an hour off every afternoon? It would be like watching the Vuelta.

Also, there's a scene in 'Asterix in Corsica' when the flammable fumes from a local pungent cheese catch fire and blow up a boat. Let's hope those nationalist movements don't get any ideas...

Blazin' Saddles / Eurosport

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