Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Village of Audressein, France

The picturesque village of Audressein lies on the route taken by the riders on the 17th day of the Tour de France 2010 from Pamiers to Bagnerese de Luchon. The village has two churches, the 13th century St. Martin's Church and the Notre-Dame de Tramesaygues church which is a World Heritage site.

Audressein has another claim to fame. It took part in the 19th century "War of the Maidens". From the middle ages the people of the region had enjoyed autonomy and depended on the forests for their sustenance and livelihood. But, in 1829 King Charles X introduced new forestry laws and a forestry administation which was very much resented by the local population. The peasants, disguised as women, and wearing long white shirts, head scarves, wigs and blackened faces, attacked the large land owners at night. Though they had few weapons, the "maidens" managed to instill fear amongst the landowners. The conflict was particularly intense from 1829 to 1832, and continued sporadically until 1872, but ultimately the peasants succeded in getting the forestry laws relaxed.

My sketch shows a view of the village of Audressein, and measures 12 cm x 9.5 cm (4.75" x 3.75").

Coming back to the cycling...this was Stage 15 of the 2010 Tour de France and proved to be quite dramatic. The route from Pamiers to Bagnerese de Luchon covered 187.5 km (117 miles) and had several climbs including a Category H climb followed by a steep and winding descent almost upto the finish.

Andy Schleck who had lead the Tour through many of the previous stages was leading while ascending the final climb of the day when his cycle had a mechanical problem. The chain slipped. Contador immediately overtook Schleck and pressed on all the way to the finish. Schleck tried very hard to claw his way back, but since he had been leading at that point, it also meant that he was alone and with none of his teamamates, or for that matter any other cyclist, to help him. Contador finished 39 seconds ahead of Schleck on this stage and this gave him the yellow jersey with a 8 second lead in the overall classification.

The manner in which Contador claimed the yellow jersey came in for a lot of criticism. I was watching the live telecast and was shocked to see Contador taking advantage of such a situation. The incident involving Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich in 2003 was still fresh in my memory. This was during an intense 6 year rivalry between the two. Once again it was during Stage 15 of that year's Tour that Armstrong was knocked to the ground during the final climb of the day because a spectator's bag strap got entangled in his cycle's handlebar. But, although Ullrich was desperate to beat Armstrong and win the Tour, he refused to take advantage of the situation. He waited until Armstrong recovered and caught up with him and then tried to beat him fair and square. But Armstrong won the stage and later the Tour by 61 seconds with Ullrich finishing second.

In 2010, Stage 15 was won by Thomas Voeckler, but more importantly Contador finally displaced Andy Schleck at the head of the overall classification (yellow jersey).

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