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Étape du Tour 2010: A Pilgrimage
The Way of St. James is an historical pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Northern Spain. It is said that the bones of St. James the apostle are buried here, carried by boat from Jerusalem. Pilgrims to this shrine take several routes through the Pyrenees, home to many ‘citadels’ of road racing. Whenever St. James’ Day falls on a Sunday (25th July) it is declared by the Cathedral to be a Jubilee year.
2010 marks 100 years of cyclists making the pilgrimage to the summit of the highest peak in the Pyrenees, the Col du Tourmalet. In 1910, with interest in the Tour de France yet to catch the imagination, Henri Desgrange and his assistant, Alphonse Steines, conspired to ignite the public’s appetite by sending riders to the loftiest and most challenging heights possible. Some historians suggest that the Way of St. James was established to bring people to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and that the Saint’s remains were never actually buried there.
On Sunday 18th July some 9000 riders will depart from Pau to travel 160km to the foot of one of the greatest shrines in road cycling and honour the fathers and pioneers of the Tour. At 2115m, the Col du Tourmalet is a legendary place steeped in Tour history, featured more than any other climb in the 96 editions of the Grand Tour. Following the same route that the pros will ride four days later, this mountain-top finish is a very challenging route, taking etapistes into the ‘Gateway of the Pyrenees’ and the group of mountains famously dubbed by Jean Robic as the Circle of Death. The Tourmalet is the holiest of these shrines that tower over the region, an unavoidable and omnipresent beast that deserves complete respect. By the time you reach the foot of the mountain, you will be drawing on all your faith to make the final part of your pilgrimage.