We’re Not in Kansas Any More

The Critérium du Dauphiné goes to Salins today, a small spa town that’s seen better days. It’s a long way from the race’s traditional home of the Dauphiné, an old kingdom in the Alps. Seeing the race ranging so far has made a few people wonder about this race’s identity as one day it’s showcasing the volcanoes of the Auvergne, then it’s visiting a spa town in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region. Is it really a Critérium du Dauphiné?

The race gets its name from Le Dauphiné libéré, a local newspaper formed in the post-war years whose title evokes both the post-war liberation and its area. The Dauphiné was a historic kingdom or principality in the Alps which, to simplify, maps onto the Isère department today – Wikipedia explains more – but was bigger and the main city in this area is Grenoble, where the newspaper was, and is still based. One of the founders of the paper was Georges Cazeneuve and like many others he decided a bike race would make a great promotional tool and he was right, the paper and race both helped each other and Le Dauphiné libéré saw off competition from two other nascent newsletters to become the regional newspaper. Cazeneuve’s nephew Thierry would take over the race for many years.

Today the title of Critérium du Dauphiné seems anachronistic as most of the race takes place outside the old region. Plus within this region the Dauphiné label evokes history, it’s one of those old kingdoms and principalities whose name has all but vanished. There’s the newspaper and a few old street names, plus it’s also used for some local branding, for example one of the local crops is walnuts and they can be branded Noix du Dauphiné.

In 2010 Tour de France organisers ASO took over the race from the newspaper and renamed it the Critérium du Dauphiné. Chopping the libéré name from the table made sense as the newspaper has nothing to do with the race. Preserving the Critérium du Dauphiné name provided continuity and an obvious identity, the strong association with June, the Alps and the Tour de France. But the race doesn’t spend much time in the Dauphiné. To exaggerate, imagine an eight stage Tour of Luxembourg that has seven days of racing in Germany and France before a final day in Luxembourg, that sort of thing. Or a Tour de Langkawi that rides around Malaysia with only a day on the island of Langkawi.

Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Tour?
As part of French territorial reforms in 2016 the Rhône-Alpes region merged with the Auvergne region to form a mega region, the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. Whereas the Dauphiné race would mainly stick to the Alpes part of this a decade ago, now it’s this wider region that hosts, as in sponsors, the race and so what better way to stitch the region together than to have a bike race. This explains why the race is spending as much time in the Auvergne this week as the Alps as politicians behind the large region want the event they’re hosting to reach all corners. So the more obvious name for the race these days could be the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Tour although it’s less evocative. Today’s visit to Salins today goes beyond the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes as Salins is in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, a different region.

Finally visiting the Jura might be far from the Dauphiné but it’s not new. In 1970 the Critérium du Dauphiné merged with another race, the Circuit des Six Provinces whose name hopefully doesn’t need translation. The Six Provinces had itself merged with the Tour du Sud-Est which as the name suggests, toured South-East France, although more east than south. The Six Provinces was run by a rival newspaper Le Progrès and went to some of the places on today’s stage as the map from the 1948 edition above illustrates. So in a small way it’s in the Dauphiné’s heritage to visit this part of France as well.

We’re not in Kansas any more. The race is still branded with Dauphiné but now travels well beyond this historic area and the race’s own roots. It’s really a Tour of the vast Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France, and today the race even goes beyond that too. This area is so big that it can feel like the race has become rootless, an peripatetic event but it is underpinned by a regional government, this isn’t like the Critérium International having to shop around for host regions. As labels go Critérium du Dauphiné is still evocative but how long until a politician asks for the race to be called the Critérium du Dauphiné-Région Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes… and everyone still calls it Le Dauphiné anyway.

Having a bigger range means more roads to chose from but there’s something to be said when a race has a local identity. A 100% Dauphiné route could still offer plenty of terrain and within a big area by itself. Imagine an square with the city of Lyon at it’s top left corner, trace a line down the Rhone valley south to Orange and then everything to the east is where an authentic Dauphiné could take place. It won’t happen, any more than a Tour de France sans ski station summit finishes or a Giro d’Italia that spends more time in the Apennines than the Alps. But the people of Salins must be wondering what the Dauphiné has to do with their town.

25 thoughts on “We’re Not in Kansas Any More”

  1. Dauphiné has nothing to do with a mouthwatering potato dish and everything to do with a dolphin whether cooked or alive. In fact, Dauphin / Dolphin was the title which the Ancien Régime used for the crown prince, equivalent to Prince of Wales in Great Britain if you like, and his Wales would be located in the Western part of the Alps in what has been called Le Dauphiné for ages.

    • Hence the expression “ad usum Delphini”.
      Is finally the Dauphiné a TDF ad usum Delphini? Or is it the other way around? Or are they both now sort of “ad usum Delphini cycling”?

    • I seem to remember my French tutor telling me that the Dauphine was so called because it was originally a semi independent principality .When the last of the Seigneurs was without issue, he left his fief to the French Crown, on the condition that it should be called by the title of the Crown Prince.
      I suppose I could look this up, but it’s a nice day and I have 24 Foxgloves to plant out.

  2. Interesting stuff, thanks for posting it. Reminds me of back-in-the-day working for the bike tour guy at TdF. We had a client who would go on and on about “The Daphne” (DAF-NEE) to the point it became a joke. I still laugh about it around this time each year. Then there was the Renault car imported into the USA that everyone called the DOH-FEEN…so there ya go 🙂
    No matter where the thing goes at least ASO spends some of their profits keeping races like these alive instead of sharing those “vast” profits with the “franchised” teams as the Velon people keep dreaming about.

  3. I always assumed the name Dauphiné was in reference to its position prior to the Tour, and length and importance. A race to crown the heir apparent in relation to crowning the winner of the Tour the king of cycling.

    Thanks for the history lesson!

  4. Salins is indeed – like many French towns – a little sad and with a steadily shrinking population. The extant but closed salt mines can be visited wth a guide and are interesting.

    On yesterday’s stage at least one rider spent most time with his head tucked between his hands and looking down with just a quick glance forward from time to time. Vision and stability sacrificed in seeking aero-optimisation.

    • For an architect and art historian – which I happen to be – Salins is the undisputed template for a typical town of the French revolution days. It’s the only complete urban design by Claude Nicolas Ledoux, the leader of the so-called “utopianist” gang who wanted to create the foundations for a new, revolutionary city in which all were frères, libres and egaux. Salins is globally considered a master piece of urban architecture not unlike Palmanova in Friuli which the Giro passed by in 2022. Both are perfect, geometric and utterly boring for normal people, yet on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

      • Ledoux’s main work is at the nearby Arc-et-Senans and the saltworks there… like Salins it has a saltwater spring but the buildings where the water was boiled away were much less elegant.

    • It’s worth a visit all the same, memories of some good roads with very little traffic. Just visit once summer is underway as it can stay cold for some time because of the altitude but it’s probably good until the end of October.

  5. My conspiracy theory is that this is all slowly leading up to ASO’s masterplan….a one week stage race on la planche de belle filles

    • LOL. I think even Christian Prudhomme, who has holidayed there before taking over the race, and then introduced it to the race has said it’s probably better to let La Planche rest for a bit.

  6. Let’s hope they don’t rename it like le Circuit de la Sarthe which became le “Pays de la Loire Tour”, in a pathetic marketing try to sound half-english to make young and dynamic (like le “Alpes Isère Tour”). Circuit des Pays de la Loire or Tour de l’Isère et des Alpes would be much more elegant in French..

      • The word order – adjective then noun – whereas French is the other way round.

        (usually, there are obviously exceptions in both languages)

        • Thanks, or I guess I should write MERCI?
          English or French, still no excuse for Tour de Trump though. Now that’s he’s been indicted (again) I keep thinking back to those movies where they go back-in-time and kill Hitler. I was physically close enough to Don-the-Con back then…if only I’d known the future!!!

  7. I had to look at the map to see how far north this town is.

    Calling this Dauphine is like the Chinese laying claim to the whole South Pacific Ocean.

    Who paid the fees for this tiny town to be on the route?

    Now that ASO uses the Dayohine to test for future tour routing I surmise this shows up in 2-3 years?

  8. What is the source of the third image, the map/route of the region? It indicates a rest day in Chalon, is this a route intended to be covered over several stages?

    • It’s an old edition of Le Progrès newspaper showing the 1948 Circuit des Six Provinces, I’ll amend the text above to make it clearer.

      The Montceau > Chalon stage with the markings is a TT stage.

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