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Georges Rajon, an old hotelier, is the man credited with bringing the Tour to L’Alpe d’Huez in 1952
By JOSÉ BARROSO
Although he’s virtually unknown to the public, hotelier Georges Rajon wasinstrumental in the Tour de France’s longstanding relationship with L’Alped’Huez. He is the man credited with bringing the Tour to the famous climb,and he has made significant contributions to the development of this alpineresort, where he still loves to spend his time. But Rajon will tell youit wasn’t his idea to bring the Tour up to L’Alpe d’Huez.
“It was an artisan painter from Bourg d’Oisans, Jean Barbaglia, whocame to see André Quintin [another hotelier at L’Alpe d’Huez] andme one day in 1951 and asked, ‘Why don’t they bring the Tour to the Alpe,’”Rajon remembers. “That’s how it all began.”
At the time, L’Alpe d’Huez was a relatively new winter sports destinationwith expansion in full swing. The town’s abundant accommodations convincedthe Tour organizers to give their approval. Rajon, Barbaglia and Quintinthen went to see the mayor of the Alpe region at the time, Auguste Chalvin,in order to obtain the two million French francs ($3500 today) requiredby Tour organizers for designation as host town of a 1952 Tour stage.
“We can’t pay that!” responded the mayor. “But if you want to bringthe Tour here, go ahead, make it happen.”
Rajon negotiated a prolonged stopover at L’Alpe d’Huez in the form ofa rest day, then went around to all of the hoteliers on the Alpe to explainhow they would benefit from the project. “Everyone was on board, withoutexception,” recalls Rajon, who was finally able to bring a stage finishto the town.
A noble effort resulted in a masterful achievement: Fausto Coppi’s 1952victory at L’Alpe d’Huez would produce enduring memories. But the climbitself had yet to become legendary.
1976: THE ALPE RETURNS
It would be more than 20 years before the Tour returned to the Alpe.And Rajon, who in 1964 took the initiative to number — in reverse order— the climb’s turns, from No. 21 at the bottom to No. 1 at the top, wasstill in the thick of things. He’s the one the Société duTour called in the fall of 1975, looking for a replacement for Grenoble,which had declined to host a stage of the 1976 race.
“Félix Lévitan [the co-race director] asked me if it wouldbe possible to return to the Alpe,” Rajon said. “I paused for about 15seconds before telling him: ‘Let’s do it.’”
This time, Rajon got the town to finance the project. The 1976 Tourmarked the start of a loyal, regular migration to the Alpe. Since then,over the course of 28 editions, the Tour has covered those infamous
switchbacks 22 times. Rajon has closely followed each of those climbs.And he has welcomed into his hotel, named after his daughter Christina,the biggest names of the post-war era: Coppi, Bartali, Robic,
Thévenet, LeMond and others.
His fondest memory? “The year Thévenet took the yellow jerseyon the Alpe. It was 1977 and he was staying with me. He put the jerseyout on the balcony in front of an enormous crowd that was yelling and cheeringfor him. An unforgettable sight.”
[Translated from French by Mark Deterline.]