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Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Saint-Lô to Cherbourg

Cherbourg ferry terminal

Cherbourg Ferry Terminal, by Alexandre Chassignon, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

A guide to Stage 2 of the Tour de France 2016 from Saint-Lô to Cherbourg, via Tessy-sur-Vire, Hambye, Montpinchon, Coutances, Lessay (for the second day running), St-Germain-sur-Ay, Portbail, Barneville-Carteret, Les Pieux, Helleville, and Vasteville. The distance covered is 182km. The race makes its way through the Normandy countryside of pasture and thick hedges, known as the bocage Normand, then heads up the Channel coast alongside extensive dunes - so like stage 1, the riders could be affected by crosswinds. The stage is classified as flat, although there are four small categorised climbs. The intermediate sprint is at Port-Bail. The peloton is expected to arrive together at the foot of La Glacerie, the 3km climb to the finish, which has a section with a 14% gradient. A puncheur could take the victory, and the King of the Mountains points for the final climb. Read about Stage 2 of the Tour de France 2016 here.

Read the Stage 2 race report.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: facts, figures, and map

Stage 2 of the Tour de France 2016 is 182km from Saint-Lô to Cherbourg.

Stage classification Flat
Distance 183km
Intermediate sprints Port-Bail (after 107.5km)
Climbs Côte de Torigny-les-Villes (Category 4)
Côte de Montabot (Category 4)
Côte de Montpinchon (Category 4)
Côte de la Glacerie (Category 3)

Here's a PDF map of Stage 2 of the Tour de France 2016. There's also a more recent official Tour de France map of Stage 2.

This is the official Tour de France stage profile for Stage 2:

Stage 2 Tour de France 2016 stage profile

Stage 2 profile, © A.S.O. Tour de France organisers

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: timings

These are some of the Stage 2 timings (based on the medium estimated speed of 42kmh):

Km Place Time
Départ fictif in Saint-Lô 1240
0 Départ réel  beyond Baudre, on the D86 outside Saint-Lô 1300
0.5 Sainte-Suzanne-sur-Vire 1300
10 Côte de Torigny-les-Villes (Category 4) 1314
23 Côte de Montabot (Category 4) 1333
40 Hambye 1357
52 Côte de Montpinchon (Category 4) 1414
85.5 Lessay 1502
107.5 Port-Bail (sprint) 1533
117 Barneville-Carteret 1546
153.5 Vasteville 1639
160.5 Sainte-Croix-Hague 1649
181.5 Côte de la Glacerie (Category 3) 1719
183 Finish on the edge of Cherbourg 1721

See the full timings on the Stage 2 Tour de France 2016 itinerary, based on average speeds of 44, 42, and 40kmh.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: the start at Saint-Lô

Saint-Lô and the river Vire from the ramparts 

Vue sur Saint-Lô et la Vire depuis les fortifications, Michel Petit, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour de France starts in Saint-Lô, a town which was badly damaged during the Battle for Normandy in 1944, and became known as 'the city of ruins' before being rebuilt in the years following World War II. Of the old town, some impressive ramparts, with a couple of fortified towers, still survive, as does part of the Eglise Notre-Dame.

The town of Saint-Lô has details of its Tour de France arrangements. The Village du Tour will be set up at place Général de Gaulle, in the centre of Saint-Lô near the Hôtel de Ville and the Eglise Notre-Dame. The publicity caravan leaves place de Gaulle at 10.30, and crosses the start line on rue Torteron (départ fictif) at 10.40. The riders cross the start line on rue Torteron at 12.40.

The processional part of Stage 2 in Saint-Lô goes on rue Torteron, rue Havin, rue du Maréchal Leclerc, rue du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, boulevard du Midi, rue de Grimouville, rue Bellevue, route de Tessy/D28, D88, then joins the D86 just beyond Baudre. This map shows the route in Saint-Lô:

Map of the route of Stage 2, Tour de France 2016, in Saint-Lô

The départ réel, where the racing starts, is on the D86 0.5km before Sainte-Suzanne-sur-Vire.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Saint-Lô to Percy

Ramparts of Saint-Lô

Ramparts de Saint-Lô, Bruno Jargot, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Heading south then south east on the D86, the race route passes through Sainte-Suzanne-sur-Vire, where traditional boats called gabares used to unload their cargo, and Condé-sur-Vire. (Condé comes from a Celtic word and signifies a confluence of rivers. Condé-sur-Vire has a church dedicated to St Martin, the oldest part of which dates from 1131. The company Elle & Vire, which makes dairy products, has its factory here). 

The next town is Torigni-sur-Vire, which is dominated by the Chateau des Matignon (dating from the C16th & C17th, and ancestral home of the Matignon family). Torigni also has a (lime) tree-lined promenade, leading to ornamental lakes.

The riders leave Torigni on the D13.

Côte de Torigny-les-Villes (Category 4)

The first of the day's climbs comes 2.5km after Torigni (or Torigny). It's nothing much, 1.4km at an average gradient of 5.7%, but it could be important for a rider looking to wear the King of the Mountains jersey - someone like Daniel Teklehaimanot.

The riders continue on the D13 towards Domjean (a name which indicates that John the Baptist is the person to whom the village church is dedicated). 

La Poste, Tessy-sur-Vire

The Post Office/La Poste at Tessy-sur-Vire, Steve Parker, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

A few kilometres later, they reach Tessy-sur-Vire. Tessy-sur-Vire's strap line is 'au coeur du Bocage Normand'. It has 1,433 inhabitants. Notable sights include the Eglise Saint-Pierre, and a mur à abeilles - a wall with niches for bee hives. French pop star Michel Polnareff spent three summers in Tessy-sur-Vire during the 1960s, before he was famous.

Michel Polnareff

Every song had its light effects, Michel Polnareff, B Carlson, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Leaving Tessy-sur-Vire, the race route forks off onto the D28/D98. The next climb, the Côte de Montabot comes 2km before the village of that name.

Côte de Montabot (Category 4)

The climb of the Côte de Montabot is 1.9km at an average gradient of 5%.

After the climb, the riders reach Montabot, a village of 281 people, the name of which may come from Mount Thabor, a biblical site in Israel. The riders pass Mont Robin (276m), then arrive in Percy (home to 2,298 people, and with a church dedicated to St John the Baptist).

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Percy to Coutances

L'Abbaye d'Hambye

2007-07-28 08-04 Paris, Normandie 0770 Abbaye de Hambye, by Allie Caulfield, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

From Percy, the race takes the D58 for a short distance, then forks left on the D258 to l'Abbaye d'Hambye (a Benedictine Abbey founded by Guillaume Paynel in 1147; the abbey became national property in 1790, after the Revolution, the contents were sold at auction, and some of the stone was taken for other buildings; the abbey was classed as a historic monument in 1900, and it was later restored). Stage 2 then goes north on the D51 to Hambye.

Road through bocage Normand

Chemin du Bocage, by Bocage Normand Tourisme, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

The riders take the D58 from Hambye to Roncey. (The name Roncey could mean 'habitation near water', or it could stem from the French word for brambles. Roncey was liberated on 22nd July 1944). 

They then ride the D102 to l'Auriole, cross a little river called La Soulles. This is where the next climb starts.

Côte de Montpinchon (Category 4)

The Côte de Montpinchon is from La Soulles, and leads up to Montpinchon. The climb is 1.2km at an average gradient of 5.2%.

Montpinchon is a village in the bocage Normand. (Montpichon means 'finches' hill', and the community has 561 inhabitants. There are bike races in Montpinchon over 4 days, every August. The races, called the Grand Prix de la Saint Laurent, take place on a circuit which includes 'le mur de Montpinchon', a climb of 1.5km, with a gradient of 9%. The mur de Montpinchon is on the approach to the village from the west, whereas the Tour de France arrives from the south; however, the riders will go down the mur when leaving Montpinchon).

From Montpinchon, the race goes west on the D73 to a hamlet called La Forgé Bisson, where it forks right on the D27 to Ouville. (Ouville's name probably means 'farm belonging to Ulfr', Ulfr being an Old Norse name). It follows the D27 to Nicorps. (Nicorps comes from the Latin nidus, meaning nest, and corvus, crow, so the name means crow's nest). The riders then go through Coutances.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Coutances to Barneville-Carteret

Coutances Cathedral

Cathédrale de Coutances, Geert Orye, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

From Coutances, the riders head north on the D2. They go through Montsurvent, a village of 357 people. (There was a Gallo-Roman settlement at Montsurvent, known as Monte Supra Ventum, and pottery from this period has been found. A goose fair at Montsurvent took place each year from 1100 until 1963. Montsurvent has a C14th church, and a windmill 5km W of the village centre, on the D139). The riders continue through le Haut de Bingard, past the Aérodrome Charles Lindbergh, to Lessay.

Lessay Abbey

Lessay, F-50 Abbaye Sainte Trinité, isamiga76, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

(Lessay is a town that originally grew up around the C10th monastery. Lessay Abbey is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. The town and the Abbey were damaged by Allied bombardments in advance of D-Day, and on 11th July 1944, the Abbey was blown up by the retreating Germans, having to be rebuilt from 1945. There's a 3-day fair in Lessay in September, the Sainte-Croix fair, which attracts 400,000 people, and which has been going since the C11th.)

The race leaves Lessay on the D900, heading north, then after a short distance, takes the D72 west towards the Channel coast. At the junction with the D650, it turns north along the coast. The first village along the way is St-Germain-sur-Ay. 

Beach at St-Germain-sur-Ay

Plage St Germain sur Ay, by Damien Piquet, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

(St-Germain-sur-Ay is at the mouth of the river Ay, where there are salt meadows in le havre de St-Germain-sur-Ay - fields which are covered by the sea at high tide, an ecosystem similar to the Bay at Mont Saint Michel. Salt was produced in le havre. Jersey is visible from the coast here. The village is named after St Germain the Scot, also known as St Germain of the Sea, a preacher who was born in Cornwall, and who converted many people in the Cotentin to Christianity. St Germain was killed and decapitated by the Saxons. The C12th church of St-Germain-sur-Ay was given a fortified tower at the time of the One Hundred Years War.)

Church of Saint-Germain-sur-Ay

Church of Saint-Germain-sur-Ay

The D650 takes the riders past Bretteville-sur-Ay. (Bretteville's name means 'farm belonging to a Briton'. Oysters are farmed here). They ride between the village of Surville and the beach and dunes at la Poudrière, then pass close to the Chateau d'Omonville, which has typically French conical towers; the oldest part of the chateau dates from the C16th.

Eglise Notre Dame and bridge over harbour, Portbail

Portbail church (Eglise Notre Dame) and bridge over le havre, by Philippe Alès, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

The race route now leaves the D650, going left on the D15 to Portbail, the location of the day's intermediate sprint. 

Profile of sprint on Stage 2, Tour de France 2016, at Portbail

Profile of intermediate sprint at Portbail, © A.S.O Tour de France organisers

(The name Portbail probably means 'the port of [a person of Germanic origin called] Ballo'. Portbail's Eglise Notre-Dame is a church with a fortified tower, the tower dating from the One Hundred Years War. TV presenter Flavie Flament is from Portbail. 

Flavie Flament

Flavie Flament, by bobostudio, Licence CC BY 2.0

There's a cycle race in Portbail in April each year, called La Gainsbarre because of a generous donation by Serge Gainsbourg to the local cycle club).

After the sprint in Portbail, Stage 2 crosses the haven (havre) on Portbail's 13-arch bridge, and takes avenue Pasteur by the beach, then comes back inland to pick up the D124, which runs alongside the tourist train (chemin de fer touristique du Cotentin). This map shows the route in and after Portbail:

Map of route of Stage 2, Tour de France 2016 in Portbail

The D124 takes the riders via St-Georges-de-la-Rivière (which has a fortified church; sand was taken from St-Georges by the Germans to be used in the construction of the Atlantic Wall), and St-Jean-de-la-Rivière (which has a church dedicated to St John the Baptist), to Barneville Carteret.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Barneville-Carteret to Cherbourg

Barneville Carteret

Barneville-Carteret, France, by GeorgeDement, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The riders reach Barneville first, then head towards the sea to Carteret. From Carteret, they take the D201 to Hatainville, known for its dunes. There's a walking path (GR223) through the dunes, and they extend from the Cap de Carteret to Baubigny. 

Hatainville dunes

Hatainville dunes, by Jean-Daniel Pauget, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

The D242 takes the riders back to the D650. They pass close to Sénoville and Pierreville. Victor Hugo travelled from Carteret to Pieux via Pierreville in 1842, and mentioned the terrible state of the road in his diary; we must hope that it has been resurfaced since then. After crossing a stream called le But, the riders leave the D650 to go into Les Pieux. 

Protest against Flamanville

Tourniquets (Greenpeace protest against the EPR at Flamanville), by Frédéric Bisson, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

(Les Pieux has a town (le bourg) and a 5km sandy beach (l'Anse de Sciotot). The name Pieux comes from the Latin podium, and signifies height. The population of Les Pieux has grown significantly in recent years, because of its proximity to the nuclear power station at Flamanville. A European Pressurised Reactor is being built there, but there are problems in building this new design, and it won't be finished until 2018 at the earliest; it has cost €10.5 billion).


Diélette, F50, by Isamiga 76, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

From Les Pieux, the race takes the D23 to the port of Diélette. (Diélette has an old fishing port, and a new port opened in 1997, with a ferry service to St Peter Port, Guernsey.)

Stage 2 then leaves the coast on the D4, passing close to Siouville-Hague. (A sea current called the Alderney race, or le raz Blanchard in French, could produce renewable energy, and there are plans to take advantage of it with a high voltage cable connecting France and England, which would go through Siouville). At Helleville, the race turns left on the D37. (A Roman road to Portbail passed through Helleville, and Roman coins and medals from the time of Constantine the Great onwards were found near Helleville - at Etoupeville - in 1780).

The D37 leads to Vasteville. (Vasteville - pronounced vatt-vill - is separated from the sea by the dunes of Biville. It is known for sheep farming, and it is within the area of the Appellation d'Origine Controlée for Prés-Salés du Mont St Michel (lamb from salt meadows) and Camembert de Normandie).

Continuing on the D37, the race crosses the Ruisseau de Clairefontaine, then turns right on the D118 to Sainte-Croix-Hague. (Hague is the name of the north west part of the Cotentin. Artefacts from Gallic civilisation have been found at Sainte-Croix). The route then goes left on the D22, and right on the D901 route de Beaumont. It passes close to Tonneville, which is haunted by the Maid of Tonneville, who leads travellers astray, and drowns them in the Etang de Percy.

Cherbourg ferry terminal

Cherbourg Ferry Terminal, by Alexandre Chassignon, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Assuming they haven't been drowned in a pond, the riders will reach the outskirts of Querqueville. (The name Querqueville comes from Old Norse, and means church at the farm). To the riders' left is the Baie de Sainte Anne, as they follow the D901 along the coast. They'll reach the port of Cherbourg, taking the Quai Alexandre III (against the usual one-way system, around part of the port called le Bassin du Commerce). They then turn south on the D900/N2013, and start the final climb of the stage.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: the finish at Cherbourg Côte de la Glacerie

Côte de la Glacerie (Category 3)

Profile of the Côte de la Glacerie climb

Profile of the climb of the Côte de la Glacerie, © A.S.O., Tour de France organisers

The Côte de la Glacerie isn't long, but it's steep, with a gradient of 14% on one section, and an average gradient of 6.5% over a distance of 1.9km. It starts at La Glacerie (which got its name from a glass factory, producing windows and mirrors), and finishes 1.5km before the finish line of the stage - although, as can be seen from the official Tour de France profile of the last 10 kilometres, the road continues to climb to the finish:

Profile of the last kilometres of Stage 2, Tour de France 2016

Profile of the last 10km of Stage 2, Tour de France 2016, © A.S.O. Tour de France organisers

The video below shows the finish at la Glacerie, which has been marked with a yellow line, so everyone knows where it is in advance of Stage 2 of the Tour de France in July 2016.

Stage 2 isn't for the pure sprinters, although it could be made for a sprinter-allrounder like Peter Sagan. Alternatively Dan Martin might fancy his chances here, or the stage could be won by an overall contender like Nibali or Froome. Do they make crystal balls at la Glacerie?

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: analysis of the stage by the race organisers

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan, by Chris Doelle, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

The Tour de France organisers have analysed six key stages of the 2016 race - stages which could be important in the development of the race, or in deciding the general classification, and which have the potential for an exceptional sporting show. Saint-Lô to Cherbourg is one of these key stages.

The sprinter wearing the yellow jersey after Stage 1 will have a difficult job keeping it at the end of Stage 2, according to the analysis. This is because Stage 2 is quite tough, with the possibility of cross-winds splitting the field in the last 100km, and a short, steep climb of la Glacerie at the end.

Peter Sagan is regarded as the favourite for a first win in the Tour de France since Albi in 2013.

However, other candidates are Michael Matthews (Orica Greenedge), John Degenkolb (Giant Alpecin), Joaquim Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde, Julian Alaphilippe, and Simon Gerrans.

Julian Alaphilippe

Julian Alaphilippe, by Benoît Prieur (Agamitsudo), Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Christian Prudhomme has expressed the desire to see the favourites clashing from the start of the Tour, and that could happen here. Contador, Fabio Aru, and Nairo Quintana are all capable of producing fireworks.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Michael Matthews is targeting the stage

Michael Matthews

Michael Matthews, Orica-BikeExchange, in the 2014 Giro d'Italia, by PaoNu, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Michael Matthews of Orica-BikeExchange is targeting Stage 2 of the 2016 Tour. He told CyclingNews, 'We did the recon three days ago with half the team in the morning, and the other half did it in the afternoon, so we know the run-in. We know that the last 100km is really quite technical, on small roads, and I think the crosswinds are going to make a big difference on the race. It's meant to be 20-30kmh on the day, and a bit of rain, so it'll be a sketchy race.'

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Geraint Thomas's assessment

Geraint Thomas

Geraint Thomas gave his assessment of each stage to the BBC. This is what he thinks about Stage 2:

'It's going to be a similar day to the first and just as stressful at the end, particularly with that uphill kick to the finish, which means a pure sprinter won't win. The general classification guys will definitely want to be up near the front because they won't want to lose any seconds on their rivals this early in the race.'

Who does he think will win?

'Peter Sagan. The Slovakian has won the green points jersey in each of the last four editions of the Tour and I'm sure he will be looking to lay down an early marker.'

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: comments

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Stage 3, Tour de France 2016

Angers, river & chateau

Stage 3 of the 2016 Tour de France begins at Granville, and finishes at Angers, in the Loire Valley. It will go through mainly flat countryside, and a number of small towns and villages. It should be a relatively easy day for the GC contenders, and finish in a sprint in front of Angers Town Hall. Read about Stage 3, Tour de France 2016

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: sights and attractions on the route

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Saint-Lô

Ramparts of Saint-Lô

Ramparts de Saint-Lô, Bruno Jargot, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Saint-Lô is a town of 19,000 people in the Manche département. It suffered badly during World War II, and was known as 'the capital of ruins.' It was awarded the Légion d'honneur in 1948.

It is on the river Vire, near its confluence with the Dollée and the Torteron. It's half way between Coutances and Bayeux.

History of Saint-Lô

Saint-Lô in ruins

p011323, Saint-Lô en ruines, août 1944, PhotosNormandie, Flickr, Licence BY-SA 2.0

The first known settlement here was Briovère, occupied by the Celtic Unelles tribe. It became a Gallo-Roman settlement after Roman victory over Viridorix in 56BC at Mont Castre.

In the Middle Ages, Saint-Lô belonged to the Bretons. In 889, there was a Viking siege, when the inhabitants of the town were massacred. In 1204, it became part of France, submitting to King Philippe-Auguste. In the years that followed, Saint-Lô prospered, with tanneries, knife-making, goldsmiths, and textiles. It also had the right to make coins. The building of the Vire & Taute canal in 1833 helped trade, but Saint-Lô was only joined to the railway network in 1860.

Saint-Lô was occupied by the Germans from 1940. It was attacked twice during the Battle for Normandy. On the night of 6th June 1944, American bombers attacked the town, as part of Allied efforts to disrupt German movements and communications during the Normandy landings. Then, on 17th July 1944, American tanks and troops arrived to liberate Saint-Lô, and the Germans held their position to the south, bombarding the town, and destroying 90% of it. This is where the name 'capital of ruins' comes from - a term taken up and used by Samuel Beckett in an Irish radio broadcast, after he visited the Irish Red Cross hospital at Saint-Lô. He said:

'When we got there, there was nothing at all. The whole of Saint-Lô was blotted out. Nothing was standing except a few shacks that had been temporarily put up, and in one of these wooden shacks was the local hospital...Saint-Lô was bombed out of existence in one night.'

American convoy in ruined city of Saint-Lô

p011318, Un convoi américain traverse Saint Lô en ruines août 1944, PhotosNormandie, Flickr, Licence BY-SA 2.0

The first new housing was prefabricated, and it wasn't until 1948 that plans were made to rebuild Saint-Lô with permanent structures, the work starting in 1949 and finishing in 1956.

Saint-Lô today

Eglise Notre-Dame de Saint-Lô

Ce qu' il reste de l'église Notre Dame après la guerre..., Michel Petit, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

The Moulinex factory was in Saint-Lô, but the company went bust in 2004. There is still some industry, but much of the employment is in the services sector, for example banking and insurance. Saint-Lô is also a market for the agriucultural produce of the surrounding bocage countryside.

Saint-Lô hosts the Normandie Horse Show in August. Since the time of Napoleon, it has had a stud (haras), and a new stud was built after World War II. It uses the latest artificial insemination techniques.

The centre of Saint-Lô is surrounded by ramparts, and called L'Enclos. The ramparts have two remaining military towers - the Tour des Beaux-Regards, and the Tour de la Poudrière. Within L'Enclos is the Eglise Notre-Dame de Saint-Lô, a Gothic church, rebuilt after World War II, but not in identical fashion, rather deliberately showing some of the scars of war.

Not far from the church is the place de la Mairie, which is lit up by spotlights embedded in the tarmac, to look like a runway. The town has a Fine Arts Museum, a Museum of Bocage Normand, and a manor house, the Chateau de la Vaucelle.

Tour des Beaux Regards, Saint-Lô  

Petite tour en haut des fortifications, Michel Petit, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: bocage Normand

Road through bocage Normand

Chemin du Bocage, by Bocage Normand Tourisme, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Bocage describes a type of countryside found in Normandy (and, for example, in Devon in England) with mixed woodland and pasture, and hedges on the field boundaries. The hedges in Normandy are as much as 2,000 years old, and have thick, tangled roots. The hedges have come to grow on earth banks as much as 10ft thick, and the country lanes are sunken between the hedge banks. 

After the Normandy landings, the bocage made it difficult for the Allied tanks to advance, and provided good terrain for the German defenders to use to their advantage. Attempting to advance through the bocage was known as the 'war of the hedgerows' or la bataille des haies - see after the landings, below.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: D-Day, the Normandy landings, and the Battle for Normandy

The start of WWII

World War II had begun with German agression. Hitler had annexed Austria, and invaded Czechoslovakia (1938, and early 1939). When Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, Britain and France required that he withdraw – and when he had not by 3 September, there was a state of war between Germany on the one hand, and Britain and France on the other.

Hitler then invaded France through Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium in May 1940. This was the successful Blitzkrieg, a lightning war with tanks and planes. He rapidly defeated the French and British, and the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk. He occupied the northern part of France, and the whole of France from Nov 1942.

The British were fighting a lonely war. London was bombed during the Blitz in 1940, and Britain was expecting a German invasion. Then Pearl Harbour caused the Americans to join the war. This was December 1941, when the Japanese used planes to destroy the American Pacific fleet at its Hawaian base. Churchill said 'So we had won after all!' and it did seem that the tide had turned decisively.

The war was going on in lots of places in the world, including north Africa and the Pacific, but the Allied strategy was to strike towards Germany. 'Germany first – but not quite yet.' They would eventually plan an invasion of France, to liberate it, and as a route to Germany.

Planning an invasion

The Normandy landings were agreed at meetings between Churchill and Roosevelt in Washington and Quebec in 1943.

The shortest route across the Channel would have been to Calais, where the Allies would have landed on level, sandy beaches. But they decided on Normandy because it might be less well defended, and the German lines of communication could more easily be cut off.

The element of surprise

The Allies tried to keep Hitler guessing about where the invasion would take place, and persuade him that it might be Calais.

They had a deception plan called Operation Fortitude. They invented a fictitious First US Army Group located opposite Calais in Kent, and referred to it in real and false radio transmissions. (One double agent sending radio messages to the Germans was nicknamed Garbo). He told them about the Army Group. They also bombed heavily around Calais. They even sent a bogus invasion fleet across towards Calais on the night of 5th/6th June 1944.

The plan is credited with getting 7 divisions of the German army diverted from Normandy to Calais.

Real landings – preparations

The invasion plan was called Operation Overlord. It was under the command of Eisenhower, who was the Supreme Allied Commander.

The Allies built floating harbours (called Mulberries), and landing craft. The landing craft would be used to get ashore. The Mulberries were required for reinforcements and supplies – as the Allies would not have captured a harbour, they would have to bring their own.

There were also air raids in Normandy, to paralyse the railways, and destroy roads and bridges. The French Resistance also sabotaged infrastructure.

The success of the operation would depend on getting enough Allied forces ashore and inland, before the Germans identified where the landing had occurred, and brought their own strength up to the area. If the Allies were caught on the beaches by German fire before they could establish themselves, they would be in danger.

The landings

The invasion army massed in southern England, and they sailed on the night of 5th June 1944, into the middle of the English Channel. 6,843 vessels were used for the voyage, including 4000 landing craft. Minesweepers went in front of the fleet. 12,000 US and British planes would support the landing.

John Keegan in his book 'The Second World War' writes: 'On the Normandy coast, the seas from east to west, and as far north as the seaward horizon, was filled with ships, literally by the thousand; the sky thundered with the passage of aircraft; and the coastline had begun to disappear in gouts of smoke and dust as the bombardment bit into it... [There were enormous, dirty clouds of smoke and brick dust from the villages which were being hit, which drifted out to sea.] Under these angry clouds the British, Canadian and American infantry were debarking from their landing craft, picking their way between the shore obstacles, diving to cover from enemy fire and struggling to reach the shelter of the cliffs and dunes at the head of the beaches.'

The Allies had given names to the beaches they were to land on.

British and Commonwealth landings

At dawn on 6th June 1944 (D Day), the British and Commonwealth (including Canadian) troops established beachheads at Sword, Juno and Gold beaches, and linked up with airborne troops who had been dropped in under cover of darkness, with orders to hold or blow bridges to stop the German army rolling up.

Montgomery (the British commander) had hoped to capture the city of Caen on 6th June, but he did not, and it took until 9th July, after the RAF had dropped 2,500 tons of bombs on the city, virtually destroying William's ancient capital.

American landings

American paratroopers had also been dropped, but not very accurately, because the pilots were inexperienced. Some of them were dropped in the sea and drowned; the others were scattered, which seemed like a bad blunder, but it did help sow confusion amongst the Germans.

There were 2 beaches where the Americans landed.

Americans landing at Utah beach suffered only 197 casualties out of the 23,000 men.

At Omaha beach, they had the worst of it because:

*there was a strong coastal current which swept the landing craft off course

*they were facing the best German troops, and their beach was backed in places by steep shingle banks and overlooked at either end by steep cliffs. The cliffs were a good position from which the Germans could fire on the landing craft as they neared the shore, and it was difficult to exit the beaches.

(In particular, there were 99ft cliffs at the western end of Omaha beach, at a place called la Pointe du Hoc, heavily defended by the Germans. There was a naval bombardment by the ship Texas; then specially trained Rangers used ropes and ladders to scale the cliffs and capture the positions – which they did, but their losses were 135 men out of 225.)

*their swimming Shermans (amphibious tanks, designed to swim ashore) were launched too far from the shore in rough seas, and foundered.

This was the experience of one Battalion:

'Within ten minutes of the ramps being lowered, the leading company had become inert, leaderless and almost incapable of action. Every officer and sergeant had been killed or wounded...it had become a struggle for survival and rescue. The men in the water pushed wounded men ashore ahead of them, and those who had reached the sands crawled back into the water pulling others to land to save them from drowning. Within 20 minutes of striking the beach, A Company had ceased to be an assault company and had become a forlorn little rescue party bent upon survival and the saving of lives.'

Things did go badly at first, but then the companies rallied, and by evening they had taken the coast road. They had to fight to capture the town of Carentan before they could link up with their airborne troops, which they did 6 days after landing.

After the landings

There were fierce battles after the landings, and the Allies made slow progress.

The Americans were heading south to St Lo and and Avranches; and west to Cherbourg (what's called the Cotentin Peninsula).

They had to fight the 'war of the hedgerows'. They advanced through leafy hedgerows and sunken lanes, and it was ideal terrain for defenders. The hedges were on field boundaries, and had been planted by Celtic farmers 2000 years earlier. The tangled roots had collected earth, to form banks as much as 10ft thick. Later in the campaign, they would equip their tanks with hedgedozers, but for now every field and orchard was a battle to cross.

They captured Cherbourg on 26th June, and reached St Lo on 19th July. Cherbourg was important because it was a port which could be used to supply the Allies. St Lo was important, because it was an important crossroads, and once it was captured, tanks could be used more effectively. Bad weather from 19th to 25th July suspended operations on all fronts, but after that Allied armour could drive down the main roads and carry out vast encircling movements.

There was a counter-attack by the Germans around a town called Mortain in early August, but the Allied airforces crushed it, and the Germans had to retreat. The German army was then caught in a pincer movement by the Canadians and the Americans, and had to surrender.

By 21st August, the Battle for Normandy was over. It had cost the Germans 640,000 men killed, wounded, or taken prisoner. On 23rd August, the first troops made it to Paris, which was liberated by American, and French troops led by General de Gaulle, on 25th August 1944.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Coutances

Coutances Cathedral

Cathédrale de Coutances, Geert Orye, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Coutances is a town of 8,951 people, which is twinned with Ilkley (UK). It may take its name from the Roman Emporer Constantius Clorus; the Cotentin Peninsula takes its name from Coutances.

Before the Romans, Coutances was the capital of a Celtic people called the Unelles. After the Romans, it prospered until 866, when it was destroyed by the Vikings. It was rebuilt in the Norman period under Geoffroy de Montbray (from the C11th), and at this time, the Cathedral was begun. The Cathedral was pillaged by the Huguenots during the Wars of Religion in the 1500s.

During World War I, Coutances was a garrison town, notably for Belgian soldiers. It also took a large number of wounded soldiers. Towards the end of World War II, in 1944, the town was destroyed by an Allied bombardment which also killed 300 people. It was rebuilt after the war.

Today, the mainstay of Coutances' economy is agriculture and food production. There's a brand of cheese called coutances. The town also has a company which manufactures printed circuit boards. Finally, Coutances is the judicial and legal centre for the Manche département.

Coutances' Cathedral is high above the river Soulles, on a promontory.

There's an annual music festival, Jazz sous les Pommiers.

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Barneville-Carteret

Barneville Carteret

Barneville-Carteret, France, by GeorgeDement, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The Commune of Barneville-Carteret is the combination of Barneville-sur-Mer, slightly inland, and the port of Carteret. Barneville's name means 'the town of a [Scandinavian] person called Barni'; Carteret comes from the Old Norse kart (stony ground) and reidh (anchorage). 

Barneville and Carteret became seaside resorts in the Belle Epoque (the years leading up to WWI). From June 1940 (the German invasion), they were important sites in the Nazis' Atlantic Wall. They were liberated by American forces (the 9th US Infantry Division) after 10 days of fighting, from 18th to 28th June 1944.

Most of the shops are in Barneville, which has the Romanesque church of St Germain d'Auxerre, fortified in the Middle Ages. Carteret has a port, at the mouth of the river Gerfleur, and there are ferry services to the Channel Islands. There's a lighthouse on the Cap de Carteret.

Lighthouse, Carteret

Carteret's Lighthouse, by Jean-Daniel Pauget, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Stage 2, Tour de France 2016: Cherbourg

Cherbourg ferry terminal

Cherbourg Ferry Terminal, by Alexandre Chassignon, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Cherbourg was previously part of the Commune of Cherbourg-Octeville, but since 1st January 2016, the Commune is called Cherbourg-en-Contentin. 

It is a port on the English Channel, accommodating freight services, and ferries (for example to Poole, Portsmouth, Southampton, Rosslare, Guernsey, and Jersey). The port also has a terminal for cruise ships. Cherbourg has the largest artificial harbour in the world.

Cherbourg may have originated as a settlement of the Celtic Unelli tribe, called Coriallo. It hosted a Roman garrison during the late Roman Empire. The Vikings developed a port here in the 800s. It changed hands, between the French and the English, many times during the One Hundred Years War. In 1864, there was an engagement off the coast of Cherbourg between the Confederate ship CSS Alabama, and the Unionist ship USS Kearsarge.

In the second half of the C19th, shipping companies operated between Cherbourg and the east coast of the USA. The Titanic stopped in Cherbourg on 10th April 1912.

Cherbourg surrendered to Rommel in June 1940. After the Normandy landings, it was the primary objective of the American troops who came ashore on Utah Beach. After fighting from 21st to 26th June 1944, the Germans surrendered the city. It then became the busiest port in the world, as Liberty ships supplied the Allied armies. It was returned to France on 14th October 1945.

Cherbourg's economy is largely based around its port - a military port, a fishing port, a commercial port, and a marina. There's shipbuilding too, and a salmon farm. The Cherbourg School of Engineering is on the heights of Octeville, and there are two branches of the University of Caen in Cherbourg.

The local dialect is a variant of Cotentinais Normand, which was widely spoken until WWI. Cherbourg is called Tchidbouo in Cotentinais Normand.

Attractions in Cherbourg include la Cité de la Mer, a maritime museum, where you can visit the nuclear submarine le Redoutable.

Cherbourg is twinned with Poole, on the south coast of England.

Cherbourg has hosted the arrival of the Tour de France sixteen times, including in eleven consecutive years, from 1919 to 1929.

Michel PolnareffSt-Germain-sur-Ay plageLighthouse at Carteret

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