The Route Napoléon is a road from Golfe Juane (near Cannes) to Grenoble. It got its name from Napoleon’s legendary return from his first island exile, on Elba. With only a skeletal army of some 600 men, he was gambling on the King’s army—mostly officered by Napoleon’s former allies—rallying to his side. However ill-equipped for the return, Napoleon’s landing was cause for great concern in Paris. It gave occasion to Marshal Ney’s famous promise to the restored King Louis that he would bring Napoleon back to Paris in an iron cage. The courageous but fickle Ney didn’t deliver: Instead he rejoined Napoleon with all his men. The moment of truth when Napoleon’s march was interrupted by Ney’s regiments is wonderfully dramatized in Sergei Bondarchuk’s film Waterloo (1970). Rod Steiger gives one of my favourite Napoleon interpretations, yet is overshadowed by Christopher Plummer’s Wellington. Actually, you can see the whole movie on YouTube. Here is a teaser including Louis XVIII’s ample frame made portlier by none other than Orson Welles.
Napoleon wisely chose the trying road through the Alps towards Grenoble rather than the direct route through royalist Provence. After the rest day tomorrow, the riders of Tour de France unwittingly pay homage to the Emperor when they enter Route Napoléon, specifically Gap, before they take on Alpe d’Huez. It’s a great chance for me to see some spectacular footage of the winding path and its many Napoleonic monuments. Indeed, this year I’ll be closer to the action than normally: The final days of the race will be watched from Nancy where CLMPS2001 is taking place.
O, to sneak off down to Paris for the Champs-Élysées final stage. Why not.