I can’t believe it isn’t even 3 weeks since I tumbled from my bike, fracturing my collar bone and effectively bringing my active and happy lifestyle to an abrupt and rather painful halt for a while.
Add to that returning to the UK to ensure I have done my period of 2 weeks quarantine, before we have to think about moving our youngest son into University to start his course and I’m sure you can imagine that this has felt like the longest 3 weeks of my life so far and that I am starting to climb the walls through inactivity, lack of fresh air and boredom.
The simple thing is that I hate being confined. Even just going for a walk or hiding away in my workshop working on silver helps brighten the most miserable of days, but I can’t even do that. I am the most impatient of patients and despite having added pieces to my Etsy Shop and sorted through paperwork, I have just about read everything that was on my reading list and almost finished re-reading my entire Kindle library too, but coming so soon after the lengthy lockdown we had at the start of the year, I am now officially bored!
The simple fact is that we’re missing France and just want to get back and make a start on all the work we have planned at the house this Autumn, from creating a new kitchen to refurbishing the terraces and at the moment it just feels as if we are treading water, or wading through treacle waiting for the final few stepping stones to be put in place that will allow us to start moving forward again.
In all this though there has been one bright spot and that, of course, is the fact that all of this has coincided with this year’s delayed Tour De France and each afternoon you will find me sitting on the sofa, hopping between channels to avoid the adverts, enjoying every moment of the coverage, without feeling I need to be doing something else whilst watching it.
At the start of the year, when we were in Nice for the Carnaval, we were excited to see the countdown clock in the centre of the city, celebrating the fact that Nice was to host the Grand Depart this year, which would see the spectacle of the cyclists fill the roads for 3 separate Stage starts. Like so many others we had planned to drive down to watch the riders take to the hills and just enjoy seeing our favourite riders in Provence, soaking up all the excitement that comes with The Tour, but to be honest, even as we were there in February we had a feeling that it wouldn’t happen as planned.
It is such a highlight of the year for anyone who enjoys cycling (and a lot who don’t too) – an iconic event that sees the riders push themselves up hills at speeds I can hardly reach when cycling downhill with a following breeze; sprints that leave me breathless and of course, views of France that just make me smile. So like many millions of others, we are now enjoying the coverage and effectively exploring France and revisiting some of our favourite areas from the comfort of our own home.
The Tour De France is so much more than a cycle race, effectively being a 3 week-long advert for the country; a showcase for the French Tourist Board & its regions, and an opportunity for small towns to have their moment in the limelight, making us sit up and add new areas to the list of places we fancy visiting once we have time to potter around the country again.
It also allows us to see areas we have visited over the years and opens up long-forgotten memories, such as watching the riders make their way along the route Napoleon near Grasse, remembering following it as a child with my family in a Renault 16 towing a caravan, with the constant fear that we would disappear over the edge as we made our way slowly towards the coast. Just seeing the birds-eye view from the helicopter put me back in the car, holding my breath in fear of meeting traffic coming in the opposite direction as we had nowhere to go, other than over into the gully below. That said it was a stunning piece of road and I now want to revisit it again.
The first few days of the race, in and around Nice were beautiful and it was just lovely to see the places we have come to know over the past few years of visiting there, recognising cafes where we have sat with a coffee and even pinpointing the exact spot where I went over the handlebars in February after hitting a cable protector on the cycle path – my bike and I have been parted more than once this year! (perhaps I should find a different hobby?)
Whilst the first day was wet and cloudy and very challenging for everyone involved, the second day’s ride was just a delight to watch, with bright blue skies
Little white horses being raised by the wind on The Med and just the joy of watching the Tour finally underway after such a challenging year. The sight of the Peloton snaking its way through the layers of hairpins (Les Lacets) on their way down from The Col de Turini, was just a delight. It was utterly mesmerising, with the riders moving like a multi-coloured liquid or a group of marbles down a purpose-built run, I could have just watched that on a loop for a while, before moving on again.
Since then we’ve headed up to Sisteron past the incredible sight of the Penitents Des Mees , a wonderful rock formation that according to legend is actually the Monks of Lure, who were turned to stone by Saint Donat, for falling in love with ‘Mauresque’ women brought back after a Crusade. These have now been added to our growing list of places we need to visit and ridiculously they are not that far from home!
The ride through the Olive Trees of Nyons was beautiful, with occasional glimpses of the massive bulk of Mont Ventoux in the background as they rode along beautiful roads into the Ardeche, confirming for us that this would be a great route to use on our way across to The Vaucluse when we finally manage to do our ‘Saddlebag of Memories’ ride across France that had to be cancelled earlier this year.
Then the spectacular sights of the Pyrenees and the steep climbs that we have heard of, but never done. The villages and small communities making the most of The Tour coming through, decorating their Town Halls or creating huge works of art in fields, hoping to catch the eye of the camera filming from the helicopters high above. There has even been someone walking a Tightrope high above a village – how he stayed upright with the draught from the helicopter blades I’ll never know!
The views of the villages are annotated on screen with where they are and the commentators often add interesting little facts as they go – helping you to understand more about the area and its history …. How they manage to do this in the midst of the commentary I have no idea, but I suppose that’s why I’m not a commentator and it is best left to the professionals!
The cycling too has been superb and I have found myself screaming at the TV, with my heart in my mouth on some of the finishes, in awe of the athletes and their ability to sprint after a ride that should leave them hardly able to turn a pedal.
Yesterday was a rest day in the Tour and so I spent the day pottering around trying to find things to do, just to pass the time, before they are back and cycling around another of our favourite areas of France – La Rochelle and the Ile D’Oleron and Ile de Re.
Today’s Stage will certainly be a trip down memory lane for us as we spent so many of our family holidays there when the boys were young. Riding with them squirming in bike seats, or pulling Andy off balance as they followed on tag along bikes, and finally watching them wobbling on their early rides without stabilisers along the quiet roads and tracks around the Ile D’Oleron and the Ile De Re. Even patching up their first bumps and bruises from their first real falls (clearly tumbles run in the family)
We have cycled across both the iconic bridges and I can still remember the smell the sea and feel the wind cutting across and it is things like this that make watching The Tour de France so special.
Then the peleton will pass through La Palmyre, the home of the Zoo we spent so many hours at every time we went. The only zoo we know where you would buy popcorn on the way in to feed all the animals, starting with the Giraffes with their incredible blue tongues, bending their long necks over the fence to take the treat gently from the boys hands. It’s memories like this that will just make me smile on this Stage
The boys also had their first Rest Day in La Rochelle when they cycled from Dartmoor to Sete a few years ago, somehow coinciding with the Red Bull Cliff Diving taking place from the towers in the Harbour. It’s an area we know and love and could very easily have made our home there too (if we had failed to find our little place in Provence)
The joy of cycling, unlike so many other sports is that the professional riders follow the same roads as we do, they aren’t hidden away on separate tracks, or on purpose-built roads – they pedal up the same hills as us, they have the same experiences (although at a much faster speed) and they see the same things as we do – tomorrow may be a flat stage, but I will be glued to every moment for the views and the memories, which will come with it.
When all is said and done, it is a shame that we were not able to get to Nice to watch the start of The Tour, but once again it has been the most wonderful spectacle. Like so many others I hope that in this strangest of years, the race manages to reach the final day and the celebration of riding into Paris along The Champs Elysee. But in the meantime Chapeau to the riders and Chapeau to the organisers for keeping me going during the last few days and I hope the sights over the next 2 weeks will add some more ‘must visit’ and ‘must cycle’ (once I am back on the bike again) places to our list that is growing every single day!
It certainly gives me something to aim for!