To be honest there hasn’t really been much to look forward to over the last few months, it’s been hard for so many reasons and even the most positive of people (me included) has found it difficult to really look forward to anything.
Watching this year’s delayed Tour De France was one high spot, even though it was with my arm in a sling, from the sofa back in Devon whilst we quarantined ahead of taking our youngest to University. Just the sight of the riders heading off on the roads of France was enough to bring a smile to my face and then to follow the coverage across the country, watching the sheer artistry of the peloton in action, snaking through the glorious countryside was a simple joy.
There is something about The Tour that pulls you in, I know people who have no particular interest in cycling, but watch it just for the scenery and I can absolutely understand that. But there is nothing like standing at the side of the road and experiencing it in person, watching the crowd and excitement build from the first sights and sounds of The ‘Caravane’ , through the mad rush of the peloton, to the final ‘Broom Wagon’ , it’s such a great event.
We had hoped to go to Nice this year to watch the Grand Depart and the Time Trial, but like so many people, our plans were scattered to the winds with the pandemic and we missed our ‘fix’ of seeing The Tour rush past.
Normally we have a long wait to hear the route of the next year’s event, but not this time and over the last few weeks we’ve been hearing fascinating and enticing rumours circulating about the route for Le Tour 2021, which was finally announced last night.
To say the announcement has put a smile on my face is an understatement….. I am so excited at the route that has been decided, with the Grand Depart in Brittany at Brest, before the race winds its way through some of the towns the boys cycled through on their ride to Sète and that we passed through again on our drive in Fifi earlier this summer. It then cuts across towards the Alps, taking in some dramatic roads until Wednesday 7th July, when it arrives in Provence. Once here it’s destined to pass along part of some of our favourite rides on that first day, before spending a further 2 days in and around the area with starts at Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux and Nimes
The route that has been designed for Stage 11 on 7th July is simply stunning. Starting in Sorgues, the riders will head through Pernes Les Fontaines before hitting the roads of The Luberon, passing through the beautiful town of L’Isle Sur La Sorgue, understandably known as the Venice of Provence, with its old heart of narrow streets, surrounded by the cold waters of the River Sorgue…
…Then out to the village of Fontaine de Vaucluse, home to the source of the Sorgue , which rises from a pool at the base of vast cliffs just beyond the houses. This village may be touristy, but is so charming with the clear waters of the river still feeding the leat that runs the water wheel for the old (still working) paper mill and giving rise to its wonderful legends of Nymphs and Dragons….
…From here it will head up the steep climb that snakes around the hairpins on its way across to the road that heads up from Lagnes and although it doesn’t explain which way it will go from here, I would hope it continues along the road towards Cabrières D’Avignon, passing the memorial to the Maquis Du Chat, before sweeping down into the Luberon valley….
The next village on the route is Gordes, set high on the hill with incredible views across the area and one of the most beautiful villages in France, still one of my favourite places to stop and sit, just watching the shadows shift across the valley floor.
But no time to rest here for the riders as they will be heading on and across to another iconic village and the colourful ochres and beautiful houses of Roussillon….
Before dropping down into Apt, which hosted the end of the penultimate stage of the Paris-Nice cycle race earlier this year and sadly missed out on being able to really celebrate due to the restrictions that were in place due to the virus.
Apt is the capital of the Luberon, renowned for its preserved fruits ‘Fruits Confits’ and home to Blachere that designs and creates Christmas lights for cities across the world. It’s a superb little town, with its Roman history and has the Véloroute du Calavon, Compostella Trail and the ‘Mediterannée à Vélo’ passing through the centre too.
If I’m honest this would be plenty far enough for me, but the riders will only just be warming up by the time they get here, as they head on again and up towards Saint-Saturnin-Les-Apt, a beautiful village with a thriving community and dramatic history, with its Resistance links and place on the Chemin de La Mémoire WW2 history trail that runs across the area ….
And from there up the not inconsiderable climb of the Col de La Liguière across to Sault and the big event of the Stage, a double ascent of Mont Ventoux.
To be honest I can’t even start to imagine what must go through the riders’ minds as they get their first sight of this incredible mountain that can be seen sitting high above the skyline even from as far away as the beaches of The Camargue. By the time they arrive in Sault they will have already done a considerable amount of climbing and they will be faced with the prospect of having to ride up this ‘Géant de Provence’ not just once, but twice.
The first ascent will take them up from Sault, across the lavender fields in the valley below the town, before starting the long climb up the sinewy bends through the pine and oak woodlands, with occasional open views back across to the Vaucluse Plateau, before arriving at Chalet Reynard and the first views of the road snaking up towards the summit. It’s such an incredibly beautiful route & a joy to ride and it will be at its absolute best with the Lavender fields in full colour and scent on the lower slopes.
Once through Chalet Reynard, where I stood to watch the race the last time the Tour went up Ventoux, they will then climb through the final, strength-sapping 6km of bends only to pass below the summit tower to drop down the western side of the mountain towards Malaucène for the first time.
If that wasn’t enough the route has them tracking back, via the Col de La Madeleine, round the base of the mountain to Bédoin to take on the second ascent of the day up the gnarly, tree-lined steep climb back to Chalet Reynard….
… and on again through the scree slopes, passing Tommy Simpson’s Memorial ….
…before a final visit to the tower and back through the ski resort on the North side of the mountain, sweeping down the wide road that has incredible views into the rugged landscape of The Drome, and back to Malaucène for a second time, where the riders will finally cross the finishing line, 199km and thousands of metres of climbing after leaving Sorgues that morning.
Knowing the route they are taking and the state I am in after doing even a few of the climbs they will be tackling, leaves me in awe at the strength, power and stamina of the professional riders, who will have already completed 10 days of the race by the time they reach here …. doing just this stage, even over 2 days would leave me needing a few days rest I’m sure.
So the planning begins … for us it’s a simple decision of where to go to watch the race. Of course it will be somewhere on the mountain, where we can enjoy watching the riders pass us twice and already I can’t wait!.
Let’s just hope that by then the world has shifted back into some form of normality and we will all be able to relax a little and enjoy what will, I’m sure, be an incredible day’s racing around such a beautiful area.
If you fancy exploring the area a little and watching the Stage, then there are plenty of cycle-friendly places to stay in the area including
Saint Saturnin Les Apt – https://www.accommodationinprovence.com/
Malaucène – https://www.lafermedesbelugues.com/
More information on this wonderful area and accommodation can be found on https://www.provenceguide.co.uk/
and everything you need to know about cycling in Provence on https://www.veloloisirprovence.com/
There is always also plenty of information on following The Tour, cycle hire and other information on cycling in France on https://www.freewheelingfrance.com/
In the meantime as the nights have started to draw in, it’s a glimmer of light on a dark November evening and something to look forward to in the lavender-scented days of July in Provence