We are so lucky, living where we do, as the roads around us are often used for professional cycle races, including the Tour de France.
Since buying the house here, it has passed close by twice and we have taken every opportunity we can to watch the professional riders race along some of our favourite roads.
In 2016, I grabbed the chance to watch The Tour finish on the iconic Mont Ventoux, whilst the boys were still on their cycle ride from Dartmoor to Sete. Unfortunately it was the year that the highly anticipated, summit finish was scuppered by incredibly high winds – so instead of heading up onto the bends towards the summit, I spent the day at Chalet Reynard rather under-dressed for the chilly, unseasonal weather!
Then, the following year The Tour passed even closer to home, so with Andy and the boys down this time we made our plans to watch it pass through.
It goes without saying really, that we all love The Tour and it really is one of the great sporting occasions each year. Watching the coverage on TV is good, as it’s a perfect travelogue of France and has actually encouraged us to visit some new places over the years including Les Baux, which we first saw on helicopter shots during the coverage a few years ago!
However, making the effort to head out and watch The Tour on one of the stages is simply good fun, and the opportunity to watch it within a few miles of home is something not to be missed.
The last time The Tour visited, it followed roads near us that we cycle along regularly – passing through Banon then passing the lovely Boulangerie at Simiane La Rotonde…….
before the wonderful downhill, past The Colorado Provençal at Rustrel…….
dashing through Apt, then on towards Lourmarin via the Col du Pointu……
So, of course, we planned to do nothing else really but cycle up to the Col du Pointu and watch it pass through.
Watching the Tour is not simply a case of turning up just before the riders arrive, to watch them hammer past, but tends to feel much more like a street party, or major community event.
When I cycled up to watch the Tour on Mont Ventoux, camper vans were lining the road to the summit, some having been there for days in advance, just to get the best, prime spots to watch the Tour pass by. There is always a real party atmosphere and on some of the climbs, this can start days in advance.
So even though the race wasn’t due through until the afternoon, we weren’t surprised to find the road to the Col du Pointu already closed by 10.30am, with the verges were full of camper vans and people already enjoying incredibly elaborate picnics. Cars were parked, or perhaps better described as abandoned, in fields on the Bonnieux side of the junction and along the Plateau des Claparèdes on the Saignon side too, it was already feeling like a party venue.
The jolly Gendarmes were pointing people in the right direction, although it was apparent that some motorists were not happy that they couldn’t drive to Lourmarin along the main road and we saw a number of cars parked with people frantically looking at maps trying to find a route through – when probably the best thing to do would be to change plan and just stop to watch the race and enjoy the spectacle!
After wandering along the road, we found a perfect vantage point, about 200 metres below the summit, and staked our claim to the little patch of ground, set just above the road, where we could see the riders approach around the bends below
We were soon joined by a chap from Robion cycling club & his grandson who had cycled to their third Tour – what a brilliant way for them to spend time together & it was evidently being enjoyed by both of them. They set up a banner between the trees and settled down to wait – bearing in mind that the riders still weren’t due to arrive for over 3 hours!
I know that it may seem ridiculous to be standing by a road for hours, just waiting for a cycle race to pass by in seconds, but somehow the time just seems to fly by, with a constant procession of people passing by. Any cyclists coming up the hill to find a spot to sit are cheered, and clapped as they pass and then of course there is the vibrant, excitement of ‘The Caravan’.
The first time we saw The Tour we almost completely missed it, seeing just the last couple of vehicles come through as we turned up- and when I was on Ventoux, a large number weren’t allowed up because of their size – so this year was the first time we had really experienced its full-on, noisy, bright appearance.
Who would have imagined a procession of advertising trucks could be such a spectacle, but it is. Couple the audio-visual presence with the freebies being thrown liberally into the crowd and it is a real frenzy.
Children & adults alike grab as much as they possibly can,, as it is being thrown from the passing vehicles – everything from sweets and Madeleines to washing powder and T-shirts – with piles quickly growing around spectators’ feet – us included!
After The Caravan there is then another wait of about an hour, with cars coming through ahead of the race itself and the excitement starts to build as the sound of the helicopters following the race, grows ever louder.
Then for us on the Col du Pointu, the breakaway group came into sight on the bottom corner and within moments they were hammering through the yelling crowds, over the summit and gone.
Then ten minutes later the Peleton came into sight, headed up by Team Sky and again in a whoosh of wheels they too, were gone within seconds – trying to spot your favourites isn’t easy as the multi-coloured group pass by at such speeds, but Froome stood out in his yellow and of course the bright spots of The KOM jersey being sported, on that occasion, by Barguil.
Team Sky had their feed station directly opposite us but the riders seemed more intent on getting over the summit than stocking up on food!
The whole race was over within a few minutes from the sight of the first rider coming around the bottom bend to the van showing the ‘Fin’ of the race, but as ever it was worth the wait.
The Tour is an incredible spectacle and I never cease to be amazed at the speed of the cyclists as they pass – how can they be going at such a speed when they are approaching the summit of the last Category 3 climb of the day after approaching 3 weeks of intense cycling?
I struggle to hit anything like those speeds first thing in the morning when I’m heading downhill from the house at the start of a ride on the promise of a coffee and Pain au Chocolat at a nearby Boulangerie!
As soon as the race has passed the crowds start to melt away, leaving little to show that anything has happened other than the abandoned barriers and the brightly coloured writing on the road.
By the time we had cycled back down the road to Apt, which happily was still closed to traffic – it was almost as if nothing had happened. There were a few campervans still at the side of the road but apart from that the town had returned to normal.
What never ceases to amaze me, is that with the Tour, you spend 4 hours at a one of the world’s most well-known sporting events at no cost, and come away having seen some of the most incredible athletes.
This summer will see The Tour take to our local roads again, with an unprecedented double ascent of Mont Ventoux. Needless to say, we will be somewhere on the route, probably somewhere on Ventoux, watching the race pass by , hopefully twice, if we choose our spot well.
You don’t necessarily need to be passionate about cycling to enjoy watching this incredible event. All I can say is ‘Chapeau’ to the cyclists and The Tour organisers too for their efforts that help make it one of the greatest shows I know!