For the last few years, we have got used to shuttling our way between France and the UK on a regular basis, whether by car, train or plane, managing our life and everything that has been needed without really giving it a second thought.
In fact we had managed to tweak things to make some journeys particularly enjoyable, especially those trips we have done by train, shuttling between cities, and I have missed the days when I have walked between stations in London…
Then again the walk between the Gare Du Nord and the Gare De Lyon in Paris, which takes me past so many beautiful buildings and tourist sites en route.
It always seemed so easy, and had almost become second nature, with us getting used to travelling alone, (through necessity rather than desire), switching countries whenever we needed to, just to keep everything on track and running smoothly.
Then of course last year everything changed, and over the last 16 months we have realised how much we had been taking the ease of travelling for granted. That simple act of moving without really thinking about it, crossing borders and travelling through France without a second thought.
The travelling itself, has always been a pleasure, but the planning has sometimes been so complex that I have, on occasions, felt that Andy missed his vocation in logistics or travel management. Whether we have used conventional means of transport, driven Fifi, or cycled down, each trip has been a pleasure, even with the occasional glitch thrown in for good measure.
The planning we used to do though seems easy, in comparsion to what we have had to do this time, to enable me to return to collect our youngest from Uni, and to take the chance to visit family and friends that I haven’t seen for over a year.
Advance planning is a thing of the past at the moment, with everything having to be sorted out at the last minute, to make sure that we are actually still able to travel, before making the final bookings …. in fact this time Andy booked my Tunnel crossing when I was about 1hr away from Calais, just to be certain that nothing was going to get in the way of me catching the shuttle and crossing back to the UK.
It just adds a new level of stress to the journey, and whereas previously, it was just a case of checking I had my passport and ticket; this time it felt as if I almost needed a separate briefcase to carry all the paperwork that I needed to show. I had papers to confirm that I had tested negative, had others to prove that I had booked my tests in the UK, and another to show that I could be traced and checked on once I arrived, and during my quarantine (as well as others to show residency in France, so that I can return). I must have gone through the papers a dozen times or more, both before I left, and en route just to reassure myself that it was all there, and nothing had launched an escape bid, in an effort to frustrate me.
So I am back in Exeter, passing my quarantine, watching the superb annual spectacle of The Tour De France. During the last Tour, I was again stuck on the sofa, pretty immobile, having recently broken my collar bone. If I’m honest, it’s starting to feel as if it is there to get me through some of life’s more annoying moments, but it certainly succeeds in making the days pass.
You will find me each afternoon, on the sofa, enjoying the ever-shifting French scenery, admiring the athletes and the racing and happily screaming at the TV, especially in the final minutes of yesterday’s race, when I have a feeling I almost shouted loud enough for Mark Cavendish to hear me from Exeter!
Next week The Tour will pass through our little part of Provence again, and I will be glued to the screen, looking out for the places and landmarks that I know so well.
It will be a glorious time for the riders to take to the roads, passing through L’Isle Sur La Sorgue, then sweeping through Fontaine de Vaucluse and on to the stunning village of Roussillon…
Before heading away from Apt up to Saint Saturnin, and then onto the major event of the day … a double ascent of Mont Ventoux.
The Luberon valley and across to Mont Ventoux looks spectacular at the moment, with the lavender fields in full bloom, turning the landscape purple in every direction, with the bright green vines and golden fields of wheat, barley and spelt, adding blocks of colour that will look incredible from the helicopter footage.
I am, of course, sad that I won’t be able to be on the roadside, watching it in person this time, enjoying the special atmosphere, colour and excitement of the racing, as there really is nothing else like it.
This year the riders will have to face cycling up the Giant of Provence twice, after already having taken on some significant climbs (they are for me anyway) before they get there. The first ascent will take them up to the summit from Sault, and to be honest if you can only watch one part of the race, then watch this section.
The road arrives in Sault from Saint Saturnin, passing through countryside that was a stronghold for the local Resistance during WW2. Along the way the riders will pass roadside markers, (part of the Chemin de la Memoire) remembering members of the Maquis Ventoux, who lost their lives in their efforts to hamper the Nazi forces. They will then sweep into Sault past the memorial, recognising not only those who lost their lives, but also the town itself, which was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Gold Star, for the part it and its residents played, despite it being a garrison for German forces.
Then as it heads out of Sault, the road drops into the lavender fields, not just one or two, but a carpet of purple that fills the valley and lower slopes of the mountain. Hectares of the flowers, in shades of blue and purple, stretching almost as far as the eye can see, decorating an already spectacular landscape, although I’m not sure the riders will be able to enjoy it as much as I do, as they start their climb along the sinuous road that winds up through the woodlands.
It’s a beautiful stretch of road, with views back across the valley towards distant mountains, passing a wonderful sculpture of a stag and family of deer, created from ancient rusted implements ….
In fact there is no glimpse of the summit, before the riders merge onto the route from Bedoin, at Chalet Reynard, when they will head up the newly tarmaced road, through the scree to the summit.
Once they have done that first ascent, it will be a break-neck descent on the north side of the mountain to Malaucene, before skirting the bottom and climbing back up again, this time from Bedoin.
A couple of weeks ago we went to the mountain to watch the Mont Ventoux Denivele Challenge, which also took on the double ascent for the first time. A professional race, which has really grown since it was first held in 2019, it was great to watch the riders take on this incredible feat.
It may not have had all the add-ons and atmosphere that comes with the Tour, but it was fascinating to get a taster of what may happen in the race next week.
It is a brutal route, and I can’t imagine even thinking about doing it, let alone reaching the summit for the first time, knowing that I would have to do it again. I am sure a few of the sprinters in the Tour won’t be relishing the thought either, but that’s the incredible thing about the professional riders… they just keep turning the pedals, day after day, after day, taking on the challenge, both physically and mentally.
Andy will be somewhere on the course watching the race, although probably not on Mont Ventoux itself as life is getting in the way, with first a dental appointment (which could be changed), then his second vaccination appointment (which couldn’t). I suggested he carry a wild boar under his arm, or wear a mankini, so that I can spot him, but he’s more likely just to let me know where he will be, and what cycle jersey he is wearing, so that I can do my best to pick him out in the crowd.
Needless to say I will be glued to the coverage from the moment the riders line up in Sorgues, until it finishes, late afternoon in Malaucene. I will welcome every bit of footage of the area, drinking in the birds-eye view of the roads and villages that I know so well, and perhaps having some Sault lavender oil on stand-by just to sniff as they head out through the fields ….
Of course, I would rather be there, but with things still being a tad chaotic, I really can’t be, and I am happy with that.
It is just great to see this iconic event on the roads that we ride along so often, and that is the simple joy of cycling … it doesn’t matter how fast you go, what you ride, even what you wear…. you can cycle along the same roads as the professionals, experience the same routes and enjoy them too..
The stage takes place on 7th July and if you want to find out more about the route, or are in Provence and fancy watching it on the roadside, then there is a lot of information on the local Tourist Board Vaucluse Tour De France Page
Personally, I can’t wait ….