Last year when The Tour De France visited Provence I was down here on my own and still waiting for the boys to arrive from their rather epic cycle ride from Dartmoor to Sète.
I grabbed the chance to watch The Tour finish on the iconic Mont Ventoux, only for the summit finish to be scuppered by incredibly high winds – so I spent the day at Chalet Reynard rather under-dressed for the chilly, unseasonal weather!
This year though 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.
As Francophiles & cyclists we all love The Tour and it really is one of the great sporting occasions each year. Watching the coverage on telly 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 (first seen on helicopter shots during the coverage a few years ago!)
However watching 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.
Yesterday saw The Tour following roads near us that we cycle along regularly – passing through Banon then 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 for quite some time now the date has been in the diary and we planned to do nothing else really but cycle and watch it pass through.
So yesterday morning Andy and I pottered out to Bonnieux for breakfast….
Where we had our hearts in our mouths watching a chap repair the roof opposite- wandering across the tiles apparently without a care in the world!
We then headed back across the back roads to the Col du Pointu just to see how busy it was ahead of heading home, packing a picnic and cycling back up.
By 10.30am the road was already closed and the verges were full of camper vans and people picnicking, with cars parked in fields on the Bonnieux side of the junction and along the Plateau des Claparèdes on the Saignon side too.
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 hammering home we quickly packed a picnic and headed off again as we were determined to watch it on the final section of climb towards the Col.
The boys had other plans and had decided to watch the early part of the day’s events on telly before cycling a few kilometres to watch it pass in the approach to Apt – aiming to get there in time to watch The Caravan pass.
Andy & I got back up to the Col in good time and found a spot about 200m from the top of the climb, with a good view of the road up from 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 weren’t due to arrive for over 3 hours!
Don’t ask me where the time goes – I really don’t know – it just seems to fly by with a constant procession of people passing by, cyclists coming up & being cheered and then of course there is ‘The Caravan’.
The first time we saw The Tour we almost completely missed it- and last year a large number of the vehicles weren’t allowed up Mont Ventoux – so this year was the first time we’ve 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!
Happily we got a message from the boys to say that they had also got a good haul where they were – in fact when we got home they had done considerably better than us!
After The Caravan there was then another wait of about an hour before 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 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 by Barguil.
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 it has passed the crowds start to melt away, leaving little to show at the summit 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.
So it’s passed us for another year and we’re already hoping that it isn’t too far away next year, as I’m more than happy for this to be an annual day out.
Where else can 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.
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!