Encountering the Tour de France - A country hidden by a large dog - CycleBlaze

July 31, 2019

Encountering the Tour de France

Navacelles to Bourg-St-Andréol

Only after tackling an ice cream and a cold drink did we realise where we were
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THERE'S not much to Bourg-St-Andréol to be worth a postcard. Not unless you find the artisan ice-cream maker whose treats are of such  quality that elsewhere he would be awarded a knighthood.

We had ridden a busy road that was unavoidable without painful excursions into the hills. It wasn't awful enough to secure us a place in heaven but it was bad enough to merit that ice cream. And we were just enjoying it with a cold drink when we spotted that the small square opposite the Bar de l'Europe was called the Espace Tour de France.

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And sure enough, a yellow sign on a post by the junction recorded that the Tour's time-trial had started there three years earlier.

"It was a real party," the bright-eyed barman told us.

Four motorcyclists listening in on a table surrounded by black leather and lettered T-shirts didn't get the point and went back to rolling cigarettes and talking about heavy-metal bands.

"They were here for three days, the Tour people," the barman continued. "They were putting up the stands in the square there, and then the riders and teams, who were staying locally."

"Not bad for someone with a bar right opposite the start, either," I laughed.

"Not bad," he smiled with understatement.

They went thattaway...
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We had encountered the Tour before. I forget where it was but a few days ago we followed its route through a small town and rode over painted signs that urged "Allez, Juju" for Julian Alaphilippe. There were still hopes he would keep his yellow jersey to the end.

To my delight, our ice cream and cold drink marked the end of the dry and industrial vineyards. The countryside flattened and finally turned green. Morning cyclists pedalled the other way and waved in mutual enjoyment. And just as the tourist traffic rose, we turned right in Barjac to start the long climb to the plateau and its show caves.


There are lots of these caves in France. In one close to home, the locals were frightened of the grinding and banging from a hole in the ground. The church had taught that the wicked would go to the torment of hell, which was always demonstrated as beneath the ground. The noises were therefore the cries of lost souls and confirmation that the preacher was right and that hell was worryingly close to home.

In time, of course, someone found a way into this underground cavern and the noise of hell turned out to  be the echoing movement of straining rocks. I like to think the preachers were embarrassed, but I doubt they were.


The caves could wait for another day. More appealing to us was the distant sight of Mont Ventoux and the contented realisation that this time we wouldn't be riding up it. On the same road two years earlier, the idea had come to a group of us that life wouldn't be complete until we gave it a go. As we agreed when we got to the top, the best thing about riding up Mont Ventoux was knowing you'd never have to do it again.

Today, we left it as a hazy grey cone on the horizon and, in a rising headwind, pushed on to join one of the main roads heading along the Rhône valley.

And here we are in a campsite for the benefit of proper and needed showers. We are surrounded by cyclists, most of them Dutch, all of them riding down and not up the river.

The waterside road just beyond here will take us up past Montelimar, famous for nougat ("and little else," according to a guide book), and then Valence and on to Lyon.

And there we will turn away from the Rhône, but that's for days to come.

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