Ready for an early start
The Cortambert Cycle Club met this morning for a 41km ride which went through some of the prettiest villages imaginable. I loved this ride as, like Escher’s perpetual staircase, it seemed to be downhill all the way until the last few kilometres back up the hill to Cortambert.
We headed north via Bray to Lys, then to Chapaize and Champagny-sous-Uxelles, and followed the river to Bresse-sur-Grosne and Sercy, ending up in St Gengoux-le-National. We had an easy ride back along the voie verte past Cormatin before turning off at Massilly for the upward climb back to Cortambert.
The profile of our route
It’s wonderful landscape for cycling. You can stay within the Grosne Valley which is relatively flat, or you can tackle the challenging ascents over the hills into the next valley. And there’s very little traffic. We must have met half a dozen motorists at most during our ride. If you want to keep off the roads the voie verte makes cycling very easy with such slight inclines that you hardly notice.
Preparations are being made for a rather bigger event, the Tour de France, which departs from Liège in Belgium on June 30th . There will be a rest day in Mâcon and on Wednesday July 11th we will see the start of stage 10, a 194 km ride towards Switzerland, climbing the 1500m Col du Grand Colombier on the way.
This rather puts this morning’s ride into perspective!
This year sees the 98th Tour de France, lasting for three weeks in July with 21 stages and two rest days. This year it covers 3,430km, starting in the Vendée and going on to the mountain stages in the Auvergne, the Pyrenees and the Alps. It dips into Italy and finishes on the Champs Elysées in Paris. People base their holidays around it, or travel miles to stand by the roadside. Campervans will park up days before to reserve a spot at the best vantage points on the mountain routes.
Route of this year's Tour
I hadn’t realised until I read the official website that 39% of people go not to see the cycling but to enjoy the caravan that precedes it. This takes 45 minutes to pass as it can be 20km long, a procession of 160 weird and wonderful vehicles representing anything from coffee to car insurance. Each advertiser invests between 20,000 and 50,000 euros and they throw out 16 million small gifts. Everyone enjoys the scramble to retrieve the keyrings, hats and sweets.
Watching the Tour de France you get the impression that all the roads in France have been freshly resurfaced. It’s a real boost if the Tour comes through your village. You get new roads as well as your five minutes of fame. 2007 was the year when the Tour came through Cormatin.
The tour takes a different route every year. This year it doesn’t come anywhere near us so we are following it on TV, ‘visiting’ other parts of France, learning the local history, discovering the chateaux and admiring the ingenious displays set up by the farmers in their fields. We were quite pleased to see the cyclists battling against the wind and rain in the west when we were enjoying beautiful sunny weather here in Burgundy.
If it’s the actual race you want to see it is far better to watch it on TV. But for a day’s outing with all the atmosphere, the fun of the crowds, the waiting, the caravan, the noise and the colour, watching the Tour go by is not to be missed.
The hill that runs past our house climbs steeply up over the ridge to Donzy le Pertuis, nestling high on the side of the next valley. From the top of the hill we always look out for Mont Blanc which lies 180km to the south east. The weather this week has been very clear and sunny so Mont Blanc has been easy to spot, the snow glittering in the sunshine.
When we mentioned this to some people they would not believe us. So today we decided to go closer for a better look. Off we set heading east across the River Saône into the Bresse region. To us in Soâne-et-Loire, going ‘over the river’ means entering foreign lands. Ain, in the Rhône-Alpes, is very flat with large fields, and the Bresse farmhouses are very different with their brick and half timbered ‘longhouse’ appearance. Very soon the Jura mountains loomed up and we were into hairpin bends, rocky chasms and pine forests. There were many cyclists on the roads (don’t they know it’s hilly in the Jura?) but very little traffic. Soon we emerged Narnia-like into a land of Swiss chalets, alpine meadows and clanging cowbells.
Giant bike in the Haut Jura
We found to our joy that we were following the route of this year’s Tour de France. We had seen the beginning of Stage 7 near Tournus, and we were amazed to find out how far they had cycled that day (165.5km) and how steep and twisty the road was to Station des Rousses. That was described as a ‘medium mountains’ stage, an easy day for the riders. In the Haut Jura there was village with a 10m wooden bicycle made of wood. Apparently it was a copy of the Maire’s bike but 10 times as big!
We climbed over the final mountain before us was Lake Geneva and a wonderful view of Mont Blanc. And we have the photos to prove it!
This year Stage 10 of the Tour de France began at Tournus, about 25km northeast of Cormatin. We set off quite early as the access roads would be closed from 10am. We chose a spot the other side of Tournus on a straight flat road between the pine forests. We envisaged it being quiet there but as just about the whole of France turns out for the Tour the road was already lined with camper vans. We shared the shade of an awning with a couple that had travelled several hundred kilometers to be there. The temperature was 36 degrees.
The fun part of the Tour was when the caravan arrived. This is a cavalcade of vehicles and floats pretending to be cans of drink, giant cyclists or big stuffed lions. They advertise anything from coffee and cleaning products to newspapers and insurance. Young ladies on the back of the lorries throw out gifts to the crowd who shout and beg for them. Despite scrabbles with several determined six year olds we managed to get two very useful sunhats advertising Skoda and Carrefour, and one of those big green hands that you wave.
Tour de France
We knew the cyclists were on their way when the helicopter flew over. We were only ten minutes out from the start of the stage and apart from four breakaway cyclists most came in one big rush together in the peloton. It’s difficult to describe the power of about 160 cyclists whooshing past like one gigantic monster. There was a blast of wind and we jumped back to avoid being hit by the outside riders. My photos are blurred. Honestly, if you blinked you’d have missed it. The speed was tremendous and how close they were to one another! How they kept it up in that heat for 165km is just incredible.
What impresses me is the superb organisation of the event. But the French are good at that sort of thing.