On July 24th and 25th, we moved into the Provence area of France and focused on the feed zone areas in two Tour stages. Before I get into the Tour stuff, I have to introduce you to Provence………………..the best way is to have you close your eyes and drink in the scent of fields of lavender. Notice that the farmer spelled “Provence loves the Tour” in the lavender.
And look around at the orchards, vineyards, and roadside farm stands……………..
It is a fabulous region, one of the most beautiful we visited I think, and we were able to drive through many parts of it on the way to the stages we saw here. This is also the area where the Tour’s second to last stage, and really its defining moment, would occur on an infamous climb called Mont Ventoux or Le Ventoux. Most people we talked to referred to it as THE Ventoux and it seemed to inspire complete awe from cycling fans, as it has hosted many important stages throughout the Tour’s history, and sadly, a cyclist passed away there in 1967 (has a pretty famous memorial there). The Ventoux is actually bald on top and is pretty easy to spot from a ways away……..
We were forewarned by some German friends we made at an earlier stage that if we wanted to see the stage on Ventoux, we would need to get there 3 days early and camp out. As wonderful as our little Ford Focus set up is, it would not afford us the luxury of staying 3 days on the mountain side. So, our plan was to make our way there and get as close as possible, seeing a feed stage going into Aubenas and hoping to try for another water bottle or musette bag. Well, let me sum up the time quickly to start with and then I’ll elaborate……..we could not get up Ventoux (as our German friends had warned us). We got there a day ahead of time, and tried to sneak up the back side of the mountain but were foiled! They had already blocked off the mountain to cars, although several cyclists were headed up. In fact 2 flagged us down for water before they began the 12% incline (yes TWELVE!).
And we had success with Matthew getting a water bottle!! In fact, he got 3, but the one from Team Astana (Lance’s team) made his day :). It has some sort of sugar/water mixture in it by the way.
So, although the Ventoux would prove elusive for us (and a win would prove elusive to Lance on this stage, and thus the Tour), we had a great time driving through the countryside, smelling lavendar at every turn, enjoying a wonderful dinner at a restaurant at the base of Ventoux, and even saw some folks playing bocci ball while we ate……….
We of course got some great cycling pictures too. During the Aubenas stage, we were literally within the feed zone area (the 3 km stretch where rider receive food/drink from their teams) and a nice flat stage with very close access to the riders…………here is part of the Astana team escorting the yellow jersey (and eventual TDF 09 winner), Alberto Contador……..
And here is a good pic of a chipmunk mouthed rider followed by Lance who is reaching into his musette bag, yummy!
And because we could not get up the Ventoux, on 7/25/09, we ended up about 40km away (a little farther north) and just after the feed zone, where we hoped for the thrown water bottles and musette bags before they started the mountain climb. In addition to the victory Astana bottle Matthew snagged here, one of the riders threw out this food item (which we did not keep) but it looked like a roll drowned in honey (sugar high!)………..
And many of the cyclists seemed to be discussing strategy with their team cars before the ascent up Ventoux………
We also met a lovely family from the Netherlands at the Ventoux ascent spot. The dad was a total Lance fan, and Matthew spread more of the Livestrong word by giving their whole family bracelets, which they all put on and cheered………
I should mention too that the Dad of the family above was not in the picture because he was sitting down by Matthew in one of the Texas foldout chairs we brought. Matthew offered him a seat and he said “Now, this is living!” and he seemed to get a huge kick out of the size of the chairs. He also told us that he is in his 50′s and that he has cycled up Ventoux three times in ONE day, wow! It should b e noted that Ventoux is considered a “beyond category” climb and when we came down it, our car breaks smelled hot :).
As soon as all the riders passed, we said our goodbyes to folks we met in the area and headed off for Paris, a long 7 hour drive north. Provence will be well remembered for much time to come and we feel fortunate to have been able to visit it. Au revoir Provence!