Monday, September 19, 2011

Fun times at the 98th Tour de France, Stage 16, Saint Paul Trois Châteaux to Gap

We made our decision to be in Sablet during July on the day the route for the 2011 Tour de France was unveiled. Although the exact route wouldn't be announced till much later, we were excited to see that based upon the start town and finish town for Stage 16, the route would have to pass not too far from Sablet.

As readers of Our House in Provence know, we live in Sonoma County, about 60 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge and wife Shirley and me have become fans of pro-cycling as interest in cycling and professional cycling have exploded here in Northern California.

Levi Leipheimer, one of the sport's premier cyclist lives in Sonoma County and in a few days on October 1, 7,500 cyclist will ride in Levi's King Ridge GranFondo, a huge charity event that raises money for local worthy causes.

The 2011 Tour de France was won by Australian Cadel Evans, whose BMC Racing Team is based in Sonoma County and in May 2012, the start for the Tour of California will be hosted by Santa Rosa, which is the largest town in Sonoma County. So as you can see, cycling is huge in Sonoma County.

Sure enough, when the exact route for Stage 16 was revealed, the map showed that the peloton - group of cyclists, would start in Saint Paul Trois Châteaux and ride through Suze-la-Rousse to the D 94 and pedal northeast along the Eygues River to Nyons before finishing Stage 16 in the mountain town of Gap.

We would have to cross the Eygues River to watch the Tour de France and looking at the map we saw our best options were at Buisson about 12 kms from Sablet and Nyons which was about 28 kms from Sablet. After chatting with friend Bruce who lives in Villedieu and knows the area well, we decided to go to Nyons.

The schedule for Stage 16 showed the publicity caravan would arrive in Nyons at 12:20 and the first riders in the peloton would arrive around 14:05. Since Stage 16 was on Tuesday, the day our favorite weekly market takes place in Vaison-la-Romaine, we decided we would go to the market and buy picnic food to eat while we watched the caravan and waited for the riders to arrive.

The clouds were dark gray and rain poured down as we shopped at the market for lunch. We ducked into doorways and paused under vendor's tents hoping the rain would stop. I was not very excited about watching the race in the rain. However, while the clouds were still ominously dark, the rain stopped by the time we park near the bridge over the Eygues River where we were going to watch the peloton race by.

The peloton would ride 162.5 kms or about 101 miles from the start in Saint Paul Trois Châteaux climbing up to 1,268 meters elevation or 4,160 feet at the Col de Manse before dropping down to the mountain town of Gap at 744 meters elevation or 2,441 feet. Stage 16 was classified as a medium mountain stage.

The first vehicle in the publicity caravan arrives at our vantage point on the bridge.

The publicity caravan has been part of the Tour de France since 1930. One of the rolling gift boutiques that stop periodically along the route selling identical bright yellow bags with 10 souvenirs including a hat and t-shirt for 20 Euros.

The publicity caravan is a parade of vehicles which are decorated to advertise their sponsor's "wares" to the race fans who line the route. Some create additional interest and excitement by throwing out little gifts.

According to the Tour de France, the publicity caravan stretched for 20 kms or about 12 1/2 miles in length from start to finish.

There was a continuous stream of decorated vehicles, team cars, medical vehicles, official Tour de France vehicles and police vehicles which passed our vantage point from the time the first vehicle arrived until just before the arrival of the peloton.

The following are pictures of some of the decorated sponsor vehicles which drove past our post on the bridge. There would be a big scramble every time gifts or newspapers were thrown from the vehicle's occupants towards the spectators that lined the bridge.

Wife Shirley and niece Leslie modeling hats they grabbed from one of the sponsor vehicles that passed by our spot on the bridge over the Eygues River.

Spectators on the bridge looking for the first rider to come into view.

The view from our vantage point down the bridge to the north in the direction the peloton would arrive around the corner to the left along the Eygues River.

The view from our vantage point south in the direction the peloton would ride towards a roundabout and then make an immediate sharp turn to the left along the Eygues River.

One of Team RadioShack's cars loaded with extra bikes. As I said before, Levi Leipheimer of Sonoma County rides for Team RadioShack.

A mobile gift shop stops just before the roundabout at the end of the bridge to sell official Tour de France souvenirs.

Another team car loaded with spare bikes.

Police on motorcycles lead the way for the peloton to make sure the road is clear for the riders when they reach the area.

The first rider in a little breakaway reaches our spot on the bridge. We could follow the progress of the peloton as they rode along the Eygues River by watching the helicopters overhead who were filming the peloton for television.

A second small breakaway group from the peloton arrives.

The main peloton approaches.

Thomas Voeckler of France who rides for Team Europcar started Stage 16 in first place and wore the yellow jersey who you can see on the right hand side of the peloton.

The following are pictures of the peloton as they rode past us on the bridge. You can click on the pictures to enlarge them; maybe you will spot one of your favorite riders.

The last riders in the main peloton arrive.

A lone rider brings up the rear.

He was followed by a caravan of team cars loaded with spare bikes.

A team car for BMC Racing Team based in Sonoma County whose Cadel Evans won the Tour de France.

Thor Hushovd of Austria who rides for Team Garmin-Cervelo won Stage 16 that day. We watched the publicity caravan and other team and official vehicles drive past our spot on the bridge for at least 1 1/2 hours but it only took a couple of minutes for the entire peloton to pedal past our vantage point.

Never the less, it was great fun and we will go see the Tour de France every chance we get. Bonne journée mes amis et à très bientôt.


  1. Great photos Michel, watching the Tour de France is so exciting and your photos tell the story!

  2. Oh what a fun day Michel! I love your description of the cyclists and the photos are great - especially all of the theme cars, that's one thing you don't see on tv. I love watching Le Tour at home, can only imagine how exciting it is to see in person. Something we will definately have to do in the future!

  3. Great photos, and yes it is fun despite the fact that the peleton goes by so quickly. We have also watched a time trial when it was at Angouleme which we preferred, it then lasts all day :-) We are keen cyclists but it just amazes me what these guys are capable of. Diane

  4. Your photos are terrific! I made it to the tour as well, but it was the Montpellier stage. I had the best time of my life and can't wait to do it again next year! Looks like you had as much fun as I did!

  5. Barbara - Thanks so much! We just love going to see the whole show.

    Tuula - There is so much more to see than what is shown on TV. I hope you do get to see it someday. The starting and stopping towns for 2012 will be announced before too long.

    Diane - I would love to see one of the time trials, I think that would be great.

    Ashley - Thank you. We were at the Montpellier stage too about 100 meters before the end of the race. There was a mob of people there.

  6. That was a great story and fabulous pictures. I live in Santa Rosa and serve on the local committee for the Tour of California and an avid cyclist. You did a great job of capturing the excitement of the day.

  7. Lee - Thanks for checking in and for your comment on my blog. We are looking forward to watching the start of the 2012 Tour of California next May. Thanks for making this happen in Sonoma County.

  8. I love this blog. Very well written and informative. But as a Scandinavian myself, I feel inclined to say that Thor Hushovd is not austrian but norwegian.

  9. Jacob - I thought I had checked my facts carefully but obviously I screwed up about Thor Hushovd's nationality. I apologize. I appreciate your checking out my blog and leaving a comment.