People rave about cycling in France, so why not go and find out if they are
Having been impressed with the organisation of the CTC A to B Tour in 2002, I scanned their magazine. The Haute Provence sounded good, travel on the European Bike Express was worth a try, so off went my booking for start date 28 June 2003.
The Bike Bus was great. I was at the Wakefield pick-up point by 6.45 am, boarded, and stepped off at Orange about 24 hours later, having met the other participants en route. There were 16 of us; our leaders Chris Ellison and Sheila Simpson met us out there. The early morning was already warm and sunny as we gathered our bikes, loaded the gear and pedalled off. The terrain was pleasantly undulating but far in the distance loomed the menacing profile of Mont Ventoux. Our journey took us to Buis-les-Baronnies, a beautiful small town and our base for the next week.
Each day we made two groups, A and B, fast and slow? Anyway, I went mainly with B. We were provided with detailed route maps but rarely needed them as the leaders looked after us really well.
The weather was hot most days, typically we would make a circuit over a few cols surrounded by spectacular mountains and gorges, then continued through vineyards, apricot and olive groves, lavender and herb fields taking in plenty of café stops.
Our last day’s route arrived - Mont Ventoux. Two of us had agreed on a very early start and a very steady pace. It was a perfect morning with the sweet smell of "Herbes de Provence" on the air as we passed the drying sheds on the outskirts of town. The first ascent was over the Col de Fontaube; we had been there before so knew what to expect. Then we swooped down to Reilhanette before another ascent to Sault and second breakfast.
The views from the terrace were stunning with a vast patchwork swathe of golden wheat, lavender and olive green in the foreground, then a layer of woodland above and our white shining peak on top looking tiny in the distance.
So it was upwards through the trees and suddenly to the dazzling open whiteness of the upper slopes. The sight of the road winding upwards and cyclists dotted all the way to the summit was amazing. We took another stop at Chalet Reynard, the junction where 'proper' cyclists come up from Bédoin.
Then a steady pull to the top, stopping on the way at Tommy Simpson’s memorial. The weather was perfect, no wind and a bright blue sky; we could see Mont Blanc and the Alps in the distance and lingered long for drinks and photos.
The descent was hairy as racing types with a death wish came whizzing past at phenomenal speeds. A restful stop by the clear, cool spring water above Malaucène then a weary return via Entrechaux and Mollans sur Ouvèze. We had done it and all enjoyed an excellent evening meal to celebrate our achievement and a brilliant holiday, thanks to our leaders.
And are they right about France? Well, I’ve booked another trip.
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