A guide to the Tour de France
The 2018 Grand Départ will take place in the Vendée (85) in western France, over 4 days.
Stage 1 of the Tour de France 2018 begins in Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile, on the Ile de Noirmoutier, on Saturday 7th July 2018. The race rejoins the mainland via the Pont de Noirmoutier. The Tour de France then heads south along the Vendée coast via les Sables-d'Olonne, before turning inland for a finish at Fontenay-le-Comte. This looks like a classic sprint stage, albeit one that could be affected by crosswinds.
This is the official map of Stage 1 (but it shows the old crossing route from the island to the mainland, not the revised route via the Pont de Noirmoutier):
Map of Stage 1, © ASO/Tour de France
The official Tour de France stage profile for Stage 1 (to follow):
Stage 1 takes place on Saturday 7th July 2018.
According to the Ile de Noirmoutier website, the publicity caravan will set off at 0920. The teams will arrive on the island between 1h30 and 1h10 before the riders set off from la Prée au Duc. The riders' start time is 11h20.
The stage starts at Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile, to the north of the Ile de Noirmoutier. The ceremonial start is at la Prée au Duc at 1120. The riders travel south south east down the island via la Guérinière, where the flag goes down and the racing starts. They continue to Barbâtre, then to the Pont de Noirmoutier, which they cross to rejoin the mainland. (For security reasons, people won't be allowed on the bridge to watch the race).
The organisers originally intended to cross the Passage du Gois, a place described by Christian Prudhomme as '...imbued with magic. Its particular aesthetic stems from the coming and going of the tides, which orchestrate the disappearance and rebirth of this bit of road linking the Ile de Noirmoutier and the continent.' That was when Stage 1 was scheduled for 30th June 2018, but after it was put back to 7th July, they couldn't use the Passage du Gois because low tide isn't at the right time. It's a shame, because the Passage du Gois has been used in the past, and made for a nice spectacle.
This French TV report shows the spectacle of the Tour de France on the Passage du Gois in 2011:
After crossing the Pont de Noirmoutier, the riders are on the mainland, and go through Beauvoir-sur-Mer and la Barre-de-Monts. They work their way south down the coast via Saint-Jean-de-Monts, Saint-Hilaire-de-Riez, Bretignolles-sur-Mer, and Brem-sur-Mer, to les Sables-d'Olonne. The Vendée coast here is called the Côte de Lumière.
From les Sables-d'Olonne, Stage 1 continues south east to Talmont-Saint-Hilaire, Saint-Vincent-sur-Jard, and Longeville-sur-Mer (a village surrounded by pine & holm oak forest, and marshes which are home to birds including storks).
The riders pass la Tranche-sur-Mer, then veer inland to Saint-Michel-en-l'Herm, Tiraize, Champagné-les-Marais, Chaillé-les-Marais, Vouillé-les-Marais, le Gué-de-Velluire, and Maillé. They then head north via Maillezais and Saint-Pierre-le-Vieux, towards the finish in Fontenay-le-Comte.
The stage finishes in Fontenay-le-Comte. The exact route and location of the finish line to follow.
There are time bonuses for every mass start stage (10s, 6s, and 4s for first, second and third), so Stage 1 is a chance for one of the sprinters to take the first yellow jersey of the 2017 Tour.
At the time of writing (July 2017), it's too early to say who will be taking part in the 2018 Tour, and who will be in good form. Likely candidates for the stage win include Mark Cavendish, Arnaud Démare, and André Greipel, but perhaps the provisional favourite is Marcel Kittel.
Stage 2 of the Tour de France 2018 is 183km from Mouilleron-Saint-Germain to la Roche-sur-Yon. It's another stage for the sprinters.
Read about Stage 2 of the 2018 Tour de France.
The Ile de Noirmoutier is an island off the Atlantic coast of France. It is about 18km long, and between 500m and 12km wide.
The name Noirmoutier derives from the Latin in herio monasterio, meaning the monastery of Her (a part of the island). It was the monk Saint Philibert who came to the island in the year 674, and founded a monastery.
Noirmoutier is also known as the Island of Mimosas - the temperate climate allows the mimosa tree (acacia debealta) to flower year-round.
The landscape is made up of sand dunes, salt marshes separated by banks, and holm oaks. It was the monks who first set up the salt pans and organised the harvesting of salt.
The island has been connected to the mainland by bridge since 1971. The other link is by the Passage du Gois, which is a paved-over sandbank, 4.5km long, and flooded twice a day by the high tide.
The biggest part of the economy today is tourism. There's also fishing, and an offshore wind farm is being developed near the island, which is expected to be commissioned in 2021.
Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile, the town on the north east of the island, is the historic capital. The population is around 4,800 people, and it has a church and a C12th château. The fishing and pleasure port is part of the commune of Noirmoutier-en-l'Ile.
Les Sables-d'Olonne is a seaside resort in the Vendée, with a population of about 14,000.
It was founded in 1218, when the Olonne harbour was developed by Savary 1st of Mauléon. Its port has always been important,exporting local wine and salt. In the C17th, it became the largest cod-fishing port in France, with 100 boats.
The first bathing establishments here were created in 1825, and les Sables-d'Olonne began to attract aristocratic visitors. There was a casino, les Bains de Mer. The railway line reached Sables-d'Olonne in 1866, and contributed to a wider popularity with tourists.
The Vendée Globe yacht race takes place every four years, and starts and finishes in les Sables-d'Olonne.
Les Sables-d'Olonne is twinned with Worthing (UK).
Fontenay-le-Comte is a small town on the Vendée river, which used to be the capital (préfecture) of the Vendée, before it was moved to la Roche-sur-Yon by Napoléon in 1804.
The name Fontenay stems from 'fountain', and refers to the fontaine des Quatres Tias, rebuilt in 1542. 'Le Comte' is a nod to Alphonse de Poitiers, who received the Poitou area from his brother King Louis IX in 1242.
The Counts of Poitiers built a fortress here. During the Middle Ages, Fontenay thrived due to cloth and leather production, but it was occupied by the English for 11 years, during the Hundred Years War, and was badly damaged during the fighting.
Fontenay blossomed again during the Renaissance, but suffered at the time of the Wars of Religion (late 1500s and early 1600s).
During the French Revolution, when the revolutionaries wanted to wipe out all traces of the ancien régime, Fontenay became known as Fontenay-le-Peuple.
Fontenay was the 1996 winner of the prix national de l'art de vivre! I never knew there was such a thing. I'm imagining an inspection over two days, where the candidate town asks its citizens to read the paper insouciantly at pavement cafés, while drinking espresso accompanied by macarons, and the judges decide if they have done it with sufficient panache.
Frédéric Mazzella, the founder of Blablacar, is from Fontenay.
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