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Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: Bourg-Saint-Andéol to la Caverne du Pont-d'Arc

Pont d'Arc 

Vol au dessus du Pont d'Arc, by Yann Coeuru, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

A guide to Stage 13 of the Tour de France 2016. Stage 13 of the 2016 Tour is from Bourg-Saint-Andéol to la Caverne du Pont-d'Arc, via the Côte de Bourg-Saint-Andéol, Saint-Remèze, le Col du Serre Tourre, the Gorges de l'Ardèche, le Pont d'Arc, and Vallon-Pont-d'Arc. The stage is a 37.5km individual time trial, with a total of 494m (vertical) to climb. It should be a stage for the time trialists rather than the climbers. Read about Stage 13 of the Tour de France 2016 here.

Read the Stage 13 race report.

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: facts, figures, and map

Stage 13 of the Tour de France 2016 is 37.5km from Bourg-St-Andéol to la Caverne du Pont-d'Arc, in the Ardèche département of France.

Stage classification Individual Time Trial
Distance 37.5km

There's an official map of Stage 13, Tour de France 2016

This is the official Tour de France stage profile:

Stage 13 Tour de France 2016 stage profile

Stage 13, Tour de France: timings

According to Pont d'Arc Ardèche, the riders will set off from the Champs de Mars, Bourg-Saint-Andéol

The official Tour de France website has the timings. The first rider is due to set off at 0945, and reach the finish at la Caverne du Pont-d'Arc at 1035 (so, the riders are expected to complete the course in about 50 minutes).

There's 2 minutes between riders, and the last rider (the yellow jersey) will take the start ramp at 1639, finishing at 1729.

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: course reconnaissance by Romain Bardet and Thomas Voeckler

Romain Bardet

Romain Bardet, by Laurie Beylier, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

The Dauphiné Libéré caught up with Romain Bardet (AG2R), and with Thomas Voeckler (Direct NRJ), when they did (separate) reconnaissance of the Stage 13 course. This is the Dauphiné Libéré's video, from 26th February 2016:

As Romain Bardet is being interviewed, someone is doing the washing up very loudly in the background, and he does some world-class mumbling, with a big towel wrapped round his neck. As far as I can tell, he says, 'This stage comes straight after the Mont Ventoux stage, and it's going to be hard, with two proper climbs. It's a bit of a change from the straight, flat time trials that we've seen in the Tour de France in the past. It's a little bit technical [on the descent of the Serre de Tourre]. It's nevertheless a course for the rouleurs, who will do best, but it disadvantages me less than a flat time trial.'

Thomas Voeckler

Thomas Voeckler, by www.instants-cyclistes.fr, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The interviewer suggests to Thomas Voeckler, winner of the Tour de Yorkshire 2016, that there's a big change of rhythm, with the hill at the start, and a fast, flat section afterwards, and Voeckler replies, 'Yes and no, because looking at the stage profile you might think that, but in fact it's very gradual, and there are no surprises. Certainly, there's a climb for the first 6km, but it's an even gradient. The final section is also an even gradient. Between the two, there's some flat, and a fast descent with a little technical part. So in fact, there's not a great change of rhythm.'

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: the start at Bourg-Saint-Andéol

Bourg-Saint-Andéol

Bourg-Saint-Andéol P1390068, by Denis789, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Stage 13 starts at the Champs de Mars in Bourg-Saint-Andéol, a town on the river Rhône. The riders will take the D4 out of Bourg-Saint-Andéol, climbing from an altitude of 70m to 340m in the first few kilometres. 

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: Bourg Saint-Andéol to Saint Remèze

Ardèche

Réserve Naturelle des Gorges de l'Ardèche, by Armin S Kowalski, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The D4 takes the riders uphill out of Bourg-Saint-Andéol, heading north west alongside the ruisseau de Sardagne, then west. They climb up through the Bois de Laoul, a wood with holm oak, pine, boxwood, and cypress trees. (The Bois de Laoul has had various different uses over the centuries: it has been a source of wood for building and heating, there were stone quarries, and sheep have been grazed here).

The first time-check will be after 7.5km, at the top of the initial climb (the Côte de Bourg-Saint-Andéol).

Dolmen du Champ Vermeil

Dolmen du Champ Vermeil, by Armin S Kowalski, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

There are dolmens in this area, which are tombs with two standing stones and one flat one laid across the top, dating from the Neolithic period - 3000 to 1800BC. 

Saint Remeze

Du coté de Saint Remèze, by Benjamine Scalvenzi, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Stage 13 arrives at St Remèze, on the limestone plateau des Gras. 

(There are about 930 Saint-Remèziens and Saint-Remèziennes. Remèze is the Occitan dialect form of Rémi, and Saint Rémi was Bishop of Reims in the time of King Clovis (C5th). The village developed in the 800s around a church which belonged to the Bishop of Viviers. Today, the village lives from tourism, and the production of wine and lavender. Wild animals which live here on the plateau include wild boar, foxes, badgers, civet cats, and the Bonelli eagle. There are also wild goats).

In Saint Remèze, Stage 13 takes the D490 towards the Col du Serre de Tourre.

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: the Gorges de l'Ardèche and the Pont d'Arc

Le Pont d'Arc, Gorges de l'Ardèche

Pont-d'Arc, by Klaus, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

The D490 crosses a stream called le Grand Charmasson, and skirts a hill, le Serre de Tourre. It meets the D290, which is the road that runs through the Gorges de l'Ardèche. This junction of the D490 & D290 is the Col du Serre de Tour is at 323m, with a viewpoint called the Belvédère du Serre de Tour. Stage 13 now follows the D290, and descends via a tunnel and a hairpin bend to the river Ardèche, and an altitude of about 90m. This descent is the technical part of the course (mentioned by Voeckler, see above).

The road now runs close to the river, and goes past Camping la Rouvière. Soon after, it comes to the dramatic highlight of the Gorges de l'Ardèche, le Pont d'Arc. The second time-check is here, after 28km.

Diving at le Pont d'Arc

Diving under Pont d'Arc, by Shever, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: Vallon-Pont-d'Arc & the finish at la Caverne du Pont-d'Arc

Vallon-Pont-d'Arc

Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, by Mypouss, Licence CC BY 2.0

Stage 13 follows the D290 along the river Ardèche, past the Rapide Charlemagne, the Rapide des Branches, the Grotte des Huguenots, and the Grotte des Tunnels.

The race goes through Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, where there should be crowds cheering the riders on. (Vallon-Pont-d'Arc is quiet in winter, but the population increases tenfold in the summer. Its attraction to visitors comes from the fact that it's the start-point for the descent of the Gorges de l'Ardèche by canoe or kayak. The name Vallon here is thought to come from a Gallic word avallo, meaning apple, and with the suffix -one, orchard. The name Avalone was no longer understood, and it evolved into Vallon).

From Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, the race goes east, uphill on the D5 for another 6km. Ouest France has this map of the end of the stage:

Map of last 5km of Stage 13 time trial, Tour de France 2016

This is the profile of the end of the stage:

Profile of last 5km of Stage 13 Tour de France 2016

Profile of the last 5km of the Stage 13 time trial, © A.S.O. Tour de France organisers

The finish line is at la Caverne du Pont-d'Arc (a replica of the Chauvet cave, where amazing prehistoric cave paintings were found). 

Chauvet cave painting, bison

Bison en Charbon de Bois, la Caverne Pont-d'Arc, by Claude Valette, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: favourites for the win

Tom Dumoulin, Tour de France 2015, Utrecht

Tom Dumoulin - Tour de France 2015, by Rob Schleiffert, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Time trial specialist Tom Dumoulin has been confirmed in the Team Giant Alpecin line-up for the 2016 Tour de France. Dumoulin will be one of the favourites for Stage 13.

Dumoulin impressed in the 2015 Vuelta a Espana, showing that he can climb as well as time trial. He was also on form at the start of the 2016 Giro d'Italia, a race he didn't complete. This time trial with climbing could be ideal for the Dutchman. He is on form after his win on Stage 9.

Giant Alpecin say that following the Giro d'Italia, Dumoulin's participation in the Tour de France has been identified as 'the ideal next step toward [his] second goal of the season, in Rio. Dumoulin will be primarily focusing on stage results.' This leaves open the possibility that he won't complete the Tour de France, but it seems highly unlikely that he would pull out before the first time trial - his best chance of a stage win.

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: Geraint Thomas's view

Geraint Thomas

Geraint Thomas, by Dacoucou, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Geraint Thomas made these comments about Stage 13 to the BBC's Peter Scrivener: 'We went to recce this stage in November because it is a key day where lots of time can be gained and lost. You have to judge your effort well. There's no point going well on the first uphill section and then having nothing on the flat that follows. There's an uphill kick to the finish as well, so it will be an hour of suffering - which is at least better than six hours on the mountain stages. It's certainly leaning in Chris Froome's favour - the final 3km climb will help the other general classification guys but Froomey will be looking to put some time on his rivals. 

Who does Thomas think will win? Tony Martin.

CyclingNews quotes Bernard Thévenet, who won the Tour de France twice in the 1970s. 'A hard time trial, which will suit the rouleurs more than the climbers, but a special kind of rouleur. The pure rouleur can hold a very high rhythm for a long time, but this time trial is held on smaller roads, with ups and downs, and lots of changes of rhythm. The winner will be somebody who can keep adjusting to those changes. These days, TT time gaps can be bigger than the mountain gaps, so today will be a very important day for the yellow jersey.'

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Stage 14, Tour de France 2016

Romans-sur-Isère

Stage 14 of the 2016 Tour de France is 208.5km up the Rhône valley from Montélimar to Villars-les-Dombes Parc des Oiseaux. If the Mistral blows, it could be a long day into a headwind. There are three Category 4 climbs, then an intermediate sprint at la Fayette, after 145.5km. There's a drag up away from the Rhône, after crossing it near the Barrage de Jons, but after that, the finish is flat. It should be a day for a bunch sprint. Read about Stage 14, Tour de France 2016.

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: sights and attractions on the route

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: Bourg-Saint-Andéol

Bourg-Saint-Andéol

Bourg-Saint-Andéol P1390068, by Denis789, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

Bourg-Saint-Andéol is a town on the river Rhône, where two streams, the Sardagne and the Tourne, meet and flow into the Rhône. It's in the southern Ardèche.

There was a Gallic settlement here before the Romans arrived, called Bergoiata. In Roman times, the name became Bergus or Burgum. The current name of the town derives from Saint Andeolus, 'the apostle of the Vivarais', who evangelised the area in the time of Roman Emporer Septimus. Andeolus was assassinated at Viviers in the year 208, and his body thrown in the river Rhône; it was washed up on the river bank at Bergoiata/Bourg-Saint-Andéol, and he was buried here.

In Roman times, Alba-la-Romaine (north of Bourg-Saint-Andéol, and a few km west of the Rhône) was the local capital, and in the Middle Ages, it was Viviers (north of Bourg-Saint-Andéol, and on the river).

About one third of the old town was destroyed in an Allied bombardment on 15th August 1944, and 149 people were killed, and 300 injured.

Crocodile at Pierrelatte

Crocodile Dundee, Ferme aux Crocodiles à Pierrelatte, by Spiterman, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Today one of the main local employers is the EDF nuclear plant at Tricastin, near Pierrelatte. Warm water from the power station is used for the crocodile farm. Côtes du Rhône wine is also important to the local economy, as is olive oil.

There's some tourism in Bourg-Saint-Andéol. It has fine houses (in spite of the bombardment in World War II), and unspoilt countryside around. E M de Vogué, wrote of Bourg-Saint-Andéol in 1892: 'Our architects should go and study the mansions of the C17th, so noble with their decorative sculptures, which make this little town a French rival to Bruges and Heidelberg.'

The Bishops' Palace (Palais des Evêques) is perhaps the most imposing building in Bourg-Saint-Andéol. It sits on the rocher Saint Michel, site of the Roman castrum. It became the private residence of the Bishops of Viviers in the middle of the C13th, and remained so until 1732.


Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: le Pont d'Arc

Le Pont d'Arc, Gorges de l'Ardèche

Pont-d'Arc, by Klaus, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Le Pont d'Arc is 54m high, with a span of 60m. It is one of the most famous sights in the Ardèche. 

The Vicomte E M de Vogué, diplomat and travel writer, wrote: 

'The river arrives at a meander which is blocked by a high rock cliff, from where it does not seem that would be able to pass. In ages past, the river made a long detour to go round the obstacle on the left. Its effort, repeated over innumerable years, finally succeeded in drilling through the mountain, in a straight line. It rushes under this natural bridge, of which I cannot give a better idea than to say that it is more or less like, in shape, height, and width, the first arch of the Eiffel tower.'

The Wars of Religion (from 1562) were bitterly fought in this part of the world. At that time, there was a road crossing over the Pont d'Arc, and it is said that prisoners were made to jump off. 

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: the Ardèche

Balazuc, Ardèche

Balazuc - Ardèche - France, by Armin S Kowalski, Flickr, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

The Ardèche is a small part of the Massif Central, on its south eastern fringe. It's a département of France, which is popular with Dutch and Germans visitors to the local camping and caravan sites.

These are some extracts of a book about the Ardèche and its inhabitants, by E M de Vogué in 1892:

'The Issarles lake, the pont d'Arc, the St Marcel caves! How I longed to see those places. They looked so beautiful in the pictures of the books, which I read in the evening under the light of my bedside lamp. They became even more wonderful in my mind, when my imagination had worked on them, and they inspired dreams once I had fallen asleep.

I never realised those dreams: transport was difficult, in those days, between the High and the Low Ardèche; mountains separated us from the south, they distanced the promised lands of the books - they made them almost as impossibly far away as Syria and Egypt, the lands which I read about in my bible. I travelled to other more famous places, but all the sights I saw on my travels could never erase the old images, which were burned upon my memory, and remained as clear as the dawn. They worked away in my subconscious. But never did occasion or leisure permit me to go and test my images against reality.

Finally, last summer, I decided to go and take the waters at Vals les Bains, not without feeling a little secret anguish lest I be disillusioned.

I came back this year, and I have seen and re-seen all the places described in the books I read as a child. Well! Having seen he real version, I can say that neither the words nor the illustrations, nor the dreams of my child's mind, had exaggerated. There are more majestic regions of our France; there are none, so far as I know, more original, with more contrasts, where one can, as once can here, pass in a few hours from Alpine landscapes to Italian landscapes; there are none where the history of the land and its people is written on the earth so clearly, so vividly. And, I would add, there are no regions which are more ignored, where one has the pleasure of original discoveries.

Over recent years, the railways have begun to eat into the lower valleys which run down to the Rhône; the labyrinth of valleys higher up is still resisting. Here, one never sees an Englishman, and the Parisian is a rare beast.

This little country is so little known that it will not be a waste to describe its exact situation. Between the industrial basin of the Loire, to the north, and the Gard plains of the Midi, to the south, this packet of volcanic mountains stands opposite the Dauphiné; its abrupt slopes hurtle down from the ridges of the Cévennes to the bed of the river Rhône. Placed at the nothern horn of the Languedoc, like a bastion which defended the kingdoms of the Midi against the people of the north, the Ardèche is a frontier land, between two landscapes, disputed between two races of men.'

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: Ardèche river and the Gorges de l'Ardèche

Gorges de l'Ardèche

Gorges de l'Ardèche, by Bernard Niess, Flickr, Licence CC BY 2.0

The river Ardèche is a tributary of the Rhône. It rises in the Massif Central - the Mazan massif - and follows a 74 mile course before flowing into the Rhône. The gorges wind back and forth, with cliffs often dropping 300m straight down. There are 12 main viewpoints for photo stops.

I once found a tourist brochure with this poetic use of English:

'When natures becomes art, the spectacle is sublime. Wild and supreme, the Ardèche gorges are the personification of eternity. They are quite simply grandiose.'

Geology

The rock here is 110 million years old, and it is limestone which was created when there was a shallow sea. It was raised up when the Alps were formed, and the rock broke, creating a fault. This allowed water to penetrate, and the waters of rivers created the gorge: first, underground rivers hollowed it out, then the Ardèche river began to dig deeper into the fault.

The river in spate

The river is famous for its spates, When it starts to rain up in the Massif Central, the river's flow becomes impressive. (The source of the Ardèche is north of Vals les Bains). This is what E M de Vogué wrote on the subject:

'The multitude of streams, and the rapidity with which they pour into the Ardèche, are a perpetual menace for the country downstream; the Ardèche can be just a narrow channel of water on a large bed of sand and rocks; one night of storms, and in the morning she can be transformed into a torrent which can equal the Rhône for its flow of water.'

In September 1890, 28 bridges were swept away, and the river level came to within 20m of the pont d'Arc.

Ways to see the gorges

It's possible to walk the Ardèche gorges, and takes at least 8 hours. It can be done by kayak or canoe, and takes a minimum of 7 hours for the 19 miles. In peak periods, there are 2,000 people on the water every day, creating a healthy trade for the canoe and kayak rental businesses, which also collect the boats at the bottom of the gorges, and take them and the clients back up with minbuses and trailers. 'The trip is not dangerous, and accidents are rare; nevertheless, the rapids might give you some exciting moments,' according to that tourist brochure.

It also has some words of wisdom about the possibility of hiring a traditional flat-bottomed boat (gabare) and boatman: 'Muscular effort will not interfere with your contemplation, and the boatman himself truly acts as the gorges' memory.'

Caves

There are a number of caves, including the world-famous Chauvet cave. E M de Vogué says:

'The porous rock of the sides of the Ardèche gorge, which sometimes overhang the road, are riddled with caverns which sometimes penetrate far into the mountain. Today [1892], herds of sheep and goats are kept there, and their heads sometimes pop out in alarm as a carriage rolls by. Since time immemorial, these retreats have served as safe asylums to the vanquished, the banished, rebels under all regimes: Saracens, Albigensians, bandits, Huguenots, and royalists.'

Inevitably, the tourist brochure chips in its two penn'orth:

'Millenium sites, invaluable witnesses, one of the major chapters in everyone's history, the origins of man, is written in Ardèche. When history reads like an adventure novel...a rare emotion.'

Stage 13, Tour de France 2016: la Caverne du Pont-d'Arc

La Caverne du Pont-d'Arc is a tourist attraction, a replica of the nearby Grotte Chauvet, which contains the earliest known and best preserved figurative cave paintings in the world. (The Grotte Chauvet is on an old meander of the river Ardèche, which it took before it eroded the passage through the Pont d'Arc. The road now takes the old meander).

Grotte Chauvet, rhino

Rhinocéros, la Caverne Pont d'Arc, by Claude Valette, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

The Grotte Chauvet was discovered in 1994 by cavers Jean-Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel, and Christian Hillaire. It has around a thousand paintings and engravings, with 447 representations of animals, and 14 different species. They were created about 31,000 years ago, according to carbon dating tests which have been done, which makes them amongst the oldest found anywhere in the world.

Horses, Grotte Chauvet

Panneau des Chevaux, la Caverne Pont d'Arc, by Claude Valette, Flickr, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Lavender at Saint Remèzele Pont d'ArcBison, Chauvet Cave

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