A guide to the Tour de France
Stage 14 of the Tour de France 2018 is 188km from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Mende. This hilly stage takes the peloton up the Gorges de l'Ardèche, and into the Cévennes. There are some testing climbs in the Cévennes, including the Category 2 Col de la Croix de Berthel. The race skirts Mende, before tackling the steep climb of the Côte de la Croix Neuve, up to Mende Aerodrome. There's 1.5km of flat between the top of the climb and the finish line. Read about Stage 14 of the Tour de France 2018 here.
These are the video highlights of Stage 14:
Read the Hedgehog Stage 14 diary.
|Climbs||Côte du Grand Châtaignier (Category 4)
Col de la Croix de Berthel (Category 2)
Col du Pont sans Eau (Category 3)
Côte de la Croix Neuve (Category 2)
This is the official map of Stage 14.
The official Tour de France stage profile for Stage 14:
Profile of Stage 14, Tour de France 2018, © ASO/Tour de France
Saturday 21st July 2018.
The departure times from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux are 1105 (publicity caravan) and 1305 (peloton). The racing starts 5 minutes later. The three estimated speeds are 40, 42, and 44kmh. Depending on which is most accurate, the riders are expected at the finish line in Mende between 1728 and 1754.
Mark Cavendish looks forward to the Tour de France for the BBC, and names his 'one to watch' - his prediction for the stage win.
'This type of stage is normally gruelling. We're going up and up and up into the Massif Central, rolling through the countryside. On the profile, it doesn't look like too many blips, but it really does go up and down. There's no let off for the last half of the stage, and then a horrible, steep climb up to Mende. I remember when Steve Cummings won from a breakaway in Mende on Nelson Mandela day in 2015.
And I think a breakaway will stay to the end this time too.
His one to watch? Luis Léon Sanchez. [Unfortunately, the Spaniard has had to abandon the race, so will not win Stage 14.]
Stage 14 starts at Saint-Paul-Trois Châteaux, in the Drôme département.
According to the town's website, the Village du Tour will be set up on parking Chausy (by the Tourist Office and Town Hall), and at place du Marché a big screen will show the race live. There'll be a stage with music and entertainment at place de la Libération. The riders set off from place de Libération (départ fictif).
They leave town on the D59. The neutralised section is quite short, and the départ réel comes on the D59 before it crosses the Rhône canal. On the other side of the canal, the peloton will pass la Ferme aux Crocodiles (crocodile farm) at Pierrelatte, then continue over the river Rhône into the Ardèche département and to Bourg-Saint-Andéol.
After Bourg-Saint-Andéol, the riders make their way west to a hamlet called Bidon.
Bidon means phoney or fake, and 'un argument bidon' is a bogus argument. Bidon is also the French word for the water bottles used by cyclists. Perhaps the race organisers wanted to pass Bidon for this reason. Anyway, it might be a good moment to discuss changing the practice in professional cycling of throwing bidons off the side of the road. We're always told that a clean-up team comes along afterwards and picks up all the rubbish, but there is no way they find all the bidons chucked into hedges and down mountain slopes by the professional peloton.
At a time when we're more aware of plastic pollution than ever before, can it be acceptable to throw water bottles into the countryside in this way?
The Ardèche is one of the less developed, more remote and beautiful départements of France. From Bidon, the race heads a short distance south to what is probably the département's top attraction, the Gorges de l'Ardèche. The riders travel up-river.
A winding road runs through arid countryside, alongside or, at times, high above the river Ardèche as it twists through the gorges. The river can be a relative trickle or, after heavy rains upstream, a torrent. The pont d'Arc, a natural bridge over the river, is the most famous sight of the gorges. Near it, wonderful prehistoric cave paintings were found in the Grotte Chauvet, and they have been reproduced at a visitor attraction called la Caverne du Pont-d'Arc.
Vallon-Pont-d'Arc is the village at the top of the Gorges de l'Ardèche. Stage 14 of the 2018 Tour de France passes it and continues a little further up the river, before turning to head south west, following the Chassezac initially, then continuing to Saint-Paul-le-Jeune. (Saint-Paul-le-Jeune is a collection of hamlets plus a central village. It's in the peripheral zone of the Cévennes National Park - communes signed up to a Charter committing themselves to sustainable development, in solidarity with the core National Park area. Saint-Paul-le-Jeune boasts the third most beautiful cave in France (!), the Grotte de Cocalière).
Shortly after Saint-Paul-le-Jeune comes the first categorised climb of the day, the Côte du Grand Chataignier (the Big Chestnut tree climb, Category 4). It's 1km at an average gradient of 7.4%. The height at the top is 321m.
After the summit, the riders leave the Ardèche département and cross into the Gard. They descend to the Ganières river and a village of very nearly the same name, Gagnières. There were coal mines here, but they have closed, and the village lives from green tourism. People sometimes pan for gold in the river.
At the confluence of the Ganières and the Cèze, the route follows the Cèze upstream to Bessèges, the location of the day's intermediate sprint. Bessèges is another former coal mining village, which once had a population of 11,000. It is home to the Etoile de Bessèges road cycling race.
In Bessèges, the riders cross the Cèze, and continue to follow it upstream to Peyremale. (Peyremale is part of the peripheral zone of the National Park. It's name could mean 'badly paved'. It's at the confluence of the Luech and the Cèze, and otters and beavers live in these waters).
Now following a stream called l'Homol, Stage 14 reaches Génolhac, right on the edge of the core National Park area.
Shortly after Génolhac, Stage 14 leaves the Gard and enters the Lozère département. The D998/D37 takes the riders up the valley of the Luech and into the Cévennes proper - le Parc National des Cévennes.
The route is rising now. The riders pass Saint-Maurice-de-Ventalon. Ventalon is a proprietary asthma medication, and C5th hermit Saint-Maurice was himself asthmatic; he was barred from the Monastery Bicycle race by the Abbot in 493AD, only to be reinstated just before the start.
Soon after Saint-Maurice, the riders reach the top of the Col de la Croix de Berthel - Category 2, 9.1km at 5.3%, reaching 1,088m at the top.
The route joins the river Tarn and reaches le Pont-du-Montvert.
Le Pont-du-Montvert sits at the foot of the Mont de Lozère. It has a high concentration of prehistoric standing stones, les menhirs du Cham de Bondons. The future Pope Urban V was born in the Château de Grizac, within the modern Commune of le Pont-du-Montvert.
Robert-Louis Stevenson visited le Pont-du-Montvert during his Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes, and in his book he recounts the history of strife between Protestants and Catholics in the town.
From Pont-du-Montvert, Stevenson took the road along the Tarn valley to Florac; the Tour de France riders will have to climb instead, on the D35 to the Col du Pont-sans-Eau (Category 3, 3.3km at 6.3%, 1,084m at the top).
The race continues via Fraissinet-de-Lozère and Runes, which has a nice waterfall.
The highest point of the stage comes at la Baraque-de-l'Air, then the riders descend to the Col de Montmirat. From there, it's major roads and downhill until they near Mende.
Stage 14 arrives in Mende from the west, on the N88. It goes round the south western quarter of the inner ring road, close to the centre, then it leaves heading south on the D25.
The road kicks up sharply now, and this is the Côte de la Croix Neuve - Category 2, 3km at 10.2%, 1,055m at the top.
Profile of the Côte de la Croix Neuve, © ASO/Tour de France
The climb was known as la Montée Jalabert, after Laurent Jalabert. This dates back to his 14th July win on Stage 12 of the Tour de France 1995. In recent times when the race has included the climb, the organisers have made no mention of Jalabert, probably because tests have shown that he used EPO during at least one Tour de France.
The climb brings the riders to the Aérodrome de Mende-Brenoux. From the top of the Côte de la Croix Neuve, there's 1.5km of flat to the finish line.
Serge Pauwels wins the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire, by SWPix
The favourites for the stage win include the Classics riders. Greg van Avermaet's name often comes up on days like this, and Peter Sagan can't be ruled out. Steve Cummings won last time the Tour de France finished here, on Stage 14 of the Tour de France 2015, but he hasn't been selected by Dimesion Data for the 2018 race. Here's a reminder of his exploits:
In the absence of Cummings, it seems appropriate to back one of his team mates, and the best bet is the winner of the 2017 Tour de Yorkshire, Serge Pauwels.
Stage 15 of the Tour de France 2018 is 181km from Millau to Carcassonne. This hilly stage includes the Pic de Nore, the highest part of the Montagne Noire, and should favour Classics riders and spinters who can climb.
Read about Stage 15 of the 2018 Tour de France.
Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux is a small town in the Drôme département, on the east bank of the river Rhône.
Saint-Paul was the first Bishop here in the C4th. The origin of the name 'trois chateaux' or 'three castles' results from a misunderstanding. A Celtic tribe called the Tricastini lived here, and their town was called Noviomagus Tricastinorum in Latin, meaning 'new market of the Tricastini'. Tricastinorum was misunderstood as being 'of the three castles' at some point in history, and translated into French as such.
Wine is produced locally, under the Appellation d'Origine Controllée Grignan-les-Adhémar. It was previously called Côteaux du Tricastin, but the association of the name Tricastin with the local nuclear power station was probably unhelpful - nobody likes to think they're drinking nuclear wine. Black truffles are harvested in the area, and olive oil is produced.
The ruins of Roman ramparts are visible here. There's a C12th Cathedral.
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.
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.
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.'
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.'
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 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.
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.'
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 , 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.'
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.
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).
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.
The Cévennes are mountains in south central France, on the edge of the Massif Central, and within départements including the Ardèche and the Lozère. The highest point is Mont Lozère (1,702m).
In the late C17th, during the Wars of Religion, the Cévennes was a place of refuge for French Protestants.
The Cévennes range gives its name to a meteorological phenomenon, when cold Atlantic air meets warm Mediterranean air and causes heavy autumnal downpours. These are known was épisodes cévenols.
In the core area of the Cévennes National Park, strict rules are in place to protect the natural and cultural heritage of the area. There is also a wider Park area, including communes which have signed a Charter committing themselves to sustainable development, even though the strict rules do not apply here.
Permanent residents within the park engage in hunting, forestry, and agriculture, and they offer accommodation and services for tourists.
Several species of vulture have been successfully reintroduced to the Cévennes, and wolves have re-colonised the area since 2012.
Mende is a town in the Lozère département of France. It is high up the valley of the river Lot. People lived here from around 200BC, and the Romans built villas at Mende.
Mont Mimat, a forested hill, overlooks Mende. It can be climbed by the Côte de la Croix Neuve. (There was a wooden cross dedicated to Saint Privat, who lived as a hermit in a cave on Mont Mimat in the C3rd. The wooden cross was put up in 1900, but replaced with a new iron cross in 1933).
Mont Mimat is one of the Causses (a limestone plateau), and this is the Grandes Causses area of the Lozère.
Sights in Mende include the Tower of the Penitents (a C12th tower at one of the gates in the old town walls), and the Notre-Dame bridge (dating from the C13th, surprisingly it has never been carried away by the river in flood).
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