A guide to the Tour de France
In last night's Cycling Podcast, the three amigos discussed the issue of the security of the riders. Lionel said he is nervous about talking about this subject. 'You don't want to inspire nutcases,' but the Tour is very vulnerable.
François mentioned that Romain Bardet had spoken about the need for spectators to respect the race and the riders. I looked for the TV interview, but it seems to be blocked for anyone outside France, so I have only a few quotes to go on. It seems to amount to 'please don't affect the outcome of the race by behaving badly.' That's alright, but is it enough?
Crosswinds caused splits in the main field early on on Stage 14, but it came to nothing.
ITV4's highlights programme concentrated on the last 20km - presumably that was by far the most interesting bit of the race. Omar Fraile timed his attack well. Alaphilippe caught Stuyven, who was behind Fraile, but left it too late to catch Astana rider Fraile.
It is a lot neater when the breakaway is 20 minutes ahead of the peloton - then you can have two separate races up the final climb.
Even if some other teams have given up on this Tour, the Dutch teams haven't. Primoz Roglic attacked and made up 8 seconds on those ahead of him on GC. Froome, Dumoulin, and Thomas finished together.
Correct predictions of stage winners on this website: 2 out of 14
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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