Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stage 20 Mont Ventoux

This year the ASO saved the best for the end, or the day before the end, as riders will tackle the stage to the top of Mont Ventoux. The climb has many names like the Giant of Provence, or the Bald Giant, but I like to call it brutal.

In 2000 the famous Armstrong-Pantani duel the swirling winds were cold and relentless, a common occurrence on Ventoux. In fact, the word Ventoux is made of two words Vent, which means wind, and tout, which is any or all, literally Ventoux itself is named for the swirling winds. A group of friends and I huddled away from the wind on the moonscape white rocks awaiting the racers that day.

In 2002 the riders returned only to deal with heat, I recall standing on the blacktop and it was sticking to my shoes. With no shade for the last 6k it was a severe test for the riders.

For fans this stage could serve as one of the most epic in tour history because cracking on the Ventoux is something no rider wants to imagine. ANY G.C. contender in the 2009 Tour won’t feel safe with a lead until they complete this stage.

If you plan on seeing the stage there are several ways to get here. Avignon is close by and has both TGV and airport. It would be possible to see the stage here and catch a TGV Train Sunday morning arriving in Paris in plenty of time to see the riders on the Champs-Elysees.

Provence is such a beautiful region that there are a number of places to stay that within riding distance of the Ventoux. Places like Carpentras and Vaison-la-Romine as well as Sault, Bedoin, or Malaucene

There are 3 ways UP the Ventoux and it is important to know on race day that riders will climb from Bedoin on the D974. The good news is for that those with no bike and only a car you can at least drive partially up and walk the rest. In 2000 I drove up the back way from Malaucene, arriving at 8-9 ish up the D974 I was able to park about 6k from the summit and walk up near a bar/restaurant named Chalet Liotard (link below) . The D164 from Sault will also offer you the chance to park close to the famous Chalet Reynard (link below).

It is where the tree’s end and the moonscape white rocks begin, or about 6k from the summit. Chalet Reynard has a bar/restaurant and a rock formation on the hillside forms a natural amphitheatre of sorts.

If you wanted to get an unforgettable ride before, after, OR on the way to the stage I’d suggest parking a car in Villes-sur-Auzon (link below) and riding through the Gorges De la Nesque on the D942 towards Sault. The route is as beautiful as rides get in the Provence.

Once in Sault you can fuel up for the day and the climb to Ventoux. The ride through the Gorge is about 22k but uphill. I’d start early to get a chance to enjoy and not rush to get to the stage. In case your wondering the route UP Ventoux from Sault on the D164 is the easiest as it gains 1220 meteres over 26k. Riding the D974 is more challenging.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

2009 TdF Stage 9 Viewing Information

Stage 9 is that of legends. Though it won’t finish on a climb it will go over the mythic Tourmalet after coming off the Aspin. There are a bevy of towns to use as a base such as Lourdes, and the surrounding area. From personal experience I would suggest finding a spot closer to towns such as Argeles-Gazost, Bagneres-de-Bigorre or Luz-st-Saveur.

Without a doubt the best viewing spot on this stage will be ON the Tourmalet. The riders will make their way up the slopes from the crossroads at St Marie de Campan, where the road comes off of the Aspin.

The Tourmalet is very viewing friendly as you have the ski village of La Mongie near the top. Plenty of bars, restaurants and shops to keep you entertained. At the top of the Tourmalet is the Bar/Restaurant Tourmalet and having eaten there no less than 6 times I can say the garbure (hearty soup) is worth the wait.

Getting up the Tourmalet won’t be easy, it is an HC climb after all, but logistically speaking getting here in time for the stage is easily do-able for a first time tour fan. If you are staying in Argeles-Gazost or Lourdes you can easily climb the direction the race will travel OR come up the backside of the climb on the D918 from Luz-st-Sauveur.

If coming from Bagneres-de-Bigorre expect the road to be shut down several kilometers from the base off the climb so you’ll have a good walk if you have no bike. Riding from the direction of Bagneres-de-Bigorre would be MY personal recommendation as the crowd on the Tourmalet is something not to miss. It makes the ascent more pleasant than climbing up the backside from Luz.

Even for those staying in Lourdes, Argeles etc it is easy to ride the back roads to Bagneres-de-Bigorre and then onto the slopes of the Tourmalet. If you already know where you’ll be and would like some advice on route for race day feel free to mail. I’ve spent lots of time in the area and have lots of suggestions.

Most of all if you’re staying near Argeles and if you’d like a nice dinner check out Le Boiuc, it is at the base of the Hautacam on the D100 where it intersects with the D13. They have a great patio to watch the sunset over the Pyrenees. Try the grilled goat cheese salad with orange honey vinaigrette dressing.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Welcome to the Tour de France Travel Blog

Getting to the Tour de France can be both a challenge and a thrill if you are trying to go it alone/without a Tour provider. In 2000 I made my first Tour and didn't miss one until 2008. Most of those years I split time working as professional tour guide, or traveling with friends. 

For 2009 I will again be at Le Tour and have published this blog as a way for helping people looking for travel advice. For a few years during my travels I published a small book on how to do self-guided trips. This information comes directly from that book. 

I have split the different chapters into posts that are located on the right hand column of this page  (blog archive). Hopefully you'll find just the bit of info you're looking for. If not feel free to mail me. I will also be posting from the tour and leading up to the Tour on Twitter. 

Over the next few weeks we be adding posts on key stages with tips on where to stay, where to watch and how to get there. Most of the info will be focused on the stages in Alps, Pyrenees, Mont Ventoux and the time trial in Annecy. 

email tourjohnnys AT gmail DOT com