“It’s all kicking off out there,” grinned my teenage son when he returned from buying croissants with his dad.
By “kicking off” he meant that every inch of the roadside was lined with massive campervans, the majestic tower of Crest, one of the highest keeps in Europe, was draped in the Tricoleur and the road surfaces had been chalked with everything from Champion to pretty pink and blue hearts.
As luck would have it, this year’s Tour de France passed within half a mile of the House With No Name. And on Bastille Day too. But my cycling-obsessed son announced that the road was too flat to watch from our village and the cyclists would flash past before we had time to blink.
So we drove along the dusty back roads, past fields of sunflowers and lavender, and ended up at the top of the Côte de Bourdeaux – “a category three climb,” my son told me knowledgeably.
At 651 metres, the hill is a third of the size of Mont Ventoux, the finishing point for today’s stage of the Tour de France. But it’s a savage climb nonetheless. Especially when you factor in baking heat and hairpin bends all the way out of the village of Bourdeaux.
By the time we arrived the road was packed. An enterprising farmer had rented his field out as a car park, lots of people had brought tables, chairs and picnics and spectators of all nationalities were snapping up yellow Tour de France T-shirts. A jolly group of Canadians, complete with a huge flag and maple leaf festooned headbands, were there to support Peter Sagan, while a Frenchman yelled at us “are you here for Chris?” “Of course,” I said, proud to be mentioned in the same sentence as superstar Team Sky rider Chris Froome.
Once the advertising caravan had gone by, a cheer went up from the crowd and within a few minutes the cyclists pedalled into view. Sure enough, they whizzed past in a flash of gleaming spokes – so close to the crowd that you could, heaven forbid, reach out and touch them. The cyclist closest to me looked pale with exhaustion and flapped his top in a bid to get some air.
We all yelled fit to burst but before we knew it they had disappeared from sight, pursued by a cavalcade of police outriders, support vans, cars laden with more bikes than I’ve ever seen in my life and a succession of Assistance Médicale vehicles. By the time I’d taken in the whole spectacle they were probably at the bottom of the next valley…