Following the somewhat wet Tour de Yorkshire sportive, I decided that a touch of sun was called for, so I took myself off to the South of France for a short while, with a brief interlude en route in Burgundy for a gentle ride around the vineyards on some of the countryside’s usual virtually deserted back roads.
I never cease to be amazed just how precise the rows of vines are (I can’t even cycle that straight) when, all of a sudden, you come across a hidden gem of an old chateau, with its moats, battlements and round turrets - it almost makes cycling worthwhile.
Ah, well, the Mediterranean was beckoning, so south I headed down to Hyères, where the weather was touching 30c and the sea as blue as ever - pity to spoil it all by cycling.
Sunday dawned with the start of the Tour de Provence seven day sportive and, despite my reservations about an event that wasn’t timed, it transpired that the younger element were hell bent on setting a relentless pace, presumably to make the only Brit in the event suffer - which they did with remarkable success.
Day one was the longest at just about 100 miles in 27c temperatures, with the last 30 miles or so to Castellane being through the spectacular Gorges du Verdon, France’s answer to the Grand Canyon, not to be recommended if you suffer from vertigo, especially at the ridiculously high Pont de l’Artuby, where a brief stop was inevitable, once we saw the bungee jumping in progress.
Day two saw us return through the Gorges on the other side for a mere 87 miles to Cadenet, before Day three and its 72 miles to Sault at the foot of Le Mont Ventoux, but not before going via Bédoin and the hardest of the three routes up the Ventoux - and that after some 50 miles.
At least that clocked up my 20th ascent of the Giant of Provence.
That evening saw us get an object lesson in carbohydrate recovery from a group of Dutch cyclists who rapidly downed a pint of lager each - seven times.
I had a couple of tonic waters.
Day four was the shortest at only 62 miles, marred by my puncturing after only three miles, when we encountered a couple of miles of road re-surfacing and then 59 miles of continual, strong headwinds, all the way into the Ardèche.
Day five found us cycling through the Ardèche gorges, avoiding wild goats wandering all over the road, with, then, some 60 miles of tailwind down to Remoulins.
A nice touch on arrival was when the organisers took four of us to see the famous Pont du Gard, a well preserved Roman aqueduct, which had escaped a visit from me all these years.
Day six was a bit of a trek down to Aix-en-Provence, but the 82 miles were worth it just get re-acquainted with that beautiful town, with its vibrant atmosphere, pavement cafés and its well maintained historic buildings.
Finally, Day seven led us out of Aix, via Le Mont Victoire, beloved of Cézanne and ignored by most tourists who pass by on the nearby Autoroute while blazing a trail to the Cote d’Azur.
Our penultimate climb was halted half way up by a road closure and our first diversion cut short (but not short enough) by a ‘no cycles’ stretch of road, resulting in a longer than planned 96 miles back into Hyères and a welcome glass of champagne.
All in all, a good week’s cycling with full board accommodation and full service support included in the reasonable price and a very good start to the rest of my stay, for more of which, read my next article.