Monday, August 3, 2009

Tour de France 2009

Photo and text: Derek Francis

Montélimar – Le Ventoux
17th edition – 170 km
July 20 2009

“The sun was already shining in the streets of Montélimar this morning at 7am for the start of the 17th edition of the l’Etape du Tour Mondovélo.

A record 8500 riders headed on to the roads of the Drôme and Vaucluse departments in their collective quest to climb the giant Mont Ventoux.

Numerous family members, friends and tourists were on hand at the refreshment points at Buis les Baronnies and Bédoin as well as the southern façade of the Mont Ventoux. The climb of the amateurs was achieved in an ambiance worthy of the Tour de France. A majority of those who rode will also line this same route when the professional take their turn this coming Saturday July 25th.

Recently crowned French road racing champion, Dimitri Champion won the event in 5 hours, 11 minutes after a stunning attack on the first inclines of the Mont Ventoux. Jean-Marc Bideau finished runner-up with junior rider Jimmy Turgis completing the podium.

In the ladies’ division, Magdalena De Saint Jean won and finished 74th overall in an incredible time of 5 hours, 47 minutes.

The 7396 riders who crossed the finish line were spoiled by the sweet aroma of lavender and extraordinary scenery along the roads lined with olive, apricot and cherry trees. It is with this pleasing image that we invite you to an all new Etape du Tour Mondovélo.”

The above was quoted from a press release for an annual event known as the "Etape du Tour" which this year boasted 8500 riders at the start.

Following Lance Armstrong's success in the Tour de France, many Americans now travel to watch the race, mainly in the mountain stages, and those fit enough enter the "Etape"(French for “a stage”) which is run on exactly the same route as the Tour itself.

This year it was particularly tough, consisting of 100 miles and finishing on the mountain of Mont Vontoux which is considered to be the hardest of all the mountain stages due to its severity of climbing, up to 6500 feet, coupled with the landscape which is often described as moonscape with no trees whatsoever.

It was the mountain that claimed the life of Tom Simpson, a British racing cyclist, in 1967 due to dehydration and drugs he had taken to combat dysentery. Today a memorial stands just two Kilometers from the finish, and is constantly being visited by cyclists of all nations

This year’s Etape was won in 5 hours by only a few riders with the majority taking up to nine and half hours. The slowest Tour rider was around five and a half hours, the winner achieving 4 hours 39 minutes.

An American Dave Ward, editor of Cycling Utah, travelled from his home in Salt Lake City to compete in the Etape and finished in nine hours, three of which was taken up by the climb. However, not to be deterred, the next day he climbed Mont Vontoux three times as a challenge.

Provence is the most spectacular of regions in southern France with high mountain ranges, wonderful vineyards and, of course the famous Cote d'Azur. No trip to France is complete without a visit.