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Part One: Montelimar to Nyons
The Start point is Place du Theatre, near the Boulevard Aristide Briand (start of the Tour stage the following Saturday). Beginning at the foot of the citadel, where the old town meets the new town amongst the shadows of a tree lined boulevard, fringed with cafes and copious hedges for last minute relief. The boulevard moves into avenue General de Gaulle, Avenue Jean Jaures and Boulevard de l'Europe – a roll call of typical French street names.
Rolling out of Montelimar the road follows a dried up river. The bridge across this gully is soon followed by a couple of tight turns, watch yourself. Onto the D4 and very quickly out of town, latch on to a group that suits your pace and hold steady into the countryside, in the direction of Espeluche and Allan.
Provencal fields, a few vineyards, the mountains of the Drome up ahead with the sun rising up behind them. Upwards to the right are a row of white turbines. You'll be heading up there. Then a nice fast road with gentle undulations, breath in the morning air. Under the motorway and through the small village of Espeluche, past plane trees, gradually climbing through lush farmland of the Citelle valley. Fields of poppies at Le Colombier, then a ramp with the gradient increasing and take a left turn to start the Cote de Citelle.
"If you can take time to breathe in the air, to smell the sweetness of this region is a luxury that cannot be missed.”
The D24, old road, poor tarmac. Oak, pine, scrub. Old stone walls to your left. The sort of French road that has been used by local races for 100 years. Imagine you are Jacques Anquetil… A steady gradient of 5%, perhaps the big ring if you feel racey but keep it steady. Half way up the road surface improves and you can see the white turbines up ahead on the right. That marks the top at 428m.
Hit by the first whispers of the Mistral and straight over into a fast descent. Don't get focused on the descent too quickly as, two corners in, you get your first view of Ventoux, get used to the site of it. You're only 15km into the Etape and there is the prize. Huge and shrouded in mist, miles in the distance. It looks much bigger from the north- west side, high as the clouds. You have to go all the way to meet it, right around it and then up the thing. Daunting.
"It's here the haunting starts. You're going to see that mountain off and on for the rest of the day. You should hope that it's a cloudy day, then you won't see it and have no idea how far away it is."
With Ventoux now a reality you take a fast descent for 4km through the Foret Communal de Grignan and down to Salles Sous Bois. The next 10km are through rural Provence. Small villages, vineyards, olive and fruit trees decorate the rolling landscape. This may be the department of Drome and well to the north of Orange and Avignon, but it's definitely Provence. Savour it. Most beautiful is the gorgeous village of Rousset Les Vignes with flowers growing out of the aged walls. There's a short, sharp climb of 6-7% just before the village, then you climb around the castle, drop down to the D538 and a fantastic, super fast descent to the market town of Nyons.
"This may be the biggest ride of the year for you, but take time to enjoy the amazing surroundings. In particular, watch out for the roses planted between the vines. The farmers do this as a kind of early warning system, to let them know when the vines might be at risk from pests or frost."
Dive down through bustling Nyons and over the Eygues river. Look left from the bridge and you'll see the beautiful arched bridge, built in the 10th century. Nyons is a renowned centre for olives and olive oil, but resist the temptation to stop by. From here you pass fields of olive trees stretching south and west to Vaison la Romaine and Valreas. C’est bonne.