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Part Two: Nyons to Sault
After the bridge there is a short tunnel and then the road drives east through the Eygue gorge and valley. This is a fast stretch of wide road. Do what we did in May and latch onto the back of a group of local French riders - it will make the road seem slightly downhill!
At Curnier the road crosses right over the river and enters a quieter, narrower valley. The road climbs gradually at 2% for the next 7km but you'll be buoyed by the scenery and the smells of flowers and orchards. This is a truly beautiful part of the world. At Ste Jalle the road passes through a stand of plane trees (you should be coming through here by 9am, so you won't need the shade), then the road rises up for the Col d'Ey. This is a 6km lazy meander up the side of the broad bowl of the Ennuye valley. With a summit at 718m and average gradient of 5% it's an easy enough climb and you'll be able to enjoy the great views to your left.
"Fields of wild grasses intermixed with poppies blowing gently in the early morning breeze, rows of lavender blooming a deep purple, olive groves fenced in by stone slabs that once lined the aqueducts built by the Romans to carry water from the Rhone."
The road off the top of the Col d'Ey was tricky for us, with patches of new tarmac, but it was a glorious descent. It's an ancient trade road that winds down through pine forests and, halfway down, there is Mont Ventoux, proudly glittering in the distance. You've been riding and climbing for nearly three hours now and it still seems a long way away off - and so high. Come the afternoon, you'll be climbing this brute from the south east side, directly the other side of the summit. No doubt the thought of this will pray on your mind as you coast into the market square at Buis les Baronnies and roll to a halt at the first feed station of the route. This is an essential time for ravitaillement. Take some time to eat, drink and stock up on essential cargo.
From the shade and refreshments at Buis les Baronnies, the main road descends almost to the northern base of the Ventoux, before swinging left and up the smaller valley of Derbous. You're in beautiful countryside once more, on a small winding road with glimpses of the mountain up to your right. This must be the most beautiful route that ASO has yet devised for an Etape. No big roads and no industry, just southern France at its rural best. There are dozens of fantastic roads in this area, one of the best on the way up to the Col de Fontaube and Col des Aires. It's cycling heaven.
"This Etape is such a contrast to the greyness of the Alps or the green lushness of the Pyrenees, it is an Etape filled with purple, olive green, red, yellow, and pink of the fleurs sauvage, butterflies abound, it is truly God’s country…”
The scenery is breathtaking but the heat might be too. Ninety kilometres of riding and a stop at the feed station will have eaten into your day. It will probably be 11am by the time you descend back to the valley floor (there goes some more valuable height, but worth it for such a lovely fast descent) and it is likely to be hot. By 11.30am when we rode the course in late May, the temperature was already 30 degrees. In mid-July it will probably be hotter. In contrast to the views and delights of the Col des Aires, the 20km drag up to Sault is a little dull. You've lost sight of the Ventoux and are in no man's land. It's hot and you're only half way around the mountain. What's worse, the road climbs quite perceptibly to the village of Aurel, and it’s something of a pig. Your spirits will be tested on this stretch and you'll be glad of the feed station at Sault, at 754m. Be sure to refill both bidons and take in some food.