The Tour of Europe, 5th Act

Day 320, Marseille, 18.704 km

After Central Europe last summer, the North in the fall, France in the winter and the Iberian Peninsula in the spring, I’m about to embark on the 5th act of the Tour of Europe: Italy. I don’t know yet what I’m more excited about: the idea of stopping in small villages and tasting a tomato-mozzarella salad with a drizzle of olive oil, the idea of the Mediterranean coastline that awaits me along the way, or the prospect of being able to gorge myself on pasta and pizza morning, noon and night… In any case, I can’t wait to get there. And I even used the last 15 days to rest, but also to do some mountain training to prepare for the Alps… With a few days to go, I was catching the Giro caravan!

Before resting, I still had to get to Avignon. Departure from Valence at dawn, I want to be at my Aunt Catherine’s for lunch. Fortunately, the Via Rhôna is flat and unlike the day before, I have the wind at my back this time. Kilometers fly by. I pass or overtake a lot of cyclists, some of them seeming to travel like me, as if the return of the nice weather had them leaving their houses… After Montélimar, I start the part of the road that I don’t know. Long straight lines along the Rhône. Swallowed at more than 30 km/h. Then a sign « Floods ». Interesting. It’s not the kind of sign I want to take seriously, the weather has been nice for 3 days and I don’t want to make a detour… I ride a little bit in the mud, well, but for a flooded road, it’s quite passable. I congratulate myself and continue. Still riding fast, the aperitif calls me! Then comes a second sign « Floods ». Ha Ha Ha. It must be for people who are afraid to dirty their tires. Indeed, there is a little more mud this time. But I can still go through. Until I can’t anymore. One meter of water and no way to go around. That’s what it means to be a smart ass. U-turn, until I find a path through the fields that brings me back to the road that I follow until Bourg Saint-Andéol where I can find a via Rhôna that is not flooded… I am so worried about missing my appointment that I don’t even take the time to make a photo….

In the end, I arrive a little bit after the legal time of the aperitif in Provence but the Pastis is still served to me at Catherine’s. And the lunch too, welcomed after this race against the clock along the Rhone. The rest of the way to Avignon is uneventful, with the wind at my back and on the flat. My transmission starts to show signs of rust, I’ll have to go back to my favorite repairer to give my dear Jay a makeover. Spring cleaning for the bike, rest for Bob and me, I enjoy family, friends, and the cherry tree in Jean Claude and Annie’s garden. And as I have a hard time not to ride my bike, I decide to climb the Mont Ventoux. Too much rest isn’t good either…

I’m lucky on the weather : very little wind, sunny but not too hot, and above all no panniers on the bike, it’s easier to climb the passes. I am lucky to have a supporter who encourages me and immortalizes the moment. And without my luggage pulling me back, I almost feel like the climb is easy… for the first 2 kilometers, the next 16 a bit less. After the Chalet Reynard, I feel like I’m in the desert: white rocks everywhere, the blinding sun reflecting off it, not a drop of water on the horizon … The Col des Tempêtes is a bit « disappointing »: I had been promised hell, a wind that would blow you around. In fact: flat calm. But a very nice view. Then the summit. Another monument for cyclists to check off my list. The descent to Malaucène is a treat, endless straight lines, a peak at 75 km/h, a superb view on the Ecrins massif, and Jean Claude waiting for me at the bottom for a little restaurant. Perfect. I go back to Avignon through the Dentelles de Montmirail (I add a pass to my collection of the day). Ventoux : check

Climbing in the desert
Jay at the top
View from the Col des Tempêtes

The next day, COVID strikes. Right next door, it hits my Aunt Annie. But that still means a week in solitary confinement. Bad luck. I take the opportunity to continue to rest, to read (less books to carry on the bike) and to climb the Ventoux again. At least try. There are 3 roads to climb it. I’m missing two of them. The « easiest » ones. I start with the one from Malaucène, it’s beautiful, you can quickly see the Alps, and it’s a little less hard than the climb from Bédoin. On the other hand, when I arrive at 2/3 of the climb, a truck blocks the passage. The pass is closed, even for bikes this time. So I decide to go around and do the 2/3 of the 3rd climb from Sault. Superb route through the Toulourenc gorges. Without a single meter of flat. I’m exhausted when I get to Sault and I still have to go up to Chalet Reynard before going back. Fortunately, this part is rather easy, and the 20 kilometers of descent that follow allow me to rest. I was a bit ambitious and I even suffer on the flat at the end. 212 km with 3.100m of ascent, even without luggage, is a bit much. Even after 18.000 km… I’ll know that for the next time…

The Ventoux tour…
… through the gorges of Toulourenc

The next day, good news, COVID test negative. Small weekend in Lyon to celebrate this and then I can leave! I take the opportunity to change a little bit of sport and to do a nice hike: nice views on the Ain valley and arrival at the Glandieu waterfall. And finally, I can go back to ride! Venelles first, to visit Mamie and Sylvie. Marseille then, with a small detour by Saint Maximin and Aubagne to admire the Sainte Victoire, the Sainte Baume and cross the country of Marcel Pagnol.

The valley of the Ain
The waterfall of Glandieu

On this, I’ll leave you, we have some pints to drink…

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