Tour de France fever has taken it up a notch as the mountains take their toll on the riders. Watching the tour day after day, it is easy to daydream about riding those roads, through the mountains, past the fields of sunflowers and cruising through historical towns with majestic castles and fortresses of days gone by.
We traveled to France in the fall of 2010 for two weeks of cycling in Provence and the surrounding ranges. How could we resist but ride a section of the Tour route, starting in Stage 11’s ville de depart (start city) – Sisteron. While we did not follow the Tour’s route to the letter, after all – the distances were further than what we had planned for the day – we did ride to Gap – a classic entrance/exit town for the French Alps. Gap is along the tourist route of the Napoleon Road.
Hosting a stage of the Tour de France
Competition to host the start or finish of a stage of the Tour de France is severe. Cities pay € 50 000 to the ASO (organizing body of the Tour de France) to host a stage start, € 90 000 for arrivals and 130 000 € to be both the city of arrival and departure, however their costs do not end there. Road repairs and other associated costs are added to this fee. In return, the stage towns receive a hefty return on investment – an average of six times higher than the price the city pays to receive the Tour. Publicity for the town is substantial, and economic benefits continue long after the tour has departed. It is an opportunity to showcase the host town internationally as the eyes of the cycling world follow the Tour de France through the month of July.
The town and locals get behind the Tour with living art capturing the attention of the television crews and the imaginations of the people. Throughout Sisteron, evidence of the importance of being showcased as a start city was demonstrated in the flower beds and on the defence tower, adorned with a giant yellow jersey. Love the yellow clad lamb, representative of the fact that this region is known for its agricultural heritage, including the region’s famous tasty lamb (giving the area the gastronomic reputation of the “Gateway to Provence.”) The sweet smells of the apple harvest wafted through the air as we made our way from Sisteron to the town of Gap in the region of the Hautes Alps.
Surprising to us both as we rode to Gap was the fact that much of the road actually climbed, ever so lightly, before the descent into Gap. This was highlighted by the fact that we sailed back to Sisteron with barely any effort! Not a bad finish to a french cycling holiday.
Beyond the Tour de France, Sisteron is a city of historical importance….
Originally a village of the Celtic Gauls, Sisteron was occupied early on by the Romans, becoming the sixth city of the Second Narbonnaise. High above the city, perched on rock 485 meters up, the citadel sits on the west side, offering protection for the town. The 14th century walls also offered the city tremendous protection. Once described at the most inaccessible fortress of the French kingdom, it is worthy of a visit. Enjoy a walk through the inner court and the 14th century Notre-Dame chapel. Also open to the public is the dungeon. Climb the bell tower for amazing views on the valley of Durance and the surrounding mountains.
The area is also known for its sunshine – boasting an average of 300 days of sunshine a year. Combined with the gastronomical delights and regional beauty, it is no wonder that the area is so popular amongst tourists. And let’s not forget about the wine…