It’s just forty days until the start of The Tour, but neither Carcassone nor Millau, stage fifteen Ville Étapes, had any Tour preparations to give me a jolt of Tour anticipation. The tourist offices of these mid-size cities, who have hosted The Tour in years past, weren’t even informed as to where the vast Tour village would be erected in their towns, the site of the peloton’s departure and arrival points that would attract thousands on Race Day and would be the focus of the cycling universe for a day. It was disconcerting that the biggest event in these towns this summer, if not the year, wasn’t at the forefront of its attention, as it is in other Ville Étapes.
I’ll just have to wait until I get to the small town Trie-sur-Baïse, a first time Ville Étape, in a couple of days to get a high octane boost of Tour fervor. In the mean time I just have to rely on the exploits of Chris Froome at the Giro to raise my anticipation level. After he accomplishes what had looked impossible and wins the Giro, his third Grand Tour in a row, there will be a greatly heightened level of excitement as he now becomes a heavy favorite to win The Tour and join the elite five-win club of Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault and Indurain, solidifying his status as one of the greats of the sport. It will make this a historic Tour. The attention accorded Froome will be at fever pitch.
Despite the lack of any acknowledgement of the coming of The Tour my visits to Millau and Carcassone weren’t without some degree of satisfaction. They are both historic cities of splendor and character. Millau sits along the Tarn River where it’s spectacular gorge finally widens enough for a city. It is framed by high cliff walls that are spanned by a modern iconic bridge, a latter-day Eiffel. The light posts down the city’s main thoroughfare were adorned with banners for an annual 23-kilometer running race that will take thousands across it, a rare opportunity for those on foot to gaze from its lofty height. The bridge alone makes Millau a must-see.
I passed through Millau on Friday, it’s Market day. The narrow streets of the centuries-old town center were thronged with the local populace perusing stands selling all manner of food and clothing. Anyone within a several mile radius of any French town knows it’s a civic duty to come to the weekly Market. It is a great hive of activity with everyone in a festive mood. It was hard to push my bike through all the people stopping for a chat. The conviviality is palpable.
Craig and Onni drive ten miles every Saturday to their nearest Market in Le Vigan. Craig had to go to Le Vigan the day before Market day to file a report with the police regarding a break-in to a house they look after owned by a Dutch couple who only visit on occasion, but that wasn’t going to prevent him from returning the next day for the Market. I arrived at Craig and Onni’s home just as Onni was leaving a note on their door informing me they had to meet the police at the house they were looking after.
Three officers came and they kept Craig and Onni occupied for over two hours as they scanned for fingerprints and other clues, giving me plenty of time to shower and spread out my rain-soaked gear and put my legs up after a strenuous two hundred mile ride from Cannes. The legs were happy for just a half day of riding after three days of straining up climb after climb. They’d had two weeks of inactivity, just coasting a mile down from the apartment where I was staying during the film festival, with the only effort required of them the mile incline back some time after midnight.
Craig had hoped to accompany me the next day at least part of the way to Millau, sixty miles away, but his much-in-demand wall-builder was available to help Craig that day on a staircase he was building in his garden. He had priority above all else. Craig’s multi-terraced garden looks more magnificent with each visit, not only the resurrected centuries old walls, but all that he and Onni and their partner Andrè have planted.
Craig had recently learned that a neighbor of his in Notre Dame de la Rouvière had created an extensive mosaic on the walls of the building where he also lives in Nimes and that it had some bicycling elements to it. That gave me something to search out on my way to NDR. It was on a narrow street just a few blocks from the Roman Coliseum that is the trademark of Nimes. The mosaic filled one side of the block-long building and extended partway around the corner on another side. There were political statements in French, English and Spanish. One stated, “Where any view of money exists, art can not be carried on, but war only.” Daniel Ellsberg and Andre Gide were among names inscribed. Two bicycle wheels and three cranksets were embedded high up on the long wall.
I didn’t notice that the inaccessible roof of the building had also been taken over by his sculpture, which had a more prominent bicycle flavor. They can be seen at http://heraultinsolite.blogspot.fr/2015/03/la-maison-dolivier-jullian-nimes.html. One never knows when one will encounter a manifestation of personal art in France. In Millau I came upon a three-story house in the old city with colorful adornments.
A couple doors down was a similar outbreak of artistic expression brightening up the dark narrow street.
Carcassone will not only host a finish and the start of a stage, but it will also be a rest day, the second of The Tour, between them. It will be a most welcome day of rest after two strenuous days on the Massif Central and three murderous days in the Pyrenees ahead. Carcassone will be a great place for a day-off for Tour followers with a couple of World Heritage sites—it’s fortress and the Canal du Midi. I had a glorious twelve-mile descent down to the Carcassone plain back amongst the vineyards I had left in Nimes.
My next destination as I continue to ready my legs for The Tour and scout out Ville Étapes is a vast sculpture garden outside the village of Barjac in the foothills of the Pyrenees covering more than thirty-five acres created by the German artist Anselm Kiefer. It was the subject of Sophie Fiennes very worthwhile 2010 documentary “Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow.” This is also a scouting mission for a possible ride next year with Janina similar to our ride a year ago to all the Andy Goldsworthy sculptures in the opposite direction. Those were in the shadow of the other great French mountain range—the Alps. I won’t take Janina via Millau, as spectacular as it is, as that route, especial beyond it, has required an excessive amount of climbing, with one five, six, seven mile climb after another of a couple thousand feet. It will be much easier to drop down to the Mediterranean, forty miles from Craig and Onni’s, and follow it. I can’t complain about the difficulty of this route though, as my legs will be the better for it.