After a stage finish in Pau, where the Boulevard des Pyrenees offers a panoramic view of nearly 150 kilometres of mountains, the Tour de France now heads into the unspoilt peaks and valleys of the Hautes Pyrenees, before it moves on, towards the Tarn and Aveyron.
From Pau’s charming medieval streets — with their great cafes and many restaurants overlooked by the 12th century Chateau de Pau — the race scales some of the most beautiful roads in Europe on its way to the mountain resort at Peyragudes, a renowned snowboarding destination that also features in the James Bond film, 'Tomorrow Never Dies.'
After coming down from the high altitude finish at Peyragudes, we can expect fireworks on a potentially explosive Bastille Day stage in the Ariege from Saint-Girons to Foix, best-known for its medieval streets and the spectacular and impregnable castle that overlooks the town, and also for the distinct and rich local cassoulet, mounjetado. This stage is also likely to be one of the wildest stages in terms of spectator ‘participation,’ particularly on the remote climbs of the Col de Latrape and Col d’Agnes, close to the Spanish border, where the mix of nationalities watching the Tour on Bastille Day is bound to guarantee a party atmosphere — and some inventive outfits! So far, we have seen roadside fans dressed as devils, angels, speed cameras, chickens and even in Perigord, highlighting the local cuisine, ducks.
With the Pyrenean peaks behind them, the peloton then takes flight from Blagnac in the suburbs of Toulouse— where Airbus planes are built — and, on a stage that will be one of the Tour’s most scenic, wends its way into the Tarn and Aveyron before a finish in Rodez.With its Gothic cathedral, chateaux and palaces, Rodez, the prefecture of the Aveyron, is a focal point for the region and has recently enjoyed a higher profile thanks to the acclaimed Musee Soulages, which houses the works of renowned French artist, Pierre Soulages.The museum’s café, the Café Bras, is named after local restauranteur and gastronomic guru, Michel Bras. His influence stretches across the Midi, from Rodez to Toulouse and beyond, with his name now a byword for innovation and excellence.
Sadly for the riders, as the Tour enters it’s final week, they will have little time for culture and gastronomy, as they race on towards the fourth of France’s five mountain ranges featured on this year’s route, the Massif Central!
Words: Jeremy Whittle
Photography: Pete Goding