July 21: The grand finale

Three days left for the 2017 Tour de France, three days left to savour and enjoy the beautiful landscapes of the Provencal Alps, the Vaucluse and the Bouches du Rhone, before the Tour’s traditional grand finale in the French capital.

Marseille, the city by the sea that seemed so far away as the race began in cold and wet conditions in Dusseldorf, will be the final port of call for both peloton and suiveurs on Saturday, before the long transfer north to Paris. Friday’s 19th stage will be one of the most scenic of the race as it leaves the Hautes-Alpes, and heads south into the Vaucluse, before a finish in Salon-de-Provence. It is a stage of hill villages and lavender fields, of high plateau and stunning Provencal landscapes that passes close to the Montagne de Lure and then traverses the beauty of the Luberon range. En route, the Tour convoy passes through Banon, perhaps the epicentre of goat’s cheese production in southern France and then the unique Colorado Provencal, a formation of striking red rocks a few kilometres north of Apt, before it drops down from the Luberon into the Bouches-du-Rhone.

Then comes the Tour’s grand finale, Saturday’s showdown on the shores of the Mediterranean. Marseille, hot, sultry, exotic and vibrant is the perfect stage for the climax of this year’s race, which, with three riders all so close, will be tense. Famous for its extraordinary bouillabaisse fish dish, its buzzing city beaches and the beauty of the nearby Calanques, a series of remote inlets just outside the city, central Marseille has recently been regenerated after being made European city of culture in 2013. With a stage centred on the Orange velodrome, the corniche roads overlooking the sea, the Vieux Port, and the steep climb to the Notre Dame de la Garde church, the city will be shown at its very best.

And then all that is left is Paris. After a long transfer from the shores of the Mediterranean, the Tour arrives in the French capital, three weeks after it set off from Dusseldorf. This year’s route has been the long way around, but as the late afternoon sunlight plays on the magnificent Arc de Triomphe and the fountains of the Place de la Concorde, all the stress and fatigue will be replaced by relief and joy.

Words: Jeremy Whittle

Photography: Pete Goding