Enfin! The 2017 Tour has at last arrived in France, having crossed Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, before arriving in the Meurthe-et-Moselle region at Longwy.
The 2017 race is in full cry now and there have been hundreds of thousands enjoying a party atmosphere at the roadside, as the convoy makes its long journey south towards the Vosges. The opening days of this year’s race have stuck to the usual storyline of bad weather, rain and crosswinds, do or die breakaways, a crash or two, and then, at the climax of it all, a frenetic bunch sprint. But as the race crossed into France on its way to the 17th century fortified town of Longwy, a UNESCO World Heritage sight, the sun was at last shining. And, as the weather heated up, crowds flocked to the roadside, lining the final climbs.
It’s all about taking the waters on the fourth stage from Mondorf-Les-Bains to Vittel and, with the temperatures rising on the route du Tour, it’s certain to be thirsty work for the riders in the peloton. Elegant Vittel, at the foot of the Massif des Vosges and France’s favourite spa town, is the home of one of the race’s biggest sponsors. One of the typical sights of the Tour, on a hot day, is of the Vittel lorries in the caravane publicitaire spraying water vapour over the crowds lining up to watch the race.
But it is the next day’s fifth stage, from Vittel to the cross country ski station in the Vosges at La Planche des Belles Filles — so-called because local girls are said to have thrown themselves into a lake, rather than be captured by Swedish invaders in 1635 — that will be the main highlight of this first week. Local lad, Thibaut Pinot, will be expected to deliver, but most pundits are predicting this stage to be a Froome-fest. The finish line almost overlooks another UNESCO site, Le Corbusier’s beautiful chapel, Notre Dame du Haut at nearby Ronchamp. And, after the dust has settled, the suiveurs du Tour can unwind with a glass of fine Alsatian wines such as Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer.
With the first mountain range of this year’s race ticked off, the next stop is Troyes, the charming capital of the Aube, renowned for its 16th century half-timbered houses and the stained glass windows of its dramatic Gothic cathedral. With the best part of 1,000 kilometres already ridden, the riders who’ve made it this far will surely have earned themselves a glass of the very fine local champagnes!
The team of France.fr is travelling with the Tour convoy and bringing you the very best of the Tour, and of France itself, as the 104th edition continues its road trip around France!
Words: Jeremy Whittle
Photography: Pete Goding