Dress rehearsal for the Tour de France

There was big excitement in Lamastre this Tuesday as the Critérium du Dauphiné rolled into town for the start of its second day stage.  This prestigious race is seen as a dress rehearsal for the Tour de France with the teams and competitors measuring their strengths in terrain which closely matches many stages of the Tour.

Lamastre has never hosted a professional cycle race and had taken the unprecedented – and controversial – step of moving the weekly market day to Monday in order to accommodate the event.  We were very impressed with the slick organisation as the colourful team buses rolled into the big market square, each followed by the support vehicles and spare bikes.  We were also amazed to be able to walk about freely amongst the teams and sportsmen, who appeared very relaxed, signing autographs and chatting before heading off for the official formalities at the start of the race.  Here are a few of our impressions.

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After a circuit of 160 kms including the Gerbier du Jonc, they arrived in St Félicien with Bradley Wiggins still in posession of the yellow jersey. He kept his overall lead right to the end of the 7th stage on June 11th and so won the Critérium for the second year running. With only three weeks to go before the start of the Tour de France, he is looking like a strong favourite, last year’s winner Evans having come in third in the Critérium

For Bradley and Team Sky this was a foretaste of the Tour, for us in the Ardèche it was the start of the cycle madness of the Ardéchoise, which starts tomorrow.  This event, now in its 21st year, is the largest of its kind in Europe bringing together thousands of cyclosportives  and cyclotouristes and is a huge moment in the local calendar.  Participants can choose to follow a four, three or two day touring programme and the culminating race, on Saturday, can be undertaken in longer or shorter stages.  We have three vélomanes staying at les Sarziers before setting off on the four day 500km loop back to St Félicien.  They are delighted with the area, the stunning landscapes, and the wonderful flowers and can’t wait to get started.

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