There are a couple of fairly technical-looking bends on the outskirts along the D104, just prior to the Basilique de Notre Dame de Marceille, a 14th Century church which fans of gothic architecture would feel gutted about were they to miss it, then a roundabout - however, the road is wide and there shouldn't be any problems even if the peloton is still all together. Pieusse, 1.5km along the road, has a castle which is of particular interest to historians as it wasn't modified or added to after being constructed, thus providing an excellent example of what a Cathar fort would have looked like in the 12th Century.
On the way out of town, the road enters a twisty section with 17 bends rising to a little over 300m before heading back downhill to Saint-Hilaire, through which the route passes. The road narrows and isn't straight, which has to potential to cause problems and riders will need to be wary of street furniture. Approximately 1km outside Saint-Hilaire is a ruined building in a field. It looks to have been a chapel or small church, but there's not enough left to tell for certain - perhaps too small to come to the attention of the cameras, but picturesque. Continuing north on the D104, we pass within a kilometre and a half of Pomas, a small town of around 700 inhabitants and one castle, about which little is known other than that it seems to have first been mentioned early in the 14th Century. As is so often the way in France, it's not too clear who owns and is responsible for the building which in Britain would no doubt have been converted into a tourist trap and so it stands there, locked up and a little uncared-for.
The route soon reaches Leuc, which also has a castle - this one is used as offices and also isn't open to visitors. A talented local trompe-l'œil has painted a number of objects on walls about town including an old man on a bench, a medieval water trough and, best of all, an extremely lifelike antique bicycle which looks for all the world as though someone has left it propped up against the wall upon which it's painted while they go into one of the nearby shops. Just to the east of Couffoulens - which is off the route unfortunately, as it's a very pretty village - we leave the D104 by way of an uncomplicated junction and join the D204 and head through Cavanac which is shown to be the home of many wealthy people by the large number of swimming pools evident on satellite photographs. We don't see much of the village as it's split into two main parts, the southern part a short way to the east of the road and the northern part to the west. Once out of the village, the parcours rejoins the D104.
After 70km, the route reaches Aigne; a small community famous for the Ruelle dans la Circulade which is a unique street formed by ancient houses arranged in a spiral centred on the church and once protected by a drawbridge and portcullis - if you visit Carcassone, it's well worth coming here too for the many ancient buildings which look more like the old parts of Jerusalem or an Arabic casbah than a French village. Getting through the village - and past the Ruelle - requires taking a series of bends beginning at a large roundabout on entering. A few kilometres out of the village, the riders will leave the D910 for the D907, taking a sharp right-hand turn on another roundabout and head through Aigues-Vives (joining the D20) and into Agel which stands in the crook of a sharp bend in the river, the road following its course. Agel has a 12th Century chateau, of which not much remains but what's there is worth seeing. A short way from the town, the road passes by a small but attractive waterfall.
Since medieval town planners didn't consider 21st Century bicycle races when designing the layout of streets, getting through Puissalicon onto the D18 is quite a difficult process involving several sharp corners. Once on it, the peloton heads south east into Espondeilhan where the route turns north and then east onto the D33 which takes it into Coulobres and then to Abeilhan, a small town with medieval origins and some good buildings dating back to the 9th Century and more technical sections around the corners. Once out of town, the parcours soon joins the D13 to Pezenas, home to more than 30 buildings officially classified as protected historic monuments, several of them private mansions dating from the 16th Century. It's also the birthplace of Alain Robert who has found fame free-climbing skyscrapers, earning himself the nickname Spiderman and a lengthy criminal record in the process.
|Alain Robert stops to
make a phonecall while
on his way up a
Hong Kong skyscraper.
The D5 leads the race to Villeveyrac, site of the Abbaye de Valmagne which was founded by the Cistercian order in 1138. Early on in its history, the abbey enjoyed a ong period of great wealth and fortune which made it very grand, so the buildings left today are impressive. However, parts were built from the poor-quality local stone and are as a result in bad condition despite the site having been classified as a protected monument as long ago as 1947. The route then heads along the D2, back onto another stretch of the D5 which is unconnected to the previous road with the same name (a sort of road enclave) and around a 90 degree left-hander in Montbazin to Cournonsec. Nearby is another Cistercian abbey, l'Abbaye de Vignogoul.
After 179.5km, the route reaches Lavérune, where the 18th Century Château de Lavérune stands on the site of a 16th Century house which in turn replaced a medieval castle. The existing building incorporated elements of both the earlier structures, leading to an interesting mixture of styles. The D5 continues through and out of the town, leading to a roundabout and the D132 which heads north t the D109 where the parcours swings east and into Montpellier. The last section contains many corners, traffic islands and other hazards before entering the final sprint.
Montpellier, home to 266,000 people and the 8th largest city in France, has been a Tour stage town 29 times before today. It's one of the few large French cities without a Roman history, dating from the Middle Ages when regular pirate raids persuaded the inhabitants of Maguelone to move their town further inland. Two villages were rapidly assimilated and the town grew sufficiently important to gain a castle and be fortified in the 10th Century. Montpellier became very wealthy due to its location, which made it a centre for the trading of goods from all around the Mediterranean - this also enriched its culture as it absorbed influence and people from all around the sea, soon developing vibrant Christian, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim communities who, united in their efforts to do business, co-existed in a manner highly unusual during past times and still very much a lesson to the modern world.
|Montpellier remains a wealthy and vibrant city with a rich culture.
Weather: The heavy rain earlier on has now cleared up, but strong winds are causing problems and may result in the climbers losing time.
DEVIL WATCH: With the absence of big climbs, it's very difficult to predict likely spots for devillish manifestations. The most likely point is probably the section through the ridge at Reals.