Etoile de Besseges

CaptureToday was a rest day, in preparation for a race I’m preemptively regretting, given tomorrow’s grim graphics on Meteo France. Luckily the route heads south first and the last part will be in the Cévennes, but there’s going to be a nasty middle section going back north. I need to find someone big and strong (and warm) to hide behind or I could end up being blown back to Nîmes.

But enough about tomorrow. If I have any fingers left you’ll hear all about it soon enough. The cyclosportive we’re taking part in tomorrow is an add-on to the inaugural pro stage race on the UCI Europe Tour calendar – l’Etoile de Bessèges. This professional race, which I’ve made my way out the door to see every year since 2011, is a real treat to experience, even with the cold. These early-season races are where bases are laid and hard men are forged. The weather is often brutal and I imagine this is when a young rider realizes what being a professional is about, i.e. getting on the bike day in and day out no matter what the conditions. In the 45 years it’s been running I think they’ve only ever cancelled one stage due to weather (but it was close two days ago, when the peloton stopped 3 times in protest).

For the spectator this event gives you glimpse into how cycling is woven into the fabric of local communities in France. Unlike the Tour de France, this event is run almost exclusively by volunteers and the spectators are definite fans, calling out names of riders I’d never heard of as they flew by. Unfortunately, with big-money warm-weather races taking place at the same time (Dubai, Qatar), there is talk of l’Etoile’s days being numbered. I selfishly hope that’s not the case.

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Start of the 300 meter ‘Mur de Laudun’, which the peloton climbed 4 times.

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I’m always struck how clean team buses are. How do they do that?

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Local riders down here look serious.

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Just before ‘le mur’

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Tony Gallopin, tongue-wagging and sprinting for the win.

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