9am on Monday 20th July and I found myself sweeping through the most northerly outpost of the named Côtes du Rhône Villages, Rousset-les-Vignes. Eighteen villages are entitled to add their 'handle' to the Côtes du Rhône Villages moniker, marking them out as superior to generic Côtes du Rhône. As I swept past gnarled vines and lavender fields I regrettably had no time to discover any local gems or to consider why nearby Vinsobres had gained an upgrade to full AOC status (2005), yet Valreas had not - was their topography so different? I scanned the landscape then came to my senses and realised I'd only gained about 45 minutes on the infamous 'broom wagon'.
I had entered into the Etape du Tour, a one day event that has been running for two decades and which allows amateur riders (8,500 of them this year) to tackle a stage of the vrai Tour de France with roads closed, feed stations et al. Sportingly the organisers had picked the 170km journey from Montélimar (gateway to the Southern Rhône) to Mont Ventoux, the infamous Géant of Provence. Nine-tenths of the route unfolded through the stunning countryside of the Drôme and the Vaucluse and, on another day, would have made for a very pleasant means of working up an appetite for (and riding off) a long lunch. On this occasion, Ventoux (literally) loomed large all day and the 21km climb to its summit in 37 degree heat was the sting in the tail that many had feared. Nevertheless, I finished in nine and a half hours without a broom wagon in sight. The views from the summit and the elation of completing the stage were just about worth the ascent. The 'maillot jaune', Alberto Contador, completed the ride five days later in half my time!