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Jul. 16, 2013
Tour de France Stage 16, Vaison La Romaine to Gap
Blame an attractive high school French teacher and early exposure to the films of Francois Truffaut for Matt Walsh's francophile tendencies. Then later came bike racing and watching the grandest race of all, the Tour de France. So as a freelance writer, there’s pretty much no place he’d rather be than in France on the race routes of Le Tour. It’s always an adventure that goes full-gas.

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Here we are already at stage 16 from the postcard beautiful Vaison La Romaine to Gap, a “lumpy” stage made for breakaways. That’s if you’ve still got two functioning legs.

Tour de France Stage 16

Who might win that stage was not the first thing on my mind this morning -- besides the need for coffee. It was, can I stay in the artisan town of Apt for the rest of my life? How much would I have to raise my kids’ allowance to get them to green-light my crazy plan?

My GPS has a benevolently evil side to its algorithms and so when locals said it was 90 minutes to the start in Vaison La Romaine, my GPS said, “serioulsy, it’s only an hour and I have a far more scenic route in mind.”

Away I went climbing up and down the large hills and down into the small rocky canyons of the Vaucluse region. It’s Provence with more elevation gain and half the time I wondered if I wasn’t in Italy with the hillside towns tucked up high and the tile roofs and the endless good life spread out before me.

Tour de France Stage 16

Hey, there’s a bike race on, the biggest and grandest and fastest and most inspiring. The Tour de France.

I arrived in Vaison La Romaine to be greeted by Roman centurions and Julius Caesar. Didn’t expect that one. The village was part of the conquest and the ruins are still on display. I saw the yellow jersey and the emperor in one day.

My plan was to spend extra time at the start town and hang by the Garmin bus and priority one was hearing the Tom Danielson dinosaur story. (Check the Clif home page for that one.)

Now, as I’ve mentioned, with an orange sticker on my car windshield, I need to be on the race course before the caravan but I’d calculated that given the geographical map layout, I could stay later and still pick up the course about 2/3rds of the way down.

These are the games we play at the Tour play. Where can I be and when and will there be free food?

Sadly, the clock worked against me today. Tom Danielson had a team meeting on the bus and by the time he emerged to chat, my evacuation window had slammed shut. It was off-course freeway driving for me. I got a great little human story from Tom but no adventure on the race route. That is the Tour -- always improvising.

Tour de France Stage 16

I ripped down the freeways and made it into the finish town of Gap with an hour to spare. I go to see the crowds go nuts as Movistar’s Rui Costa raced to a solo win. When thousands of fans pound their hands on the barriers, it’s a variation on thunder.

After that I made a beeline for the Garmin bus to see what was happening and got to meet Keiko Yagi of Japan. She had on her Garmin jacket and was here for several of the stages all the way from Mount Fuji. One of the things I love most about this sport is that it’s global and you meet people from everywhere.

Me, I’m headed back to Apt to look at some stone houses for sale. Ahh, just kidding. The second time trial is tomorrow, 32k from Embrun to Chorges and after that it’s le grand daddy of them all, Alpe d’Huez. I’ll be going directly to that iconic mountain climb after the start in Embrun and car camp so I get the full experience. That means I will try to sleep in my tiny compact car to the sound of Dutch techo. Stay tuned.
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We like getting our heart rates up, taking a big breath of fresh air, savoring delicious food. But we also love telling stories and here's where we type 'em up. (BTW, it works both ways; leave a comment—please and thank you.)

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