Le Puy, once famed for its lentils and lace, lies in a depression in the heart of the Massif Central. The three main roads into the city crest over 1,000m high, making it an isolated city in an already isolated region.
Still, the Tour de France entourage will have enjoyed a day of repose in the intriguing mountain city. While other towns have tall buildings, Le Puy has outcrops of volcanic rock, which are variously adorned with churches and statues. One, the ochre iron statue of Notre-Dame de France, is made from melted down Russian cannons from the Siege of Sevastopol. The city is one of the points of origin for the Camino de Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage, but this year’s Tour pilgrimage heads the other way, east, towards the Rhône Valley.
The first obstacle is to climb back onto the Massif Central escarpment via the Côte de Boussoulet which reaches 1,200m in altitude after a modest 4.5km of climbing. It should be enough to shake out the day’s escape. The next 45km will be Massif Central eye candy as the race threads between the volcanic outcrops poking through the verdant pasture to the stage’s high point on the Col de Rouvey. From here, the peloton drops 800m and will enjoy an uninterrupted view across the Rhône and into the Drôme. The race uses the D532, which has a sharp and tricky descent. Fabio Aru used it to escape for a stage win in Tournon-sur-Rhône in the Critérium du Dauphiné last year. Though the race changes direction a bit, there’s little threat of havoc from the mistral which doesn’t blow so hard this far north. It should end in a sprint in Romans-sur-Isère which is a first-time Tour finish, though its southerly suburb, Bourg de Péage, hosted stage starts in 2010 and 2015.
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