The Tour de France, it is said, is also a tour of France. And as much as the race is about great racing, it is also about great landscapes as the country of France, with all of its variety, provides a never-ending stage for the world’s biggest bike race.
So today, with the race finally returning to its home country after its grand extravaganza in Denmark, I decided to focus on a classic landscape here in this northern corner of France.
Looking on the race map, I noticed we were going through the historic village that sits atop Mont Cassel. Cassel might not be a household name, but this corner of France is the frequent home to local bike racing. It is here that the Four Days of Dunkirk often finishes and it is here that the French national championships will be held next year. I knew the crowds would be thick and the ambiance high.
Arriving early, I went in search of a spot that best captured the heart of this picturesque village. The long row of redbrick buildings, so typical of this region, were everywhere. As were the crowds. Finally I settled on this corner just after entering the village.
While I have never slept or eaten at the Hotel du Sauvage that is perched on the corner, the scene here embodied northern France. The hotel itself is an architectural jewel, but just in front was one of the 'Giants of the North', colourful, large-scale statues that serve as symbols of the towns of the north and are a fixture in the local carnivals, or in today’s case, a bike race.
The crowds were thick as well, as people lined the barriers, not to mention every window of the hotel.
And as the peloton passed, the roar of the fans only increased. Today the giants of the north were the riders of the Tour de France.