I had the experience of a lifetime at my first TdF.  I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  I decided early on that it would be crazy to drag my wife around to every single stage trying to catch a glimpse of the race going by.  It’s logistically challenging to see a decisive mountain top section or the finish of the stage.  Thousands of others are doing the same thing and were much more committed than I was.  I was riding the Col du Tourmalet four days before the race arrived and there were hundreds of campervans already parked on the mountain.  It felt like it was me and Contador in the breakaway with thousands of fans cheering me on!

The way that Mrs CT and I decided to see the Tour was to place ourselves in Morzine (the Alps) to see the finish of stage 8, lurk around for the rest day and go for rides with the PROs,  then see the start of stage 9.  This worked out perfectly since we could stay in one spot and get to see a significant amount of action.  We then made a roadtrip to the Pyrenees while getting in some awesome riding, exploring some medieval villages, all while cultured ourselves with heaps of French “gastronomy” as they like to call it.

I was always a fan of the Alps when watching the TdF on television, but after arriving to the Pyrenees I was blown away at how stunning this region was.  We could have spent the whole month there.  We stayed in this small village called Bonnefont. You’d struggle to even find it on a Micheline map, but it’s perfectly situated to watch all the stages in the Pyrenees (a short drive or a solid ride away).  Years ago couple keen Melbourne cyclists named Ian and his wife Denis renovated this beautiful French home in Bonnefont and created a B&B called La Joie de Vivre.  They’ve since sold it and moved back to Melbourne but we were lucky to get the details of the new owners, Liz and Rob.  The access to phenomenal riding and the Tour stages was perfect.  Staying with Liz and Rob was like going home to Ma and Pa.  The food was divine and they seamlessly included us with the other guests and their friends.  We felt like family after the first day with them. It would be a crime for me to keep this all to myself and not share this place with you.  I can’t tell you how good of a time we had staying with them.  If you’re looking for a quiet getaway just outside of the Pyrenees with some of the best food, riding and company in the region, this is a place worth considering.  We’ve already reserved our room back there for next year!

Obviously there are multiple ways you could see the Tour de France.  There are two ways in particular that I saw people experiencing the Tour that I’d love to try someday:

1. The only way I’d ever attempt to chase the race around France is by joining an organized tour.  Doing it this way is more expensive than doing it on your own, but their knowledge of the local roads, the itinerary, the hotels, and the transfers would pay for itself in a heartbeat.   I underestimated how organized you have to be in order to see a stage is in a good spot.  The challenge is half the fun of the experience, however it can be a big waste of time if you’re only there for a couple weeks.  Having a tour company who will get you to the right place at the right time without getting lost and stressing about accommodation would be well worth the extra money.  Top Bike Tours and Phil Anderson Tours are two Australian operators I saw a lot of while I was over there.   I had the chance to ride up to Avoriaz with Uncle Phil (one of the highlights of my trip!) and I think it would be an amazing experience going on Tour with him, even for just his stories alone!

2. These Flying Fosters blokes had the right idea and looked like they had an absolute blast.  Eleven mates, two motor-homes, and a twelve day roadtrip hitting the best parts of the Tour de France. These guys rode some of the most epic climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees,  saw some key stages of the Tour, and looked like they had more fun than anyone in France.  It probably cost them dearly after getting a prang in one of the vans and filling up the watertank with diesel fuel, but those will be laughed about in a few weeks time. I bumped into them on Mt Ventoux (what are the chances??) and was secretly wishing I was in their caravan for a few days.

I don’t think anything can accurately describe the feeling of what it’s like watching a stage of the Tour de France in person. It’s absolutely thrilling.  All my life I’ve been watching the Tour de France on television but being there in person completely immerses you in the energy of the crowd, the festivities, and the history surrounding the Tour.  The advertising caravan before the race arrives, the sounds of the television helicopters as the peloton approaches, the sirens of the Gendarmerie’s motorcycles to clear a path in the crowd, the horns of the team cars, the French announcer on the loudspeakers, then the race itself!  There’s no other sporting event that even comes close to creating this type of atmosphere, excitement and raw energy.  I’ve never seen so little of the Tour de France than I did this past month, but at the same time I’ve never been so engaged and wrapped up in it.

Seeing as I’ve only been to the TdF once now I’m far from being qualified from giving much helpful advice, but my mate Tim has some great material over at TdFTips that’ll help you with your planning when you go over to France next year (you HAVE to go!).

This experience has made me even more keen to make the trip to the Giro and the Vuelta.  These Tours have a flavor of their own and would provide a completely different experience.  So much to do, not enough money or time…

Now, let the post-tour crit circus begin!