What you come to France for is to soak up the atmosphere and visit regions that you would have no reason to otherwise visit. Small uneventful towns turn into festive cities for a day when the tour comes through. Thousands of people line the roads for hours beforehand and a festival of activities take place. The other day we drove on the course for 198km and there was hardly a spot where there weren’t people out on the roadside.
A few things I’ve learned along the way about watching the Tour here in France:

– Starts are better value than the finishes. You get to see the riders casually hang out around the start-line for a couple hours before their departure. If you’re lucky enough to know someone who can get you access to the “Village Tour de France” (the barricaded section that the team buses and riders are in), take advantage of it. You’ll need a yellow wristband that allows you to walk freely amongst the riders and vehicles inside the Tour Village. These passes aren’t overly hard to come by, but you usually need to know somebody who is connected.

– Don’t try to fit too much into your day. Ride your bike to a nice spot on the course, find a pub that is showing the race on TV, and enjoy the afternoon. It can be fun to try and see the start, middle and finish of the race, but if you do this you’ll end up spending a lot of time in the car getting caught in traffic, packing and unpacking, and booking hotels.

– First half of the tour gives you much better access to the riders and race than the latter half. It’s often not as picturesque as the mountain stages, but it’s not nearly as crowded.
– Don’t expect to walk into any pub and see the Tour playing on TV. Unless the race is close to the area, it seems that many of the French are fairly apathetic towards the race. Many French I’ve spoken with view all cyclists as dopers and have written the sport off. I hope someone can prove me wrong on this point.

– Make the effort to see a mountain top finish. The crowds will be massive, so if you have a campervan, you’ll want to be up there with as much time as possible to get a spot. The Dutch will get to Alpe d’huez two weeks beforehand and camp out on corner #9 (Dutch Corner). I’ll write more about this when the race gets there in a couple weeks.

– If you’re crazy enough to park at the top of the mountain, don’t even bother trying to drive down for a number of hours after the race. It’s a complete traffic jam and walking or riding is the only way down immediately after the finish.

– No matter how warm you think you’ll be up in the mountains, be prepared for any type of weather. It can change in an instant, so don’t be too PRO to ride up the mountain carrying a backpack with some comfortable shoes and warm gear.

– If you don’t want to deal with the crowds on a mountain finish, watch the second last climb before the finale. The crowds will be less and you’ll still get to see the action. That said, it’s the crowd that makes the race so exciting and that atmosphere is something not to be missed.

– Seeing the caravan come through is a spectacle in itself. The caravan arrives about 1.5hrs ahead of the race and throws freebies to the crowd. It does a great job engaging everyone and if you’re bringing your kids to watch the race, this is the part they’ll love.

– If you decide to watch the finish of a stage, it’s very difficult to see the riders come past the line unless you’ve been staking out your spot for the full day. If getting up close to the riders is what you’re after, walk over to the team parking area and catch the riders as they make their way to their buses. It’s a great place to take photos of the riders, as they’re completely shattered and the expressions on their faces are priceless.

– A great way to see the most action with minimal movement is to seek out the rest days. For example, the first rest day of this year is after stage 9 finishing in Saint Flour. Watch the finish of stage 9 in Saint Flour, then spend the night and the following rest-day in Aurillac (which is very close by). There will be TdF festivities throughout the day and you’ll see the riders casually out and about. Then you get to see the Stage 10 race start in Aurillac (the same town), and you won’t need to change hotels.
Anything I missed?

Oz Cycling



Photos

courtesy of Veeral Patel and Sirotti and myself

Stage 6 Profile

Stage 6 Results

1 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling 5:13:37
2 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad
3 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo
4 Romain Feillu (Fra) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
5 Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team
6 Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ
7 Philippe Gilbert (Bel) Omega Pharma-Lotto
8 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Quickstep Cycling Team
9 Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
10 Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ

12 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team
103 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Procycling 0:01:44
157 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Leopard Trek 0:02:23
177 Mark Renshaw (Aus) HTC-Highroad 0:12:26
187 Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:12:26

General Classification after Stage 6

1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Team Garmin-Cervelo 22:50:34
2 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:00:01
3 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek 0:00:04
4 David Millar (GBr) Team Garmin-Cervelo 0:00:08
5 Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioShack 0:00:10
6 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
7 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:12
8 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling
9 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Leopard Trek
10 Andy Schleck (Lux) Leopard Trek

73 Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) HTC-Highroad 0:04:54
83 Simon Gerrans (Aus) Sky Procycling 0:06:16
98 Stuart O’Grady (Aus) Leopard Trek 0:08:33
160 Richie Porte (Aus) Saxo Bank Sungard 0:16:51
172 Mark Renshaw (Aus) HTC-Highroad 0:21:43

Stage 7 Preview