Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I'll do it again

After spending last week following the Tour through southeast France (we watched stages 10,11,13, and 14) I’m convinced that following a bicycle race is a GREAT way to experience a new country. You have a schedule, route, you get to see places off the “beaten” path, you can camp or stay at hotels, and you get to meet lots of other people.

I’ve posted some pictures from my trip on a Flickr and will probably put more on my blog

So, let me pass along a few lessons that I’ll use on my next visit to the Tour (Giro, or Vuelta for that matter).
  1. Rent a camper. The Tour route follows lots of backroads and you’re more than likely going to need to camp if you want good positions. Using a tent is quaint, but it’d be a heck of a lot nicer if you just pulled off the side of the road and setup shop. It was hard not to be jealous of the Frenchmen that had their tables spread with wine, cheese and board games.
  2. Barring a camper, make sure you schedule accomodations ahead of time. We scrambled everyday to find a place. Hotels and campsites fill up for over 100km around every city. The day after the race ended in Briancon we ended up in the resort town of Ceuse at midnight (over 100km away) and there were still folks from the “caravan” (Cochonou for the record)
  3. See every other stage. Obviously sometimes there are GREAT stages back to back, but if you see every other stage, you get a nice respite from the stress of travel and waiting, and you’re also more likely to get good positioning.
  4. Arrive EARLY. Even if you’re hours before the caravan, that’s often not good enough. On the climb of the Col du Galibier we arrived the night before around 5PM and were prevented from driving up the climb. See the previous point about seeing every other stage. I ran into some Texans inside 1km from the top (the guy was the director of the Texas Bicycle Coalition) who had arrived at their spot two nights before the day of the race.
  5. Know the language as best as possible. I get the impression that the Gendarmarie (police) treated native speakers more favorably than us. If you can’t know the language be sure to have a dictionary and try your best to speak it. It helped us out (lots of folks didn’t speak English) and it made the trip all the more interesting.
  6. Take a bike. If you go the camper route this is all the more easier. I found myself wanting a bike really badly. Further more, if you get shutdown by the Gendarmerie they let bikes through until JUST before the racers arrive so you can ride your bike up to a good spectating spot, and ride back to your transportation when you’re done.
  7. Take lots of maps. You can also buy them in the supermarches. I also found Vialys to be very good. I like maps, they fun, but they’ll also save you lots of wasted time trying to get from A to B.
  8. Take a radio, or phone with internet access. Being able to have real-time updates on the Tour status made things very exciting.
  9. This tip is specific to Americans… Generally London is the cheapest European city for Americans to fly to. Fly to London and then get a transfer to airports like London Luton, Standsted, or Gatwick (I used National Express for 21GBP roundtrip) and then fly the cheap airlines like Ryan Air or Easy Jet. I hadn’t even heard of these airlines, but my friends suggested them. The flights were $50-80 for oneway flights to and from France

Following the Tour was clearly a cultural phenomenon, and was an awesome experience among my all-time favorite sporting events. Viva le Tour!


  1. some great pics mate!! wish i could have been in europe this year.. ohwell.

  2. i thought of you guys, remembered you mentioning your blog and googled you. great pics of the tour--how fun! i look forward to checking in from time to time.