Spectating Tips For A Grand Tour

Friday, 24 May 2013

grand tour bike race spectating

It’s great to follow a stage race on TV and the web but the race belongs to the roadside crowds more than any remote audience. Watching the race from the side of the road is the best vantage point possible because if offers more than a visual spectacle, you can hear and smell the race too.

But it’s easy to make a few mistakes. Just as racers need info and plans on a mountain stage, spectators can gain from preparing too. Here are some tips for a day spent watching a grand tour, especially for a day out in the mountains.

Picking where to watch the race is a tough choice but chances the decision is already made for a race like the Tour de France. You will have made travel plans long ago for a holiday in the mountains or maybe you’re British or Dutch and will head to France to catch a Tour de France stage when it visits the north of France. The mountains have few roads meaning access is hard. If you’re in rural France far from the Pyrenees or Alps then you’ll find it much easier to get close to the race. Obviously the mountain stages are famous and you can have a whole day out.

Timings and road closures
The race website or local newspaper will have the schedule listing when the race will pass. However this is more for information because on a big mountain stage all the roads are blocked from the morning onwards. The roads close well in advance of the race. There’s no fixed time but on a big mountain stage you can expect the route to be closed at breakfast time to cars. It’s why many will drive up the day before and camp overnight, indeed even if you drive up a climb you’ll find many of the parking places are taken days before by camper vans.

Drive
One option for driving is to find a side road that joins the route, for example if you want to watch the Mont Ventoux stage of the Tour this year, you can take the road from Sault towards Mont Ventoux and meet the race route halfway up the climb near Chalet Reynard. The later you arrive, the further you’ll have to park and walk.

Small crowds near the summit of Mont Ventoux because access is difficult and there’s no shade

Bike
Bikes are an obvious option. Whilst the roads are closed to cars, there’s a period when the police let people ride and walk up. But in time, perhaps several hours ahead of the race, they will also stop cyclists because the route becomes a corridor for media and other vehicles and in time the publicity caravan. But it’s not ideal and depends on the climb. If you can find a quiet spot then stick the bike against a fence or a tree but if you’re going to the final climb of the day then giant crowds can occupy every space. The busier the place, the more you’ll need a lock. A a minimum take some spare shoes so you don’t wear out your cleats and, better still more in a backpack. But remember bikes and cycle clothing are for riding, not waiting for hours on a mountain.

Dress the part
The mountains may look sunny but there’s a reason riders ride past blocks of snow in July. As an imperfect rule of thumb with every 100 metres of vertical gain you lose 1°C. Regardless it means a 2,000 metre high mountain pass can be cold and of course the wind can be stronger Take some warm clothes even if it’s sunny. Beware the strong sunshine too, if you can find a vantage point in the shade, all the better.

It might be summer but the weather at altitude is often cold and cloudy

Picnic
As well as clothing, pack some food and drink. The waiting can be long and ideally visit a local shop and stock on some regional specialities. Indeed one way to think of your trip is really a big picnic for hours where a bike race will happen to ride past. This is the best option if you’re making a family visit to watch the race, come equipped with food, drink and distractions to keep everyone busy for hours.

Indeed you’ll see some people might even camp for days on the mountains. Many daytrippers will come with folding chairs and tables to make the wait more comfortable.

Live Coverage
Just because you’re not watching the race on TV doesn’t mean you can’t watch the race on TV. In the big races a lead car will often broadcast the race situation but it can be hard to hear or maybe the in-car commentator doesn’t give out the info when passing you. So a portable TV, a pocket radio or a smartphone can ensure you keep up to date with the race. With phones the signal quality can vary but the networks have invested a lot in the ski areas so coverage is often better than you think although if you’re visiting Italy or France, check your data charges. But this can also be a day to forget everything. Sit on a mountain and escape and let the show come to you.

The best sports stadium in the world?

Where’s the race?
There are many vehicles ahead of the race. A few police vehicles doesn’t mean the race is coming. Instead wait for the helicopters to announce the race is coming. There are several TV cameras following the Tour de France and their presence tells you where the race is.

Avoid towns
Another tip would be to avoid the finish of a stage if it’s coming into a big town. If you happen to be in the town, join in but as a destination you’ll find it packed and unless you’re willing to stand by the finish line for hours then it’s hard to see what is happening. Indeed with the VIP stands, TV and more an actual spot near the finish line is hard. If you do go, pick out a place where you have a clear line of sight to the giant TV screens so you can watch the racing whilst you wait.

The finish is exciting but you’ll have to fight for position like a sprinter. Ensure a line of sight to a big TV

Philosophy
For all the practical tips, perhaps the biggest thing to remember is the philosophical difference between being part of the crowd and a TV spectator.

“The Tour de France is for everyone but above all it belongs to the innumerable crowds”
Anotine Blondin, L’Equipe, July 1964

You wait all day only to see the race flash past. Pick your spot on a mountain stage and the procession of riders could take half an hour, half a day if you visit a time trial. But often you wait hours only to see the riders go faster than you thought possible, passing you so quick you don’t know where to look. But this the wait is part of the experience, from the gradual rise in tension to picnicking somewhere scenic to meeting fellow cycling fans so ensure you’re ready to enjoy the day rather than just focus on the race.

A word on the crowd. If you’ve come to this website it’s because your interest takes you as far as niche cycling blog. But most people out to watch a stage of the Giro or Tour are there for the show. You might be able to spot a Campagnolo brakehoods from 100 metres but you’ll soon find many people can’t even name the race leader. Of course you’ll also find fellow travellers, the Tour de France in particular brings many fans from around the world.

Join in with the crowds on a mountain stage

The Master Plan
Taste is personal and everyone’s travel plans will be different. But if you can find a mountain stage and the sun is shining then aim for the penultimate climb of the day and drive as near to the route as you can get, perhaps using an access road that meets the Tour route on the mountain pass. Don’t rush, there’s no point being in place at dawn but aim to be settled by lunchtime in a scenic spot with some good food and maybe a book to read to pass the time.

Enjoy the publicity caravan, either join in the scrum or take the anthropological stance to watch adults fight like wolves for plastic keyrings scattered from passing vehicles. Cheer on the riders from first to last and wait for the broom wagon to roll past. This done, head to a local café that you’ve located earlier and watch the final of the stage on TV in the company of locals.

One final tip, don’t bother with photos. They might come out but if they don’t it means you looked at the race through a lense rather than your own wide-angle eyes. It’s much better to have memories of the moment in your mind than some blurred photo of half a rider obscured by a limb.

Summary
It’s cheap but it’s not always easy to watch a race. The bigger the race, the more you need to pick your spot as the start and finish can see the best places reserved for VIPs and out on the route the roads can be closed early.

  • If you’re in town and the Tour is riding by it can be easy to catch
  • But if you want to see the full show in the mountains then you need plan before and maybe get up early on the day
  • You will have time to spare so come prepared with food or something to read
  • Waiting is part of the experience,  the building anticipation of one of the world’s greatest sporting events
  • Leave the photography to the pros, take some snaps of the surroundings but when the race comes, enjoy the moment
  • Get it right and the experience of watching a mountain stage in a big race can provide memories for a lifetime
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{ 48 comments }

the irrepressible Fairchild May 23, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Had come early to claim my spot for a stage in the Tour of Missouri, camera in hand. As the crowd began to arrive, they filled in the less-desirable spots around me. Shortly before the caravan came through, one of the local officials came up to me and with a worried look said, “You know that if there is a crash, you’ll be right in the place where it happens???” Ah, proof positive I had grabbed just the right spot on the course… No crashes, but got some great pictures.

Will May 23, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Great photo of Grand Colombier.

Lots of very good advice. Attitude is important. It’s a long day out, enjoyable for many other reasons in addition to watching the actual race.

Some adds:
i) It can be occasionally helpful to ask the local tourist office for route closures, special circumstances, etc. For example, Valloire was helpful and well informed leading up to the Giro Galibier stage.

ii) Often a bad idea to try and drive or cycle up the opposite side of a climb …. that will become used as the descent. Officials often want to keep it as clear as possible and may close very early.

iii) Agree, for me, the best viewing is near the top of a late-in-stage climb during a very tough stage. This gives the possibility of seeing many groups of riders, passing for a very long time.

Dan May 23, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Has anyone had the chance to watch a sprint finish from the VIP seats? Do you get a good view of the race or is it all about the hospitality?

regsf May 24, 2013 at 12:17 am

I’ve had VIP at the TDF in Paris. Unfortunately the VIP tribune is about 300 meters long. So if you’re not close to the finish line. You can’t see who won the stage. The only benefit is that VIP has the large screen video across the way so you can watch on those. Is it better than at home with a frosty cold one? Thanks to the attractive ASO hostesses, probably yes, and after the stage you can go mingle with all the teams in the car park by the Place de la Concorde. Smaller towns the VIP is probably better and smaller.

DP May 24, 2013 at 3:27 am

Watched Cav win green from a VIP stand at the end of TdF 2011. We were 160 from the line, as it turned out the exact distance from which he launched himself – very exciting. The hospitality deserves a mention: we weren’t really sure what to expect, but the food – without exaggeration – was world class (you’re in Paris, after all); added to that there were two very large, very well-stocked bars, from which the all-included booze flowed freely all afternoon. The tickets were very expensive, but within minutes – sat in the sunshine drinking champers on the Champs – we realised they were worth every penny.

Dan May 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Thanks – We’ve been to the Tour the past two years and this year we’ll be intercepting it at St Amand and St Pourcain in the Allier. It’s expected to be a sprint finish in St Amand so we’re weighing up if it’s worth forking out for the tickets… Hoping to see Cav in green with his arms in the air!

We camped out on the Mall for 6 hours at the Olympics only to see Vino take it so I know you can never guarantee the result you want!

Mazzok May 23, 2013 at 9:11 pm

Bringing food is a must.. or be sure to find and befriend the guys with salami and Prosecco.

andy May 23, 2013 at 9:18 pm

the wife and i caught the 2011 tour on our honeymoon. we were in the pyrenees and in three days developed quite a system. early morning head to the start town. find start area then scout for the buses and find the hotels where the teams stayed. good way to meet riders, team personnel, and see the equipment. the wife, being cute and smiley, would talk up mechanics or soigneurs and get free gear, tips for the stage or access to riders. she also made friends with the mavic neutral support – they knew a lot of info. then fly back to the start, splitting up to find the best spot to watch them off.

next you gotta sprint back to your car, strategically placed on the outside of town so you can actually leave, and its imperative to find the press cars (with press decals and badges on the car) which you can then follow through the countryside literally as fast as your car can go. not likely to get pulled over or anything if you tuck in with these guys. odds are you can catch the race a couple more times.

if youre really lucky at some point team cars are going to do a swap of gear. one set of cars remain behind the race while another heads to the finish. one stage, stuck in a village with the roads through the mountains closed i spied this transaction. realizing what was happening we ran as fast as we could, got in the car and managed to grab a spot right in the middle of the team cars. like magic the police opened the gate and we were through! following those cars is nothing short of being in a rally race, these guys have to take every risk to beat the race to the finish. we made it quite close to the finish this way and ran the rest.

and at the finish its mayhem. no matter what. unless youre there all day you wont make it close to the finish line. but theres always a way to get a good view. anything goes so hopping fences, running through yards, over buildings and houses, just do whatever you must. being near the giant screen is definitely a huge bonus. you have to choose for seeing the finish or trying to see the riders afterwards. i dont like to bother the riders after the race, but a smart casual placement means you can be right there as they towel down and catch the riders completely honest reactions, with no camera in the face, to what they just went through. to me this was one of the best experiences – i usually take this over the victory salute.

it was absolutely exhausting running around like this but beyond fun. it was seeing the race but it also became such a challenge. i think the wife liked it more than me! having to find your way through a town in a matter of minutes, finding secret staircases, over buildings, under bridges, hopping fences – i think we ran straight through someones house at one point… some of the most fun ive ever had.

sarah May 23, 2013 at 9:19 pm

My husband and I have spent vacations following both the Giro and the Tour de France. One thing we found is that in France traveling by camper to each stage is super easy. There are campgrounds set up at each stage and the atmosphere at those places was great. We met people from all over the world, were able to ride parts of the stages and were there early enough not to have to worry about traffic. When the day is over, everyone drives to the next town. Even those who aren’t huge cycling fans would have a blast.

In Italy the crowds were slightly less, but it was easier to get around, and people were surprised to see Americans so interested.

Pam June 18, 2013 at 4:34 am

Sarah – any tips on hpw to tuck in with these campsites 9and find them)? We’re doing this for the first time, and starting to get a little nervous about not having a clue as to what we’re doing :)

Jennifer May 23, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Love all the advice but crazy as I am, I don’t see myself running through villages or people’s houses dragging my aunt with me. Fortunately she grew up with cycling-obsessed brothers so she can appreciate the madness. Trying to balance being a tourist with catching the race is putting my meeting planning skills to the test. Lucky me at least we’re staying in one start village. Now if I can just get a pic with Eddy Merckx to send my uncles over the edge…

Steve Potts May 23, 2013 at 9:51 pm

Good advice from Inrng, as usual.
I enjoyed watching the Tour finish in Paris a couple of years ago. There was no way to get near the finish but I had a good view on the Rue de Rivoli. The advantage is that they come around the finish circuit multiple times, of course, so sometimes I took photos and other times just watched. You can see my blurry photos of Evans, Cav, Gilbert, Flecha etc. here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/31218589@N07/sets/72157627288883274/

Wherever you watch – enjoy.

Tom Smith May 23, 2013 at 10:05 pm

All great advice. I’d add the plan of having a nice hike.
In 2012, a group of us caught the climb of the Tourmalet. We slept in our car in a completely different valley and enjoyed a stunning hike over a high pass and then DOWN to the col du Tourmalet. We arrived to watch the caravan and immerse ourselves in the crowds and the culture. After the passing of the “Fin de la Corse” van, we hiked up and over to our car.
I’ll never forget the first view we had of the route. We were 6 or 8 hundred meters above the road and the throngs of people. The noise and excitement grew as we rushed down the last kms of the trail to arrive on course and carve out our place along the road.

Vive le Tour

ave May 23, 2013 at 10:27 pm

So true about the photos!!

Al-Bo May 24, 2013 at 9:00 am

Seconded. And true of almost every sports/entertainment event. Not to mention the fact that amateur photographers often obstruct the view of others with their efforts. I’ve heard that people have taken to filming things on tablets now. Please.

Skippy May 23, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Whilst Inrng mentions locks , it would be very risky to leave a GOOD bike anywhere , other than in FRONT of you ! The grand tours are followed by those with an eye for what they can pick up along the way . Who will challenge anyone fiddling with a bike ? Fancy walking home from the middle of nowhere ? Too many have done so regardless of their Lock ! Detach front wheel , lock it to the frame and back wheel on a post more than head high and you will lose the saddle or some parts ! You can’t win !Theives are determined to ruin your day .

At the London Olympics there were dozens of bikes stripped of wheels , brake sets , derailleurs & STI levers , just metres out of sight of their owners ! The police were less than enthusiastic about filling their report books to issue ” Insurance Claim Info “!

When i saw a guy trying to lift a bike to replace his wreck , the culprit told the cop he had mistakenly pulled out this bike , which looked like the wreck he was leaving behind . Even needing a white stick , the average joe could see this was BS , but the cop let it ALL slide , no doubt he picked up another bargain further along the course ?

When i told an Inspector to broadcast to his troops a request to challenge anyone carrying wheels , he told me that it was too much to expect . Personally i see no reason a cop can’t ask a person why they are carrying $!000 wheels that are not flat !

Tom May 23, 2013 at 11:32 pm

I can’t imagine that the average cop can tell the difference between $10 wheels and $1000 wheels.

Dr. Ko May 24, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Well, if you are at Flanders or Roubaix it is ok to carry non-flat wheels TO the race, in case your favourite rider/team/nation gets a flat you can give them a wheel.

http://hccommuter.blogspot.de/2012/04/paris-roubaix-little-short-story.html

Jbid May 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Another tip. Be Carefull!! Especially when the teamcars are passing. Sometimes they drive side by side on small roads. Its crazy. Watch your toes or they will be black and blue.

Michael May 24, 2013 at 12:08 am

I did exactly that in 2004 at the MTT at Alpe d’Huez in the TDF. Never had I planned anything like this but GTs ar not like other races on the calendar.

At the time I was running a small cycling website in Denmark, and wanted to get a lot of good pictures. The hole story about our trip to the TDF i very long because we went to 6 stages so I keep it short here.

We bokk a hotel in Grenoble that is only 35 miles from Alpe d’Huez and the we went to Bourg d’Orsain at the foot of the 14 hairpins 3 days before the stages to find a camping site. Not to live there but to put up a small 10 dollar tent, so we would have a place to put the car on race day.

Lucky enough we did that because we realized that traffic in Bourg d’Orsain would close at 6 am. We had the idea to drive to the mountain at drive up with all our equipment and then take the car down to the camping site and park. But nothing goes to plan in a GT. &am on raceday there was already around a million people on the mountain and it was closed for cars.

Ohhh no now we have to walk. And so we did. At 7.30 the 3 of us started what felt like climbing Mont Everest. We where carrying 12 liters of water, all my camera equipment, a little bit of food and some sunblock.

That is a lot to carry up the Alpe d’Huez. Around 8 the sun came up over the mountains and very shortly after it was 90 degrees. We walked and walked but at the 6th bent from the bottom it was just to hard, so we stopped. Mostly because there wasn’t that many people and there was a small wall to sit on.

What we didn’t have was any shade, no bathroom and after some hours we had drunk half of our water. Worst thing was that the stage wouldn’t start for another 5 hours.

We stood on a 100 degrees hot, pee smelling mountain together with a million people and cooked slowly for another couple of hours before the first rider past. But we saw every one of the riders and my pictures where good.

After the stage people walk down, biked down and drove down, bit Bourg d’Orsain isn’t that big and ther is only one way out if you want to go north and if you don’t want to climb the Galibier to go there. So i took 2-3 days for everybody to get down from the mountain with there auto campers.

Now it seem like we where fine because we had our car to sleep in at our prepaid camping site, but it wasn’t over. We had to be in Grenoble the next day no later than 4 o’clock to pick up our own car that was being repaired.

What we didn’t know was that no cars was allowed to leave Bourg d’Orsain before 2 pm due to the start of the next stage. The only way out was south. So we did that at passed the Galibier, the Telegraph and made a 40 miles trip into a 150 miles trip.

So if you ever go to a mountain stages in a GT expect the unexpected and have a great time.

Austin CX May 24, 2013 at 1:46 am

Im glad someone else mentioned the bathroom situation. I got stuck on Luz Ardiden during a tour with a really sour stomach and got stuck towards the top after the gendarmarie shut the road down; I certainly was not prepared :)

My advive to anyone who is spending the day towards the mountaintop during a stage, pack for the worse case bathroom scenario you can think of and you will be well off.

Dave May 24, 2013 at 12:11 am

It will be my third encounter with Le Tour this summer, although remarkably the first time I’ll have actually seen it in France. Also my first visit also to the Alps.

Luckily I will have the assistance of a knowledgable local, otherwise I don’t know how i’d get to see it all. I just hope he’s read the guidance above ;-)

TourDeUtah May 24, 2013 at 1:08 am

In another forum I have talked to many who have been to GT’s, and while fun and interesting most suggest taking in smaller stage races. Smaller crowds, easier to get around, hotel rates are not exhorbant, riders, soigneurs, and race officials are more willing to engage with you as there is a lot less stress at the smaller events. Actually got to chase many of the teams around in the days before the event as they were training on the local roads.

Having witnessed the Tour of Utah on many occasions I have been quite pleased at how accessible and friendly the riders are. Willing to to take photos and talk before stages. After stages is usually a no-no. Have actually made friends with a few and would chat with them throughout the week. Best of all it is easy to catch the start, an early climb or sprint point, then on to the finish. Many of the riders recognize us on the route and are happy to see friendly faces rooting them on.

Another great way to see and follow the race is to volunteer. Last year I volunteered in the start area for stage 3. Got to meet lots of riders and fans. Once the race departed, my duties were over, and we were off to catch the final climb of the day !

Hopefully, this summer, I can the TdU then on to Colo for the Pro Tour Challenge !

Anonymous May 24, 2013 at 2:38 am

thanks, great info. a group of us are heading to Utah for the race this year, we’re staying in Brian Head, starting a few days ahead of the start.

shepwas May 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm

Agreed also that smaller races are tremendous fun, I spent a day with my young son at the Circuit de la Sarthe on the two stage day in Angers this year and the team mechanics and staff were most receptive as they set up for the CLM, talking to me and indulging my son, as were the riders when they finished the road stage. We were able to move freely around as they did 4 circuits of the city and were stood on the line as the much maligned Bouhanni took the road stage.

AlexSP May 24, 2013 at 1:10 am

I would add another tip, taken from my experiences watching Tour stages: take a pen and Tour card or hat (like the ones given out by the caravan) because you’re likely to come across some starts and you don’t want to miss this. I’ve got 3 polka-dot hats full of autographs from the likes of Contador, Hushovd (caught him coming out of the doping control in Lourdes in 2011…) and even the greats Sean Kelly and Poulidor (who got stuck mid-mountain as the caravan rode on, and gladly signed one up and even gave me a few promo cards of his when I recognized him inside a car on the same day and same climb that Andy Schleck’s chaingate took place… we were like 100m from the incident…). So you never know, some ppl don’t like to ask for autographs but I don’t mind (most pros are cool about this) if it idoesn’t bother them, and now I have some cool souvenirs of my heroes!

AlexSP May 24, 2013 at 1:11 am

Excelent post by the way, all good and useful tips indeed!

slim jim May 24, 2013 at 7:26 am

There are photos of me standing atop the Alp Di Pampeago at the 2008 Giro in shorts and a light windbreaker.
I was unprepared, I was freezing but I didn’t care one bit.

Tim May 24, 2013 at 8:14 am

Excellent article, but you could add a bit about leaving after the stage finish. Ned Boulting’s “Yellow Jumper” book has a very good section on the reality of queuing down the mountain.

SoFar May 24, 2013 at 8:32 am

I’m considering taking my bike to France for June/July for some bike-packing (late and un-planned, so no accom booked).
Any tips for camping in France during the Tour? I suspect I might have to avoid the tour as a matter of necessity, or leave it to chance encounters…

adam May 24, 2013 at 6:43 pm

I’m in the same boat here, just going to try and free camp and see what happens! dont know if this is a good idea or not but there is only one way to find out!

zazou June 30, 2013 at 2:55 am
Henry Bolingbroke May 24, 2013 at 12:07 pm

Water, water everywhere except at a stage of the Tour de France. We went up Ax 3 Domaine on a hot day and ran out of water by the time we got to the top, fortunately we were able to grab several bottles from the Vittel girls otherwise we would have died of dehydration. My advice: take lots of water (and I mean lots).

Skippy May 24, 2013 at 12:48 pm

With this my 16th TDF , i find that my driver has backed out through illness .

Planning to leave the car near Nice for the Corsica period , but will want to find a Driver that will contribute to expenses , over 25yo for Insurance purposes with Mechanical knowledge for the unexpected , willing to camp out at each day’s start , able to ride strongly for the occasional ride at the arrival area .

Those interested , set out your stall at : skippi@ausi.com .

Can’t promise anything other than the unexpected , but if you have read any of my blogs , you will see that i have the habit of falling over interesting situations . Whilst there is a preference for the whole TDf , am willing to consider people prepared to join for a week or so .

My intention is to ride each day’s route in it’s entireity as in the past 15 visits , that will be paramount .

shepwas May 24, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Disagree about watching in towns. We took the ferry for a day trip to Boulogne last year for TDF Stage 3, and I found it a most welcoming experience.
We watched most of the race in a intramural bar drinking superb local beer, about 45 minutes before the finish, we wandered down and with the aid of some very helpful and accommodating Police Nationale, found ourselves on the fence, 200 metres from the finish with free access to the 1664 concession as Sagan burst up the hill.
My advice, take it easy, relax and enjoy the locality and the atmosphere. You can always watch the cycling on youtube.

Rider Council May 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm

you forgot to mention to pack speedos and a rabbit suit!

Good advice! Inrng has done a few of them it seems!

Simon Curtis May 24, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Good tips. I’m actually in Paris for the last stage, so will put a couple of these tips into action.

Simon Curtis May 24, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Last stage of the TdF, that is, of course.

Mark May 24, 2013 at 6:19 pm

While I think televised time trials make for painfully boring viewing, time trials viewed from the roadside are the best way to extend your experience. Over 2 hours of riders passing by individually, usually identifiable in advance based on published start times. Not quite the same burst of excitement as the peloton flying by, but a longer dose of racing. As echoed in previous comments, the start village at a TT offers a great chance for mingling with teams, since they are set up literally for hours.

My wife and I are flying to France from the US this July, and spending a week in a campervan in the Alps. We decided to leave the bikes at home to simplify things, both in terms of expense and logistics. It was a tough choice, but we will get plenty of great hiking, cuisine, and spirits instead, with maybe the odd daily bike rental if the opportunity arises.

Larry T. May 24, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Nicely done. As a veteran of seeing big races every year since 1988 I’ll make a few suggestions. I say take some photos, but don’t obsess about it…there’s nothing like being able to look at ‘em later and know YOU took them on-the-spot vs looking at what the pros shot on the day. Finish towns are not so terrible if you’re clever enough to a) get there a day ahead of the race b) get a place right near the finish. Riding your bike up into the mountains? Swap to your MTB pedals and shoes, leaving the racy shoes and their slippery cleats at home. The Giro is MUCH more relaxed than LeTour and the food is better by far. A small and cheap lock for the bike is OK unless you’re the fool leaving a bike that is as good as the ones in the race out-of-your-sight, otherwise just make sure your’s is harder to steal than the next guy’s and you’ll be fine. Leaving a car on the course while you ride up the climb? DON’T leave anything valuable inside – take your wallet, passport, etc. with you. Lessens the theft issue and makes things not so terrible if the car gets towed away. I can’t say enough about seeing these things LIVE, in-person…any armchair moron can watch ‘em on TV and pontificate all day long…but seeing them live will forever change your perspective on our sport.

The King Of Space May 24, 2013 at 9:01 pm

Look on the web before you go to see if anyone has uploaded a copy of the roadbook, have a look at what hotels your favourite team are staying in, hit up a hotel booking site and see if they have any free rooms.

Thanks to this last year I had a rider swing by my hotel room to sign a book and have a quick chat and even got taken out for a quick spin in one of the Sky team cars by one of the mechanics. Its amazing how friendly and open everyone is as long as you are polite.

* You may wish to take ear plugs unless you like going to sleep to the sound of pressure washers.

Kento May 25, 2013 at 7:14 am

We went to last years TDF for the final stage on the Champs. Unforgettable experience, but will reiterate what others have said.

-There are no port-a-loos in sight, so be prepared to hold it in, or lose your spot trying to go at a restaurant/department store etc.
-Take heaps of water. We were at the roadside for 10hrs all up, as we also waited after the finish for the team ride by (which others missed who had left early). I think we ended up drinking 8L between us. The weather was quite warm and we were in full sun.
-Get to your spot around 7am…. crowds were 2 deep by 8:30am.
-Once you decide on which side of the road you want to be on, it is near on impossible to change your mind after about 10am, and that is only done via the underground , or a very large detour.

Thoroughly enjoyed the experience, as did my wife, who is not as much of a velonut as me.

As for the VIP seats, we considered them, but they were very pricey. However, you do get a toilet, a seat, and shade. Also, you dont have to hold your position all day. However, we found we had a better view of the finish line AND finish celebration (we were about 100 m past the finish), plus had bigger TV screens to watch.

Another thing of note, which you dont notice so much on the TV, is that there is a double barrier in place. Which means there is a 1m ‘no mans land’ between you and the riders. This does detract somewhat from the experience, but you can see the necessity on the high speed Champs stage.

dan May 25, 2013 at 8:54 pm

I remember that bit of the grand colombier, that was one of the crazy steep sections *shudder*

Martin McCann May 27, 2013 at 9:20 pm

I’m hoping to get the best of both worlds next year when the Giro comes to Belfast and Armagh, before it heads to Dublin- a GT less than 15km from my front door! Can anyone tell me when the actual detailed route for the Giro will be announced?

Vanilla_Thrilla May 31, 2013 at 5:13 am

I dream of the day some time many years in the future when I have saved up a stupid amount of money to travel halfway around the world to be standing on the edge of mountain road in France having hiked up at dawn and waited there for hours all for a fleeting glimpse of manorexics in lycra to flash past in an instant.

And my non-cycling mates just look at me like I’m strange

Simon July 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Any tips on where is best to watch on Ventoux? We’ve rented some hybrids with triples to spin up at a leisurely pace, starting early, but not sure where a ‘good’ place to stop is, i.e. good to wait for a long time, good atmosphere, not too busy, far up enough to see some action?

Cheers

The Inner Ring July 1, 2013 at 4:00 pm

It all depends on the weather. Rain and you won’t want to be far but sunny and you might find the upper part too exposed with no shade. It can also be very windy. This is not to put you off it, there are smaller crowds the higher you go and you can watch the race approaching below down the mountain.

If not then the wooded area is good before Chalet Reynard but it will be packed. Forecasts say 500,000 people will be there.

ewan July 1, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Managed to persuade the family to watch the start of Stage 13, which starts at Tours. Is there much to see at the start? (we land the day before so seeing the previous day’s finish is unlikely). I’ve had a look at the TdF website, and can’t see where the Tour village is. Can you point me in the right direction?

thanks

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