Le Tour de France

Lance Armstrong - Tour de France
Lance Armstrong in 2009 – by Michel Guntern

With the Euro 2012 finalists determined, the teams were given a couple of rest days before they compete in the final.

That’s an ideal opportunity for us to turn away from the football and look ahead to the next major sporting event to hit our screens – Le Tour de France.

There’s something special about the Tour de France that, like all great sporting events, should be experienced live.

The best place to watch the race unfold, is in front of the television.

Alberto Contador - Tour de France
Alberto Contador of Astana leading the way on the final climb to Verbier – Tour de France 2009

With cameramen on motorbikes and tv crews shooting from helicopters in the sky, you are treated to different visual angles of the cyclists rolling through a varied French countryside.

A good commentary team on board can share a wealth of background information on the various chateaux, regional foods, and even something insightful about the cycling itself.

If you’re a fan of Eurosport, you can even join in with other cycling fans on the (Yahoo) Message Boards.

While watching the race on television you’ll see places with a number in brackets. This number represents the French Department (département).

Le Tour 2012
Le Tour 2012

For real atmosphere though, you would want to get out on the road for a stage or two; especially after you’ve seen a few tours on the screen.

Where to See The Riders For Real

The first thing to do is to look at the Tour de France route and see if the peloton will pass by anywhere you intend to be, or anywhere you would like to visit.

If you’re using public transport, the departure and arrival points are often the easiest places to get to and there’s always a party atmosphere when ‘Le Tour‘ comes to town.

Last minute accommodation may be hard to find in ‘stage towns’ and large crowds can make it difficult to get good pictures, if you don’t have a photographer’s bib.

Throwaway Bidons at Feeding Station in Delle

If it’s photographs of the cyclists you’re after, then it’s better to stake out a place on the route itself.

This needs thinking about too; or you could find yourself waiting for hours, only for the peloton to pass you by in seconds.

Riders slow down at feeding stations and tend to go slower on the steeper inclines.

If you’re fortunate, you might even be lucky enough to have a bidon (water bottle) discarded in front of you; as we did, just after the Delle feeding station in 2009.

Getting Into Position

The official Tour de France website gives an estimated time schedule for each stage but not when the roads close; check out the local municipal websites for that.

On The Climb

If you have a camper van (RV or motor home) and want to park it on the side of the route, you need to find your spot early; sometimes the night before. Choosing this option also means you could be stuck in traffic jams for hours after the race.

You may prefer to study a local map and leave the car close to where you want to be but not on the route itself; for a quicker getaway.

Keen cyclists can always get themselves into good positions on the climbs and then beat the traffic jams back down to the bottom.

Waiting For The Riders

Graham Watson's Tour de France Travel Guide
Tour de France Travel Guide

The Caravane precedes the cyclists by about an hour and a half. This is when the decorated vehicles of the sponsors pass by; promoting their brands in something of a carnival atmosphere. When you see helicopters approach, you’ll know the cyclists are getting closer.

It’s also a good idea to check out the Weather in France for the coming week. Meteo.fr has a good weather map that you can zoom in on.

If you’re really interested in travelling around France to follow the tour, then you should consider getting your hands on a copy of Graham Watson’s Tour de France Travel Guide.

Paris Champs-Élysées

The last stage of Le Tour, with its prestigious finish on the Champs-Élysées, is always highly attended.

You may not get the best view of the riders at the finish but at least there’s plenty of hotels in Paris and you can say you were there. If you can get there early enough (the night before) the fountain by the final run-in is a good place to be.

The Place de la Concorde is where the team buses are parked up and you may catch some of the riders around here after the race is over.

Tour de France 2012 June 30th to July 22nd:
Saturday, 30th June: Liège (Prologue).
1. Sunday, 1st July: Liège to Seraing.
2. Monday, 2nd July: Visé to Tournai.
3. Tuesday, 3rd July: Orchies to Boulogne-sur-Mer.
4. Wednesday, 4th July: Abbeville to Rouen.
5. Thursday, 5th July: Rouen to Saint-Quentin.
6. Friday, 6th July: Épernay to Metz.
7. Saturday, 7th July: Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles.
8. Sunday, 8th July: Belfort to Porrentruy.
9. Monday, 9th July: Arc-et-Senans to Besançon (Individual time-trial).
Tuesday, 10th July: Rest Day.
10. Wednesday, 11th July: Mâcon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.
11. Thursday, 12th July: Albertville to La Toussuire – Les Sybelles.
12. Friday, 13th July: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay Davézieux.
13. Saturday, 14th July: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Le Cap d’Agde.
14. Sunday, 15th July: Limoux to Foix.
15. Monday, 16th July: Samatan to Pau.
Tuesday, 17th July: Rest Day.
16. Wednesday, 18th July: Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon.
17. Thursday, 19th July: Bagnères-de-Luchon to Peyragudes.
18. Friday, 20th July: Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde.
19. Saturday, 21st July: Bonneval to Chartres (Individual time-trial).
20. Sunday, 22nd July: Rambouillet to Paris Champs-Élysées.

Large Map – Cycling on Twitter.

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8 thoughts on “Le Tour de France

  1. Just got wind of the women’s version of Tour de France called Reve Tour, if I remember it correctly. Sounds like the ladies ride 1 day ahead of the men on the same route so I guess if you time it right you could see both groups fly by!

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  2. Le Tour de France came through a village near us last year and we went to see it. There was a really amazing atmosphere and it was great seeing it “en direct”!

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  3. Hi! I find your blog fun & fascinating and have nominated you for The Sunshine Award! For more details, check out my blog 🙂

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  4. Rented a very reasonable old house for a week in old town Dinan to chase the Tour in 2011. Hopped down to see the team time trials in L’Essarts. Caught up with the Tour as they came slowly through Neulliac and then sat back and watched as they came down the cobbles passed “our house” in Dinan. Always found a spot to stand and get up close plus tons of swag. I’d recommend to anyone as soon as the route is announced do your homework, get a house in a central location that is a finish or start town and see other stages from there. It was a trip of a lifetime. Next year the finish in Paris for the100th tour.

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