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