ever been to the Tour?

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I have been to the Tour a few times. First was in Dublin 1998 for the prologue.

I was at the finish in Ghent in 07 but got there too late to get a decent place and didn't see much but great atmosphere. I was also in Paris the same year, you have to get there hours beforehand to stand a chance of getting a half-decent place. Again, good atmosphere.

Nothing however beats the mountains. I stayed camping in Argeles-Gazost for a few days in 08, rode a few of the climbs Tourmalet, Aubisque in the preceeding days, then cycled over to the Apsin(skipping the Tourmalet) to watch the race. The following day I cycled up Hautacam for the finish and there was a big TV screen half-way up. I parked myself there, watched the race approach, then on the side of the road to cheer them on, then back to the TV screen for the finish. Was great, especially as it was Bastille Day.
I was living in Paris in 1999 and knew nothing about bicycle racing (though I'd been fascinated by the minimal USA weekend television coverage, complete with cheesy John Tesh music, when I was a kid). I worked out of my apartment in Montrouge and would watch the race, mystified, as I knew neither the sport nor the language. I was able to tell that an American racer was heavily featured and won some days, of course, and was vaguely aware from the mood in my café (where race coverage and analysis was on all the time) that the French weren't excelling in their home race, which disappointed me.

On the final day, I fought the crowds and went up to the Champs-Elysées and managed a spot on the barriers, where I saw Robbie McEwan win ahead of Erik Zabel. It was tremendously exiting to watch and turned me into a fan.

I've only gone to local races since then, and usually had the best time at the finish line (well, the start/finish line since most local races around here are circuits), but I'm afraid I don't have any particular tips for someone going to a Grand Tour.

I'll be in Portugal for a couple of weeks next month (missing much of the Tour, unfortunately, as I don't think I'll have a television in my apartment), and am thinking of taking a bus from my home base in Lisbon up to Torres Vedras to watch the Prologue of the Troféu Joaquim Agostinho. That would be my first pro race in fifteen years!
I´ve visited the Tour with my bike almost every year since 2009, but it´s easy for me as I live in the north of Spain. I think even the cheapest organized tour that takes you along the Tour route during the race is very expensive. I would suggest looking at the Tour stages and pick a base camp, from which you can visit a bunch of stages. Last year my base camp was Grenoble and I was able to hit three stages, stayed in my rented apt for one when it rained. The mtn stages are where you can see the most stages without moving around too much. I will be returning to Lourdes this year for the Pyrenees stages, there are three this year. Pau is also a great town to be based in and hosts one stage start this year. Your biggest problem right now is finding a hotel. They get booked up months ahead of the Tour.
Jun 18, 2009
In 2011 I was on Galibier, 4 km from the top. I knew Andy won from the radio but the stage was clear to me only the next morning, after I bought L'Equipe.
I also planed this year to be in Briancon or Risoul, but for the reason above, I will go in late June. It's nice but I prefer the TV.
Went to the Alpe stage last year and it was fantastic. Peering into camper vans for a glimpse of the peloton in between watching the amazing orange party, and scrambling for the goodies - I got a polka dot jersy but missed out on the saussicon as it went under my cleat and a little french kid nabbed it. Then seeing the helicopters appear as the riders descend the Col d'Ornon into the valley and slowly make their way towards you. The noise of the crowd as the motorbikes emerged followed by Tejay going at what seemed a ridiculously fast speed for someone going uphill.

A few minutes later the bulk of the peloton zoomed past Cav in the GB stripes side by side with Gilbert in the rainbow jersey.

Second time around and Tejay still in the lead but 20 minutes later the only 3 Frenchmen at Dutch corner were celebrating - Riblon a gagne!

Then as quickly as it came it was all gone. Brilliant memories and the rain stayed off until I'd got down to Bourg, sadly the heavens opened as soon as I did and by the time i got back to Grenoble I was drenched. A brilliant day and one I'll always remember.

I went to the Paris stage as well where you see more of the racing but its less memorable than the mountain stage. My memories of Paris are explaining to a bunch of drunken Brits that the reason I could tell Millar was off the front was because I know what Millar looks like. The giant flag under the Arc de Triomphe and wondering how the riders were going to manage with all the tarmac melting at the side of the etoile.

Lastly I remember a desolate looking Liuewe Westera on the Avenue De Wagram after he had pulled out on the last stage. Poor Lieuwe trying to talk to his team car as he fended off people who obviously hadn't heard race radio announcing his retirement with just 50k left and wanted to take pictures with him. I was delighted to see him get a stage win in Catalunya this year and will be keeping my fingers crossed he gets a better result this July.

Going to a stage is not about seeing the race, you get a much better idea of that by watching tv. Its all about the noise and the colour.

Loads of bars will show the race but not in English although with the captions you can always tell who is in the break and how far they are ahead of the bunch.
Apr 3, 2011
Swifty's Cakes said:
Went to the Alpe stage last year and it was fantastic. Peering into camper vans for a glimpse of the peloton...
Yeah, those campers' TVs are quite an essential part of the roadside experience, especially in the mountains, they should be encouraged and rewarded somehow (sometimes they even are, in liquid currency).
Roude Leiw said:
... french 3G card
On my last trip I did not find an in-country prepaid 3G card with good Internet capacity. It was so little bandwidth GPS/google maps consumed it all quickly, each day. Hopefully, things have changed.

Big screen at the finish is the way to do the race.
Never forgot my first time.

In '86 during a summer holiday road trip with my family from Denmark to the hotel town Le Grand Motte at French riviera, my dad bought l'Equipe as the first thing when we broke the boarder from Germany to Alsace. At a picnic in a grape field, I held the newspaper in hand for the first time. The front page showed Dane Jørgen V. Pedersen in yellow, which he won after a long break (and weared the next 5 days). That was very surprising, since all Danish hopes were put on Denmarks big name Kim Andersen, who weared yellow 2 times in '83 and '85, riding for Hinault on La Vie Claire. But suddenly Jørgen V. Pedersen was brought into fame.

So of course, one week later or so, on a boring day at the beach at Le Grand Motte, my dad and I decided to see one of the etapes of the Tour. We decided to see the stage to Nîmes. We drove for an hour or two. Found the crossing road, where cycling fans has settled for picnic in small groups. We went up the road, a slight uphill big lefthand curve, where we had a very good overview.

The caravane I will never forget. I know my dad should still have it on his 8mm cine film. That was so intense. The most extreme was a motor bike rider advertising for Michelin. He literally stood on his bike, as the Michelin-man he was, driving at a speed of well above 80-90 kmh, it was more like 100 kph round the corner. That was so intense. There were no driver, just him standing. Pure artistry. You will never see something like that today, I think.

That could have been way enough action for me that day.

After the caravane there were lots of talks in the small picnic groups and cozyness. But after some minutes I remember the silence. Nobody at the road spoke a word. What a tension.

Still with high adrenaline and my heart pumping, I was waiting for the riders. Hoping to see Jørgen V. Pedersen in yellow. You have to put in mind it was not internet times, though I as a 13 year old boy was dedicated sports nerd, I didn't follow the tour standings in l'Equipe everyday (some Italian/French girl took my attention :D ).

I remember, I didn't expect much to happen, since it was just an open slightly, left turn uphill road approx 50 km from the finale in Nîmes on a relatively flat stage.

But then, finally, the French géndarmes appeared on their motor bikes. At high speed. More motor bikes. It felt like ages, I remember I was just about to implode by exitement.

And then came the riders. What a race. The peleton was more or less in one piece seen from far distance, from my fathers and mine place you could see at least 3k's down the road (only slight downhill). And then, just 200m before the peleton passed me, some riders decided to go in a break. I remember seeing my big hero Claude Criquilion and I think it was Steve Bauer and 4-5 other riders. Wow all of a sudden the peleton exploded. The man in yellow was not Jørgen V. Pedersen I could recognize. But I wasn't dissapointet. Because the rider in yellow reacted on the break. Which had to mean that the riders trying to make a break had to be GC riders. I could see further forward, the break was quickly neutralized.

But wow! How lucky can you be as a boy?

And that was not all. The back end of the peleton had hard times. A rider just went down, totally exhausted, just in front of me and my dad. He sat on the asphalt with empty eyes, just empty. His team car had passed him. First man near him was a giant camera man. My dad has a priceless picture where the giant camera man stands with his giant TV camera just up the nose of the unlucky exhausted rider. I remember it took several minutes before he was assisted and put into a car.

That first time experience was way beyond what I had expected.

Since then, i've attented the tour more times:
In '87: Sorry don't remember the exact place, but some place in Massif Centrâle. This time my dad and I had my mom and sister with us. Unfortunately we came to late for the breakaway, which had about 10 mins to the peleton :( The place was OK, though we coudn't see the riders before they where there, but at least we could see the riders after the passage in a few serpentine curves downhill and into a cipress tree like landscape. That was beautiful, but it was extremely quickly over.

Then it went 10 years. In '97 the scene was l'Alpe d'Huez. I was on a holiday with friends. We rented an appartment on top of Le Alpe for 10 days doing mountaing walking and bike training. On the day of the race I suggested that we took place as attendants in the big "bowel" in the last corner before the steep passage up to the village l'Alpe d'Huez. That was a perfect place. From there you can see the 5k mark and up to the 2k mark which is just near the top of the last steep section before the town.

The crowds were MASSIVE. In that big "bowel" sourrounding the last corner before the village l'Alpe d'Huez I think at least 15-20.000, maybe even 25.000 ppl had taken place, enjoying their picnic. It was a real party. Not to forget the party you could hear during the night from the top of the mountain down the road. Boy those Dutch people are made of hard party stuff :D

The most unforgettable thing that year was actually not Pantani passing by and spoiling the record. It was the crowds reaction when Virenque passed. In 97' there were no fence to distinct the crowd from the riders before the 2k mark. So despite sitting at a high place in the "bowel" in the "last corner" you could not see the riders until about 100m before they passed the last corner.
But you could identify the position of the riders by the way the crowd was moving. And then you could hear thousands and yet thousands of Frenchmen all shouting in one cadance equaling Virenque's pedalling: "VI-RENque! - VI-RENque! - VI-RENque! -VI-RENque!" all the way from the 5k mark to the last corner.

That sound picture of one living 2.5k organisme shouting " "VI-RENque! - VI-RENque! - VI-RENque! -VI-RENque!" has just planted well into my memory. That was a massive experience.

Since then, I've attended Le Tour 2 times more; in '01 and '04, both times also at Le Alpe. The TT in '04 being the most embarrasing, as seen from the crowd. Though it was a nice weather for nearly 5 hours picnic :)

EDIT: (..and this is my oppinion..) Just forget about your smart phones and live-updates. Times, news about breaks and so on, you can see on the telly during the afternoon reprise. Is it something that really gives me the creeps those days is seeing all those smartphones at festivals, sport events and the like. The audience make itself very passive in that way, looks just like a lazy boy in his sofa, not participating in anything. Not funny. Live in the moment. Reach the moment. Luckily you see some cyclingfans still do that - and not only to put them selves in focus, like some cowards with no situational awareness

Act as a fan. Live as a fan. Be a fan.