Sports during the summertime can be much more worldly, the World Cup, British Open, Wimbledon and my favorite the Tour de France. Lazy teacher mornings in front of the TV become exciting as you watch a huge group of cyclists bike through beautiful scenery. There is a veil of mystery as the commentators talk about different jersey colors. And why on earth would someone don a polka-dotted jersey!
The Tour de France, a month-long cycling race each July that is mesmerizing for the scenery and the athletic prowess of the bikers climbing up ridiculously tall mountains. Watching it, I knew I had to go.
First thing, the Tour de France, is a cycling race that takes place in stages. Each stage at a different location and can be specific for sprints or climbing mountains (the King of the Mountains, gets the polka dot jersey btw). The legs of the race happen each day and really occur smack dap in the middle of picturesque towns and through their main streets in France. You don’t need any tickets, you just need to stake out a spot on the road.
This race is a big deal. Fans will follow the cyclists in campers throughout the country. The small towns along the route will go all out with flags, decorations, parties and more. The race comes by quick but with all the supporters standing on the side of the road cheering, it is worth going.
Where will the race be be?
We were working on a European road trip for the next summer when we got the wild idea to go and try to track down a leg of the race. The race schedule is released the summer before, they only announce a few legs at a time. We kept following the news and announcements on the Tour De France Official Site and googling the next year's race.
Where should we go?
After watching quite a few races on TV, we knew that we didn’t want to see the finale which takes place around the Arch de Triumph in Paris. It is packed with people and we wouldn’t be able to see anything. It needed to be in a smaller city so we could drive in the night before and be ready to get a spot as early as necessary. The other detail that was important to us, is that we wanted to see them for as long as possible, mountain climbs take longer, obviously, than flat land. So we narrowed it down to a mountain stage.
Extra Planning Tip
For us, our leg was going to be in Beaufort in the Alps. I searched the web for any information I could get early on. I stalked the facebook pages of the towns and news outlets (good things for google translate) that said how the town was getting ready to welcome the cyclist. With that info, I could book a room for $75 that was a few steps from the road and it couldn’t have worked out better. So try and gather as much info as possible so you can lock in your accommodations early.
What to expect
Once you have your race leg, get there the day before. You can scope out how far it is to the road where they are coming by, or how high you will have to climb the mountains to get your spot or even if you are going to have to drive to the location. It is worth it to get an extra day. Don’t be surprised at the crowds that will be in these small towns. There will be amateur cyclists doing the route, campers with a full campsite ready and festivities already occurring. But, it is awesome to explore some of the beaten path areas and go and celebrate with them.
Finally, it is the big day, get to your spot about an hour early. There will be race survivors from trucks for your jersey and t-shirt needs. And the best part, there is a “parade” that comes by before the racers. They throw necklaces, candy, coupons and gifts into the crowd. Huge statutes on cars with music blaring. It's super cool.
Then comes the race, the cyclists come by, the leaders then the peloton (the big groups of bikers). Stay a bit longer and cheer on the guys in the back, I am sure they need it! Hold up something that people can see on TV, this is a shot our family got of us from home!
After the race was over, we went to the pub, with all the locals. We even made a friend who wanted to practice her English with me. It was really exciting to be a part of the town and the experience. With a little pre-planning, it can be done, without a huge budget. Smaller towns not in the guide book can offer a unique experiences that won't break the bank.