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Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 1/5
Section - 5.4 How to follow the Tour de France

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Top Document: Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 1/5
Previous Document: 5.3 Rating the Tour de France Climbs
Next Document: 5.5 Tour de France Time Limits
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A question was recently posted to r.b.r concerning ways to follow the 
Tour de France. Here are a few comments about my own trips to France over 
the last five years, which may be of relevance to people who want to 
watch the race and have access to either a bike or a car. 

I've seen the Tour every year since 1991, always in the Alps or the 
Pyrenees. In addition, I've watched the Paris Stage in 1993/5, and the 
British stages in 1994, so all in all, I've a fair amount of experience.

In 1991 and 1992 I watched as part of longer cycle tours in the Alps, 
stopping off to watch in the course of a ride from one place to another 
(in 1991 in the Arly Gorge, and in 1992 on the Galibier). On both 
occasions, the combination of my own abilities (only averaging ca. 60 
miles/day) and the Tour's itinery meant that seeing the race more than 
once was not really feasible.

In 1993, 93 and 95 we (myself + 3 friends) organised things differently.  
Basically, we took a car with the bikes on the roof and camped in the 
vicinity of the tour. It was then normally possible to see two days of 
racing (ie, somewhere near the end one day and near the beginning the 
next) before moving on to a new campsite perhaps 100 or 150 miles away 
to get another couple of days in. For example, in 1994, in addition to 
the Brighton and Portsmouth stages, we also saw the tour on l'Alpe 
d'Huez; on the Col de la Colombiere; on the Col de Joux Vert (2km from 
the finish of the Avoriaz time trial) and at the stage start in Morzine.

Now some general notes. If you elect to see the Tour as we did by car and 
bike, be prepared for some long days with a lot of climbing. Bear in mind 
also that after the voiture balai has passed, it can still sometimes take 
almost as long to descend a mountain as to get up, due to the large 
number of pedestrians, cars, other cyclists etc also trying to get down. 
This problem is compounded at mountain top finishes, because firstly the 
field is spread over a long time (maybe 3/4hr from first to last rider) 
and secondly because after the stage, all the Tour vehicles and riders 
generally also come back down to the valley. For example, when we watched 
on Alpe d'Huez, it was nearly 5.00pm before we got down to Bourg d'Oisans 
and we then had a 40 mile ride with 1300m of climbing back over the 
Lautaret to get to where we were camping in Briancon

Secondly, aim to get to the foot of any mountain you want to watch on at 
least 2 hours in advance. Even then, you might find some policemen want 
you to get off and walk. The attentiveness of policemen to this detail 
varies widely. For example, in Bourg d'Oisans, one policemen wanted us to 
walk, even though we were 2km from the foot of Alpe d'Huez; then 100m 
further on a second gendarme told us more or less to stop mucking around, 
if we had bikes then why weren't we riding them! Similarly, one Gendarme 
in 1995 gave an absolute flat refusal to let us even start on the climb 
of the Madeleine (admittedly we were quite late, and the first 8km are 
very very narrow) whereas on the Colombiere, I rode up in the middle of 
the caravane publicitaire. (NB this latter trick has oodles of street 
cred as a) about 50 million people cheer your every pedal stroke, b) the 
caravan showers you with freebies and c) you can beg chocolate from the 
Poulain van and pretend you're a domestique sent back to the team car to 
pick up extra food - and let's face it, being even a domestique is way 
above what 99.9% of the readers of rbr can aspire too!) If you travel by 
car and then hope to walk up, the roads get blocked even before they are 
completely closed - for example, in 1995 we ran into a terrible traffic 
jam south of Grenoble on the day of the Alpe d'Huez stage whilst we were 
heading south, though fortunately we avoided it by going via Sisteron 
rather than Gap, as had been the initial plan.

Thirdly, come prepared for all weathers and with plenty of food and 
water. Both TT's I've been to (outskirts of Paris in 1993, and Avoriaz in 
1994) took over 5 hours to pass, and even a run of the mill mountain 
stage may take 2 hours from first vehicle in the publicity caravan to the 
"Fin de Course" vehicle. The weather can change markedly - for example, 
at Avoriaz, we started the day in hot sunshine with girls sunbathing in 
bikinis, and finished in freezing rain. So make sure you have some warm 
clothing, even on an apparently hot day; plenty of water and plenty of 
food. Remember, once in place , you can't easily nip off to the local shop!

All of the above was written from the point of view of watching in the 
mountains. I guess flat stages are easier as there are more small roads 
around, and the crowds are not so concentrated at certain key points. For 
Paris, it's best to travel into the centre by RER/RATP and then walk; you 
may need to wait several hours if you want a place on the barriers on the 
Champs Elysees, but at the Jardin des Tuileries end of the circuit, the 
pressure is not so bad.

Finally, is it worth it? Yes! OK, you only get a fleeting glimpse of the 
riders, but it is all the incidentals that make it fun - spinning yarns 
with Thierry on the Galibier; riding up the Colombiere in the publicity 
caravan; being at the exact point on l'Alpe d'Huez where Roberto Conti 
made his winning attack (and hence being on Television); seeing Zulle 
ride effortlessly near the top of the Colombiere, 5 minutes up on 
everyone else; getting a grin from "Stevo" on l'Alpe d'Huez when a bunch 
of Ockers I was with shouted "hello Aussie!" as he rode past; and many 
many more in similar vein. Go! - you'll have a lot of fun!

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Top Document: Rec.Bicycles Frequently Asked Questions Posting Part 1/5
Previous Document: 5.3 Rating the Tour de France Climbs
Next Document: 5.5 Tour de France Time Limits

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